West End Musicals

It might easily be argued that in 2013, London enjoyed its best year for musicals since the recession hit the genre so hard.

Everyone will have their favourites but for this reviewer, Anglo/Irish-American import Once was as good as it got.

This was practically an anti-musical, passing by big production numbers and flashy dancing for a truly moving tale based on a low-budget but quietly cultish movie about a love story featuring a Dublin busker and Eastern European immigrant.

With a creative team that included John Tiffany and music composed by those behind the film, this really should be the hottest musical ticket in town at the moment.

There is a lot of competition though. On the back of what might well have been the biggest marketing budget ever seen for a West End musical, The Book of Mormon also crossed the Atlantic and proved to be hilarious.

With a pedigree that includes the creative team behind South Park and one of the creators of Avenue Q, this is another real pleasure.

Once wasn't the only top notch musical set in Ireland. The stage version of Roddy Doyle's popular novel and movie The Commitments is full of comic life and deserves to have a long run in the West End.

The most famous British musical creative team of the last generation, Andrew (now Lord) Lloyd Webber and (Sir) Tim Rice enjoyed West End openings of separate shows a few weeks apart at the end of the year.

Sir Tim's contribution was a stage realisation of iconic movie From Here to Eternity, while his Lordship has just opened a biographical play about Stephen Ward.

In both cases, it seems unlikely that the new creations will have the longevity of Phantom of the Opera or Cats.

They do though have their attractions, which lie as much in the stories as the music or razzmatazz.

The Young Vic does not generally produce that many musicals but another American import, The Scottsboro Boys, will also live long in the memory.

It told the true tale of a bunch of coloured men desperate for work during the Depression. Having the bad luck to enter a town full of rednecks, they were accused of rape and imprisoned for untold years, despite the fact that the charges were clearly trumped up.

The clever thing about this musical was that a terrifying story was delivered with the lightest comic tone imaginable, yet without losing any sense of respect for the enormity of the offences.

The Menier is often at its best when it comes to musicals and had a sparkling time in 2013.

First, they produced the British première of yet another show from across the pond, The Color Purple, another touching tale of racial supremacists ruling the roost.

For Christmas, the theatre delivered a wonderfully thought-through revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Director Matthew White, who has a good record at the theatre, teamed up with designer Paul Farnsworth to create an unforgettable setting in which the performers played above, below, in front of and behind as well as amongst audience members, creating a unique atmosphere helped by some excellent music and a starring performance by Scarlett Strallen.

One of this year's biggest and most popular musicals was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With the late Roald Dahl and Sam Mendes as names to market with, there was never any doubt that the very young would be attracted, although more discerning visitors were not generally as impressed as they had hoped to be.

At the beginning of the year, the National Theatre of Scotland brought another true story, Glasgow Girls, to the south for a brief visit. For those that like their musicals gritty, this story of teenagers from the wrong side of town getting together to support their neighbours from across the globe proved truly heart-warming.

On a smaller scale, the Finborough presented Rooms, a two-hander starring Cassidy Janson, who was also in Candide. This turned out to be a Metropolitan love story retailed to a witty rock accompaniment.

Finally, OperaUpClose continue to work wonders on budgets that would hardly pay for more than a couple of costumes at Covent Garden.

Their version of Tosca at Soho was as good as ever, mixing Puccini's timeless music with a modern version of the libretto written by Adam Spreadbury-Maher.