Leading men of the West End

Mark Shenton's favourite musical theatre performers: Leading men of the West End

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

During this unprecedented shut down of West End and Broadway stages, we can still enjoy the amazing talents of those that usually populate them. Some artists are doing daily live online concerts; or interacting with their fans by amazing initiatives that include, for example, Waitress star David Hunter offering to write a personalised song for them - at just $25 each, it's brilliant bargain, and he tops and tails the song with a personalised message!  So, I'm happy to lead my list of my current favourite leading men of musicals by replaying the song he wrote for me! 

It's three years since I last compiled a list like this. And obviously there may be omissions of some of your own personal favourites - I can't list everyone! But please enjoy the performers I've sampled here (not listed in order of preference, I hasten to add...)

Stay tuned for my favourite leading ladies next week!

David Hunter is a singing troubadour who I've followed for a number of years, from his leading role in a regional tour of one of my favourite-ever British musicals The Hired Man to take-over roles in the lead of the West End companies of Once and Kinky Boots, and currently the originating male star of the British production of Waitress (until its shutdown). Here's the song he wrote at my commission - which he called "my most heartfelt so far": It's called "Lemonade".

And here's a delightful arrangement of "Falling Slowly" from Once.

Also watch: "And If You Want Me", also from Once.

Killian Donnelly, who most recently starred as Valjean in the West End and (until the national theatre shutdown) was reprising that role in the current national tour of the show, has one of the best voices in musical theatre, period. A native of County Meath in Ireland, he also began his professional career - without any formal training - after moving to London in 2008 and auditioning for the ensemble of Les Miserables. So his career has come full circle back to it. In the years since that, he has appeared in take-over roles in The Phantom of the Opera and Billy Elliot, before beginning a run of leading man roles in the original London productions of The Commitments, Memphis and Kinky Boots (which he subsequently reprised on Broadway). 

Here he sings "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables on the Irish broadcaster RTE's Late Late Show... 

Also watch: "Memphis Lives in Me", from Memphis.

Michael Ball is probably the West End's 'leading leading man' in purely commercial terms as a headliner who has crossed over from musicals to a wider public recognition, via radio hosting duties and representing the UK at Eurovision, and through solo concert tours and with Alfie Boe.

He made a chart hit of "Love Changes Everything" that he introduced in the original London production of Aspects of Love, that he reprises here in a concert tribute to lyricist Don Black.

Also watch: "The Greatest Show" with Alfie Boe on The One Show., and "A Heart Full of Love" from Les Miserables, in which he was the original Marius in the show's 10th-anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall:.

Ramin Karimloo is a veteran also of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, graduating through the ranks of both to play the lead roles, who has become an international musical theatre star with a particularly strong following in the far East. He also has an independent career as a bluegrass concert artist.  Here's "It All Fades Away" from Jason Robert Brown's The Bridges of Madison County, in concert. 

Also watch: "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, dueting with Colm Wilkinson who originally played Valjean, and "'Till I Hear You Sing", from Love Never Dies that he originated in the West End.

Oliver Tompsett was, until the current shutdown, playing Shakespeare in & Juliet, the musical celebration of the pop catalogue of Swedish songwriter and producer Max Martin. He's often done pop and rock musicals, with leading roles in shows like Rock of Ages and We Will Rock You. But it was only when I saw in him a regional production of the Irving Berlin-scored White Christmas that I realised what a strong legit musical theatre voice he has, too. He can do anything - and has since shown it in take-over roles in shows from Guys and Dolls to Kinky Boots, and he has also forged a great professional partnership with my good friend Scott Alan, which resulted in an album (also featuring Cynthia Erivo) of Alan's music. 

Here he sings Scott Alan's "Stay", to Scott's accompaniment. 

Also watch: "Soul of a Man", from Kinky Boots, and "Live in Living Color", from Catch Me if You Can (which he hasn't actually been in).

John Owen-Jones is best known as the actor who has played the most performances of any in the lead roles in Les Miserables (including two stints on Broadway) and The Phantom of the Opera. He is blessed with one of the finest, fiercest voices in musical theatre.

This is "Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera, performed the gala closing concert of the 66th Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in 2012. 

Also watch: "Bui Doi" from Miss Saigon in concert, and a studio recording of "Rise Like a Phoenix", the Eurovision hit originally sung by Conchita Wurst. 

Michael Xavier was last seen on the London stage in Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum opposite Glenn Close, which he subsequently reprised on Broadway. He then stayed on in New York to appear in Prince of Broadway. He's due back in London for a concert performance of Howard Goodall's gorgeous Love Story in May - let's hope it happens. But if not, here's what you'll be missing. Performed with Emma Williams, this is "What Happens Now?" from Love Story.  Also watch: "One Second and a Million Miles", from The Bridges of Madison County, sung with Celinde Schoenmaker, and "Montage" from Sunset Boulevard.

Charlie Stemp became an overnight sensation when he starred in Half a Sixpence at Chichester that subsequently transferred to the Noel Coward Theatre. He's since gone on to star on Broadway opposite Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! and was, until the theatre shutdown playing Bert in the revival of Mary Poppins

Heere's "Pick Out a Simple Tune" from Half a Sixpence

Also watch: A medley from Mary Poppins at the Royal Variety Performance 2019.

Rob Houchen is a fast-rising star of West End musicals, in which he has starred as Marius in Les Miserables and last year's The Light in the Piazza at the Royal Festival Hall. He was due to currently be in City of Angels. He has a thrilling voice as these videos demonstrate:

This is his cabaret cover of the Adele hit "Love in the Dark" at a MAD Trust event in 2016:

Also watch: "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman, performed in cabaret in 2018, and "Say it Somehow" form The Light in the Piazza, which he performed with Dove Cameron at the Royal Festival Hall in 2018.

Clive Rowe won an Olivier Award for his performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the National's Guys and Dolls in 1997, and was earlier nominated for one for playing Enoch Snow in Carousel, also at the National, in 1994. He's since gone onto become one of our leading men in musicals (and leading Dames in panto!). He's due to star in Sister Act at Eventim Apollo next (let's hope it happens).

This is the classic "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" from Guys and Dolls
Also watch: "Heart of the Weave" from the new musical The Wicker Husband.

Andy Coxon was due to reprise the role of Tony in West Side Story at Manchester's Royal Exchange next month, but that has now been postponed. I've followed him ever since he starred in Yank! at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre, then on its transfer to London's Charing Cross Theatre; he also transferred from the same theatre in Hair to the Vaults, and was brilliant in Pieces of String at Colchester's Mercury Theatre. He has a bright future ahead.

Though he's not appeared in the show on stage, this is Coxon performing "Waving from a Window" from Dear Evan Hansen.

Also watch: "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar (performed in cabaret at Crazy Coqs), and "Rememb'ring You" from Yank!.

Jamie Muscato recently starred as Tony in West Side Story at Leicester's Curve, but this fantastic and versatile leading man first came to my attention in the UK premiere of Pasek and Paul's Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse in 2014. I've since followed him avidly in shows that have included the UK premieres of David Bowie's Lazarus, Big Fish and Heathers

Here he is rehearsing "Something's Coming" from West Side Story.

Also watch: "Tonight" from West Side Story, and this montage from Heathers.

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive London theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy