- Last updated February 2013
The shows on in London range from big budget musicals through comedies and plays. This guide to West End theatre, is intended to give you a very brief overview of what's on offer.
Musicals in London
Billy Elliot the musical is a gritty dramatic musical combining the music of Elton John with the story of the film of the same name. It is both funny and poignant and is currently on in London’s Victoria Palace Theatre. It tells the story of one boy’s dream to become a ballet dancer against the backdrop of the miners in the North-East of England in the 1980s, and their struggle against Margaret Thatcher.
Jersey Boys the musical is currently showing at the Prince Edward Theatre, London and features the music of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. Their classic array of hits helps to tell the story of the four unlikely lads from Jersey and their rise to fame as one of the biggest acts of the last century. This show in London is highly recommended.
Les Miserables is at London’s Queens Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. Based on the Victor Hugo novel, it is a truly epic story with a powerful score about one man’s fight from injustice to redemption against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
Mamma Mia! the musical is a feelgood, fun comedy musical featuring the hits of Swedish sensation Abba. A girl with a single Mum living on a Greek island is about to get married when she discovers her mother’s diary which reveals her father can be one of three possible candidates. Unbeknown to her Mum, Sophie invites all three men to her forthcoming wedding with hilarious consequences.
Rock of Ages the musical is a tongue-in-cheek satirical musical laden with heavy rock music and power ballads from the rock bands of the last thirty years, including Foreigner, Journey and Twisted Sister. Now at the Garrick Theatre, this show in London explores the blossoming romance of waiter and aspirant rockstar Drew, a boy from South Detroit, and Sherrie, just a small-town girl, who are both in LA to chase their dreams of making it big and falling in love.
Singin’ in the Rain is the classic song-and-dance musical now playing at the Palace Theatre, London. The show is set in Hollywood in the roaring 20s, when the talking pictures are a new phenomenon for the silent movie stars to embrace. With all the charm, romance, comedy and Tinseltown glamour of one of the world’s best-loved films, Gene Kelly’s iconic dancing is recreated on the London stage.
Spamalot the musical is back by popular demand at the Playhouse Theatre, London. Monty Python’s Spamalot is a comedy musical adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Spamalot relives the story of the quest to find the religious relic by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Step in to the weird but wonderful world of Monty Python featuring killer rabbits, flatulent Frenchmen and legless knights, all topped off with a chorus line of dancing divas! The show includes favourites and modern cult classics such as Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.
Stomp is an innovative musical celebration. A company of highly skilled actors, musicians and dancers have taken percussion to a new level, using everyday objects such as dustbin lids, drainpipes and the like and creating an exciting, vibrant cacophony of rhythmic music. Stomp is a show in London at London’s Ambassadors Theatre.
The Lion King is one of the most popular musicals of all time, and is showing at London’s Lyceum Theatre. Now in its 11th hit year, based on the Disney animated film of the same name, it is a truly wonderful story. The set designs and costumes are brilliant and use African influences as opposed to foam heads and costumes deployed at Disney parades. They have fused many different musical styles, from African tribal music through to power ballads and magical love songs penned by Elton John and Tim Rice. The story follows the tale of Simba and his journey to become the Lion King, exploring the concept of 'The Circle of Life'.
The Phantom of the Opera the musical is probably Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest musical and his biggest success story, having now played for over 25 years at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London. The operatic score is amongst Lloyd Webber’s finest, and as shows in London go it is the city’s greatest love story in which a beautiful girl falls for a misguided, disfigured, misunderstood man. The staging and lighting are superb and the story is enthralling. The set and costumes evoke a real sense of being there in 19th century Paris. Some of the special effects are spectacular but it is the songs, the music and the wonderful cast who sing so beautifully. Phantom is definitely one for lovers or aspiring romantics.
Top Hat the musical is a good old-fashioned feel good musical featuring spectacular routines and some fabulous tap dancing. Packed full of Irving Berlin’s greatest songs, including Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Cheek to Cheek and Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, there’s stunning tap, romantic ballroom and a little bit of Busby Berkeley thrown in for good measure. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers lit up Hollywood's silver screen with one of the greatest dance musicals of all time, and now this hugely popular musical graces the stage of the Aldwych Theatre in London. Broadway sensation Jerry Travers dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society model Dale Tremont, with various consequences of mistaken identity and plenty of laughter along the way.
We Will Rock You the musical features the hits of Queen and is playing at the Dominion Theatre, London. It celebrated its 10th birthday in May 2012. It is a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at how Music is generated in the future. It is funny and clever at the same time and tells the story of one boy and one girl’s struggle to survive and break free against the all-powerful global commercialisation. It includes songs such as Radio Ga Ga, Killer Queen, I Want To Break Free, A Kind Of Magic, Under Pressure, Another One Bites The Dust and of course Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You.
Wicked the Musical is the spectacular story of the witches of Oz, the prequel to the Wizard of Oz. And no, it is not a pantomime or particularly aimed at kids - it is simply a fantastic musical. How did The Wicked Witch of the West meet Glinda the Good (The Fairy Godmother)? How did the Witch become evil? Was she born evil or did she become evil, or is it simply her actions that are perceived as evil? Could it just be malicious newspaper gossip? The story attempts to explain this in a truly engaging way with fantastic music, brilliant songs and a truly amazing and spectacular set and costumes. Still showing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, Wicked is one of the many highly recommended musical shows in London, tickets for which you can buy today.
Plays on in London
Henry V is the fourth instalment in Shakespeare's quartet of 'histories' - following Richard II and Henry IV parts one and two. Henry V has just ascended the throne, and must overcome the reputation of his wild past in order to gain the trust and loyalty of the realm, which has endured several recent civil wars. The play follows his campaign to conquer France, which climaxes at the Battle of Agincourt. It shows at the end of 2013 at the Noel Coward Theatre, London.
Before Henry V are Peter and Alice and The Cripple of Inishmaan, also at the Noel Coward Theatre as part of a season of plays directed by Michael Grandage.
Peter and Alice is a brand new play by John Logan, starring Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. It sees the characters of childhood favourites Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan coming across each other and takes the audience on a journey where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred. The Cripple of Inishmaan stars Daniel Radcliffe as Billy Claven, known as “Cripple”. One of the tiny Aran Islands off the western Irish coast, Inishmaan is the location for an American-led movie. Locals are excited, none more so than Billy, at the presence of a Hollywood film crew.
At the Wyndham’s Theatre, Rowan Atkinson takes up the starring role in Quartermaine’s Terms, making his first appearance in a play in 25 years. Quartermaine's Terms is set at a Cambridge school for teaching English to foreigners, and the audience sees the school over a period of two years in the 1960s. It follows the interrelationships of seven teachers at the school with St John Quartermaine at the heart of the group. Though Quartermaine is an utterly hopeless teacher, he is nevertheless a prominent figure in the staff room, always available to listen to the problems of his self-obsessed colleagues. With the arrival of a new headmaster at the school, however, he finds his position there jeopardised.
The Mousetrap, at the St. Martin’s Theatre, is the longest running show, of any kind, in the world, now in its 61st year. Agatha Christie's story is a classic whodunit, a murder in a remote hotel cut off during a snowstorm with eight eccentric characters snowed in at the guesthouse. There are plenty of twists and turns and the typical red herrings will keep you guessing right until the end. The Mousetrap is still a fresh dramatic play with some fine acting, a few laughs and a twist in the tale. Many shows in London can only dream of lasting as long as The Mousetrap has run!
Comedies on in London
At the Noel Coward Theatre for February 2013, Privates on Parade is an award-winning British farce written in the 1970s by Peter Nichols. The show focuses on the events and undertakings of the Song and Dance Unit in South East Asia during the Anti-British National Liberation War in the 1940s and their new arrival in the form of Private Steven Flowers. At the heart of the group is Captain Dennis, played by Simon Russell Beale, a flamboyant cross-dressing performer.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream also shows at the Noel Coward Theatre later in 2013, starring David Walliams and Sheridan Smith. Shakespeare's popular tale surrounds the events of the marriage of the Duke of Athens to his bride Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. The play is set in an enchanted woodland, where fairies toy with the fates of young lovers while a troupe of actors are preparing to perform for the newlyweds-to-be.
For bumbling but loveable Francis Henshall, protagonist of One Man Two Guvnors which remains at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, bosses are much like buses. Having lost his job with a skiffle band, he suddenly finds himself in the fortunate predicament where two come along at the same time. Hilarity ensues as he tries to attend to both, but finds himself getting increasingly tangled in the web he has spun. You won’t be wanting for laughs, as the show is filled with farce and side-splitting slapstick.
A great British whodunit, with a comedic twist, The 39 Steps is a comedy play full of inventive, hilarious humour. 4 actors play an astounding 139 characters in just 100 fast-moving minutes on the stage of the Criterion Theatre. Based on Alfred Hitchcock's classic spy thriller, this brilliantly funny show follows the remarkable adventures of our stiff-upper-lipped British hero Richard Hannay, as he deals with dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents and, of course, beautiful sirens.
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