10 New Musicals That Require Your Attention
Following on from the success of Hamilton, this past year has been an unprecedented year for new musicals breaking into the mainstream. Whilst columnists such as Michael Riedel continue to speculate on Hamilton's wider effect on the industry as a whole, arguing that the high ticket prices has directly resulted in a decline in audiences for other new titles, producers would argue that Hamilton's success is healthy for the industry as a whole, as new musical theatre has become headline news on both sides of the Atlantic.
Looking at the past Broadway season, a number of new musicals have shuttered early, including the Tony nominated Bright Star, Tuck Everlasting, American Psycho, Allegiance, and soon to be Shuffle Along – but it's difficult to argue that these shows have been directly affected by Hamilton's soaring success and top ticket price. With new musicals such as Waitress, On Your Feet! and School of Rock finding a comfortable audience, the general interest in new musical theatre has certainly aided the industry as a whole.
With the spotlight, and indeed the scrutiny, back on new musicals, we put together a list of upcoming new shows in both the UK and USA that should certainly be on your radar. With so much traffic between the two theatre capitals of New York and London, successful shows frequently jump between the two in efforts to find a captive audience. Many of these new musicals have, or indeed are planning on, opening first out of town before transferring to either Broadway or the West End. This age old process allows the musicals to be fine tuned in front of an audience before making the risky leap into the unknown, where critics pens and audiences word of mouth can stop even the strongest looking show dead in its tracks.
One of the most exciting new musicals opening this year brings together two multi-Tony Award winners and members of Broadway royalty, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Based on two business titans, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden and their infamous rivalry in the beauty industry, this brand new musical features a book by Doug Wright (Grey Gardens, I Am My Own Wife, The Little Mermaid), a score by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens, Far From Heaven).
Opening at Chicago's Goodman Theatre this July ahead of an expected Broadway run, the musical is directed by Michael Grief, whose credits include Rent and Next to Normal. This fascinating story follows two brilliant innovators with humble roots who sacrificed everything to become the country’s first major female entrepreneurs. Despite never meeting, the pair were fierce competitors whose 50-year tug-of-war would give birth to an industry in a world dominated by men. The combination of two of Broadway's most loved performers alongside one of the most exciting writing teams of modern times makes this one show that's certainly brimming with promise, and will no doubt be Broadway bound in the very near future.
The SpongeBob Musical
Chicago is also playing home to the first stage production of SpongeBob SquarePants, bringing the pineapple under the sea to the musical theatre stage. Despite many raised eyebrows when the show was announced, reviews have generally been positive for the production, which boasts a modern score by a collection of songwriters including Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie and Brian Eno, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum and Sara Bareilles. Co-conceived and directed by Tina Llandau, the show offers something for both adults and children with its semi-allegorical story and upbeat original score. The cast features Ethan Slater as the eponymous sponge, alongside British musical theatre star Gavin Lee, Carlos Lopez and Danny Skinner. The musical premièred in June, and has its sights firmly set on Broadway, where it hopes to challenge Walt Disney Theatrical's position as the best in family entertainment.
Come From Away
This exciting new musical features book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and originally premiered at La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015. Set in the town of Gander, Newfoundland immediately following the September 11th attacks when 38 planes had to unexpectedly land in the small town as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon, it explores how a community came together in the wake of the worst terrorist attack on US soil. The production is set for another two try-out productions in Toronto and Washington D.C, before landing on Broadway in April 2017 at a yet-to-be-announced venue. Featuring direction by Christopher Ashley with design by Beowulf Boritt, it's an original take on a dramatic and emotionally compelling story.
Following the announcement that the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Fun Home would end its run at the Circle in the Square Theatre, it was announced that the new a cappella musical In Transit would open later this year. Riding off the current interest in a cappella music, the show features an entirely unaccompanied score with book, music & lyrics by Academy Award winner Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan & Sara Wordsworth, along with vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon and musical supervision by Rick Hip-Flores. Described as a “new, modern musical bringing to life a vivid tapestry of characters and music in the city that never sleeps…or stands still”, it is inspired by the vibrant rhythms of life on the subway and intertwines the lives of eleven New Yorkers, all hoping to catch the express train to success, love and happiness. The production previously ran off-Broadway at New World Stages in 2010, and will be directed and choreographed by three-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall. Something quite different for Broadway audiences, let's hope this show really takes off.
Having been lucky enough to see the out-of-town try-out of this enchanting new musical based on the 1997 animated film of the same name, I can firmly say that Broadway is in for a treat when Anastasia opens at the Broadhurst Theatre in April 2017. Featuring a stunning new score by Tony Award-winners Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the musical includes a handful of songs from the film along with a host of new characters and historical plot development. Christy Altomare and Derek Klena will reprise their roles of Anya and Dmitry, alongside John Bolton and Caroline O’Connor who provide the comic relief. The production is directed by Hartford Stage's Tony Award-winning Darko Tresnjak who was last on Broadway with the Tony winning Best Musical A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder. Let's hope lightning strikes a second time for this charming production. Read our review of the tryout at Hartford Stage by clicking here.
The Wind in the Willows
British musical theatre writing duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have long been two of the West End's most exciting musical theatre writers, with shows such as the Olivier Award-winning Honk!, Soho Cinders, Betty Blue Eyes and Mary Poppins under their belts. This time their attention has been turned to another British classic, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. With a new book by Downton Abbey and School of Rock writer Julian Fellows, this wild tale about the thrill-seeking, lovable menace Mr Toad comes to life in a spectacular new stage musical featuring all of your favourite riverbank characters.
Rufus Hound stars as Mr Toad opposite Fra Fee as Mole, Thomas Howes as Ratty, Neil McDermott as Chief Weasel and Sophia Nomvete as Mrs Otter in the production that begins performances at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in October 2016. The show will travel to Salford and Southampton, with the aim to transfer into the West End in 2017. Stiles and Drewe are two fantastic musical theatre composers, and we're extremely excited to see their take on a colourful character and British institution.
Gary Barlow has made his intentions of taking over the West End quite clear, with three musicals currently in the works to come to London over the next year. With the London transfer of Finding Neverland opening at the beginning of 2017, it is expected that his musical adaptation of Calendar Girls will arrive in London at the Phoenix Theatre next January. Featuring a book by original screenwriter and author of the play Tim Firth, this musical comedy follows the real life story of a Women’s Institute group who decide to fund-raise for a local hospital by posing nude for a calendar and inadvertently become media sensations. The musical received strong reviews after opening in Manchester and Leeds, and is expected to be an uplifting new production, and the first of three new shows for Mr Barlow.
Big the Musical
Based on the popular 1988 Tom Hanks film 'Big', the Broadway musical adaptation in 1996 was one of the most interesting flops of all time. Despite the hugely recognizable title, excellent creative team and a commercial tie-in with FAO Schwartz, the toy store featured in the story, the show hit trouble on the road and has since been heavily rewritten. Featuring music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., the show has never been performed in the UK, but opens at the Theatre Royal Plymouth this November, ahead of a West End run. The musical follows twelve year old Josh Baskin who hates being little and wishes on a Zoltar machine at a carnival to be 'big'. As he is transformed, he is trapped in an adult’s body and alone in New York City.
This pre-West End try-out stars Jay McGuiness, Denise Van Outen, Diana Vickers and Gary Wilmot, and could potentially be one of the 'biggest' new musicals to hit the West End, sadly without the Susan Stroman piano-ography.
One of London's most exciting creatives Drew McOnie will direct and choreograph the UK première of hit new musical which comes direct from a season in Sydney Australia. Based on the 1992 Baz Luhrmann film of the same name it tells the inspiring story of a championship ballroom dancer who defies all the rules to follow his heart. With a new adapted book by Terry Johnson, the musical features song and dance numbers from the film including “Love is in the Air”, “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps” and “Time After Time” alongside original music by artists such as Sia, David Foster and Eddie Perfect.
The production opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this Christmas season, and it is hoped that it will soon take the West End by storm.
The David Bowie musical Lazarus is expected to land in London next year in a purpose built venue following a sold out run at the New York Theatre Workshop in December 2015. Written by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, the production is directed by celebrated creative Ivo Van Hove, who was recently behind the critically acclaimed production of 'A View From The Bridge' which ran at the Young Vic and in London's West End, as well as The Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. Lazarus feature design by Jan Versweyveld and was inspired by the novel 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' by Walter Tevis and centres on the character of Thomas Newton, famously portrayed by David Bowie in the 1976 screen adaptation directed by Nicolas Roeg. A highly experimental new musical, it is expected that the London production will be popular with fans of Bowie's work as well as traditional theatre goers. A cast recording of the off-Broadway production is due to be released in the coming months, along with more formal news of the London production.