See West End shows with religious themes
A brilliant West End show can itself feel like a religious experience, thanks to the transporting bliss of extraordinary performers at the top of their game. But if you’re interested in seeing plays and musicals that actually grapple with faith, then you’re in luck: London currently has a fantastic selection.
From shows that revolve around a particular church through to holy choirs, songs of praise and conversion to a new religion, there are numerous productions on offer – from the sincere to the satirical, and the pious to the playful.
So, follow our commandments when it comes to booking for heavenly London shows that tackle religion, and plan your sublime trip now.
As the title suggests, this provocative long-running musical puts the spotlight on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – aka the Mormon Church. The story centres on two mismatched missionaries, the ambitious Elder Price and more easy-going, compulsive liar Elder Cunningham. The pair are sent to Uganda, where they get a tough reception from the local warlord.
Created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and composer Robert Lopez (of Frozen fame), the tongue-in-cheek show won a whopping nine Tony Awards and four Oliviers. It remains a hugely popular London fixture thanks to its witty grappling with a divisive religion, and its whole-hearted celebration of community and friendship.
Book The Book of Mormon tickets on London Theatre.
Stephen Beresford’s new play, which premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre and will later transfer to London’s Bridge Theatre, looks at the place of the Church of England in the modern world. Alex Jennings plays the embattled parish priest David Highland, who sparks a furious row when he refuses to let a bereaved family display Disney balloons at their child’s funeral.
It’s a difficult decision based on his deeply held beliefs and principles as a religious leader, yet he is also a flawed man with plenty of his own sins to atone for. Nicholas Hytner’s production asks big questions about the precarious future of our national religion, as well as showing compassion for the human beings whose lives are defined by it.
Book The Southbury Child tickets on London Theatre.
You need only listen to Colm Wilkinson singing “Bring Him Home”, that spine-tingling prayer, to know that this French Revolutionary musical is – at its core – about faith. Wilkinson originated the lead role of Jean Valjean, the convict who is saved by a kindly Bishop and who then attempts to live a life in service to God.
His opposite number, the dogged policeman Javert, is also a man of deep religious conviction, but his is a hard-line interpretation. In contrast, Valjean embodies Victor Hugo’s empathetic form of Christianity: he gifts us the gorgeous line “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Amen.
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Joshua Harmon’s furiously funny play is back by popular demand. The show made its UK premiere in Bath in 2014 and had two subsequent West End runs the following year. This black-comic duel is between devout Jew Daphna and her more ambivalent cousin Liam, who missed their grandfather’s funeral because he was skiing with his gentile girlfriend.
Harmon’s rich play tackles everything from identity, inheritance and family feuds to grief, history and a battle of the sexes. Caught in the crossfire are Liam’s brother Jonah and girlfriend Melody, the latter providing plenty of light relief – not least in an unforgettable musical moment. There’s nothing “bad” about this blistering show.
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In this bio-musical, as in life, Tina Turner’s journey begins in the Baptist community church of her native Nutbush, Tennessee, where even as a child her powerful voice rings out. But although there’s a gospel tinge to some of her later work – she actually releases a gospel album with husband Ike – it’s a different kind of faith that proves to be Tina’s salvation.
During a particularly tough time in her life, when she’s attempting to reinvent herself as a solo rock ‘n’ roll artist following her split from Ike, Turner finds Buddhism. That becomes enormously important in dealing with continued challenges, like the racism she encounters in the music industry, and her Buddhist faith features in this empowering and inspiring West End show.
Book Tina - The Tina Turner Musical tickets on London Theatre.
Another musical legend whose religious beliefs underpinned his success was Bob Marley. The ambitious and wide-ranging Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical celebrates not just Marley the world-famous Jamaican reggae singer, but also Marley the political activist and Rastafarian icon.
Marley converted to the Rastafari faith in the 1960s, and he was a serious proponent of the religion, as well as advancing his views on Pan-Africanism and social reform. Those elements are a key part of Lee Hall’s book for London hit Get Up, Stand Up!, which places Marley’s enduring work – like “Redemption Song” and the great title number – back into the context in which it was written. It’s a chance to see the great man in all his genius and complexity.
Book Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical tickets on London Theatre.
The stage musical version of the iconic Whoopi Goldberg comedy film first hit London in 2009 and has remained a UK favourite, with several touring productions featuring the likes of Cynthia Erivo and Alexandra Burke. And hallelujah! It’s now back in town with an all-star production at the Eventim Apollo.
Beverley Knight plays Deloris Van Cartier, the nightclub singer who witnesses a murder and is hidden in a convent for her own safety. There, she breathes fresh life into the choir and swells the congregation by mixing pop, disco and soul music with traditional hymns and gospel – as does Alan Menken’s irresistible score. Joining Knight in the London cast are Jennifer Saunders, Lizzie Bea and Keala Settle.
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This sweet, funny and genuinely moving West End musical is based on an extraordinary true story. On 9/11, thousands of plane passengers were stranded in small-town Newfoundland when American airspace was closed, but locals welcomed these international travellers into their hearts and homes – demonstrating kindness in the darkest of times.
Religion is threaded through the show, too. A Catholic mother who fears for her firefighter son back home in New York is joined in prayer by a local woman, also a mother to a first responder. Their voices are echoed, in song, by others of different faiths: Muslim, Jewish and Hindi. That beautiful message of unity is needed now more than ever.
Book Come From Away tickets on London Theatre.
London’s reigning queens offer everything in their powerhouse gem of a show, from catchy pop-diva anthems and witty feminist reclamations of “herstory” to the hottest looks in town – and even some astute religious commentary. Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s now Tony Award-winning musical puts a fresh spin on the wives of Henry VIII, looking beyond that infamous rhyme.
In her number “No Way”, committed Catholic Catherine of Aragon scornfully dismisses the king’s argument that their marriage can be annulled because of a Biblical passage about a lack of children. But Henry pushes ahead, setting up the Church of England so he can marry Anne Boleyn. As the latter pithily puts it: “Everybody chill, it’s totes God’s will.”
Photo credit: The Southbury Child (Photo by Manuel Harlan)
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