London Theatre's Top 10 Musicals of 2016
After looking at our Top 10 Plays of 2016 it's now time to run down our list of the best musicals of the year. Both the West End and Fringe have turned out some impressive productions over the past twelve months, including Broadway imports, new productions and the rarest of all beasts - original musicals. It's been an exciting year for musical theatre around the world with both the UK and USA contributing to the form in very different ways. In a year where I got to finally see Hamilton on Broadway as well as the hot contender for 2017 Best New Musical Dear Evan Hansen it has been tricky to compile a Top 10 list - but the below relates strictly to London theatre.
London Theatre's Top 10 musicals of 2016
10. Lazarus - King's Cross Theatre
2016 will be remembered by Bowie fans due to the superstar's surprise death at the start of the year. One of his final artistic collaborations was this haunting and powerful original musical written alongside Enda Walsh which premiered in December 2015 in New York where it played to sell-out crowds. The production transferred to London to a purpose built venue by King's Cross Station and brought with it an exceptional cast in a finely judged production directed by Ivo van Hove. Part art-installation part music video -Lazarus may be far from a traditional musical in terms of narrative, but musically it is rich and expertly delivered. A unique and compelling new musical that pushes the boundaries of art and furthers the genre.
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9. Sunset Boulevard - London Coliseum
The ENO's commitment to producing semi-staged musicals continued with one of the biggest events of the year - Glenn Close making her West End debut in her Tony Award-winning role of Norma Desmond. Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical is fondly remembered by fans and Close's performance has gone down in Broadway history, so it was a stroke of genius to have her reprise this role in the West End for a strictly limited season. Directed by Lonny Price the production put the glorious orchestra centre stage, performing the sweeping score with a talented ensemble of performers, led by Close in the title role. Despite being more than twenty years since first playing Norma Desmond, Close proved she was "the greatest star of all" revisiting this challenging and iconic role. The production is set to transfer to Broadway in 2017 opening at the Palace Theatre, bringing it full circle.
8. Show Boat - New London Theatre
Daniel Evans' glorious revival of Show Boat opened to rave reviews last Christmas at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre and quickly announced a transfer to the West End's New London Theatre. With an incredible set, stunning orchestra and fantastic cast this was one of the best revivals of the year, introducing a new generation to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's classic musical. Rebecca Trehearn shone as Julie alongside Gina Beck as Magnolia and Chris Peluso as Gaylord, with incredible support from Sandra Marvin as Queenie and Emmanuel Kojo as Joe. Though short lived the show made a huge impact and was one of the classiest revivals London has seen in a long time. Evans' contribution to the show helped it stand up some 85 years after it was first performed and made it become a memorable hit for theatre fans.
7. Grey Gardens - Southwark Playhouse
Director Thom Southerland has certainly had a busy year, and one of his first productions at the Southwark Playhouse was one of London's most anticipated new musicals. Scott Frankel and Michael Korie's musical version of the iconic documentary 'Grey Gardens' was first seen off-Broadway in 2007 and had its European premiere off-West End in a stunningly intimate production. Jenna Russell gave a remarkable performance as Little Edie bringing the house down night after night with her tremendous grasp of character and sharp blend of bittersweet humour. Sheila Hancock was a delight as Big Edie, and together they explored this strange footnote of history in a beautiful yet haunting way. One of the only shows this year that I returned to time and again - a true highlight of the year and a genuine musical treat.
6. Dreamgirls - Savoy Theatre
It may have taken 35 years for this Broadway musical to make the leap across the pond but Casey Nicholaw's production certainly didn't disappoint, opening at the Savoy Theatre last week after months of anticipation. A knock out cast led by Amber Riley made this a truly exciting musical theatre event, combining strong vocal performances with honest and compelling performances. A visual feast the production featured incredible costume design by Gregg Barnes and impressive sets by Tim Hatley, making for a stunning spectacle for fans of the show and those coming to it for the first time. Multiple standing ovations showed how the audience adored the show and performances, and it's certainly set to be a long-running West End hit.
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5. Into the Woods - Menier Chocolate Factory
In what feels like my 100th version of Sondheim and Lapine's quirky fairytale musical Fiasco Theater's production which ran at the Menier Chocolate Factory managed to make it feel fresh and highly original. Reducing the cast to a minimal set of performers, each playing instruments and bringing the score to life in an unusual manner helped this production feel relevant and immediate. I've never laughed so much at the characterisations of characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella or seen so much theatrical ingenuity on stage. Proof that you can never really tire of top-drawer material and that stage innovation really shows no bounds.
4. Allegro - Southwark Playhouse
One of the best Tarento and Southerland collaborations came in the form of Rodgers and Hammerstein's overlooked 1947 musical Allegro which finally had its London premiere at the Southwark Playhouse earlier this year. Rarely have I found myself so moved by the simplicity of storytelling, set to an incredible score and delivered with style by a fearless cast of performers. One of the earliest examples of a 'concept' musical it followed a simple 'everyman' story of Joseph Taylor Jnr. and managed to hit both the heart and the gut simultaneously, delivering one of the most memorable productions of the year.
3. Half a Sixpence - Noel Coward Theatre
Direct from Chichester's Festival Theatre this toe-tapping escapist delight has created a new West End star in the form of leading man Charlie Stemp. With a sparkling new score by Stiles and Drewe and knock-out choreography by Andrew Wright, this show provided the perfect tonic for a tumultuous 2016 and created an overwhelming and infectious performance. It's rare for a 1960s British musical to appeal so strongly to a contemporary audience, but thanks to a wonderful production and highly committed cast it was impossible to not fall in love with this gem of a show.
2. Floyd Collins - Wilton's Music Hall
The haunting surroundings of Wilton's Music Hall provided the perfect backdrop for this revival of Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's chamber musical Floyd Collins. Deeply moving and powerfully sung the production featured a host of West End talent including Rebecca Trehearn and Ashley Robinson, simply telling the remarkable story of caver Floyd Collins who found himself trapped in a cave, becoming an overnight media sensation. Guettel's score has rarely shone so brightly and thanks to some innovative staging and sensitive direction this became one of my favourite musicals of the year.
1. Titanic - Charing Cross Theatre
Whilst it has certainly been a tight race to the top, my most memorable and favourite musical of the year came once again from director Thom Southerland and producers Danielle Tarento Steven M. Levy, Sean Sweeney and Vaughan Williams who brought their knock-out production of Maury Yeston's Titanic back to London to open the Charing Cross Theatre's new season. Having fallen in love with the production originally at the Southwark Playhouse it was a delight to revisit it in a sharper and more vocally impressive form in a more traditional house. Telling an epic story in a wonderfully crafted book by Peter Stone this incredible ensemble each brought the ship of dreams to life, working solidly together to tell an honest and deeply moving story of one of the greatest disasters in history. Southerland's direction dealt a sensitive yet impressive blow matched by sensational musical direction and sound design that brought the glorious score to life. Simply unforgettable.