Stars on Stage in 2016 - Celebrities hit the West End
London's West End has always been a hot-bed for celebrity performers, from Hollywood A-listers to household stars of television. Some of the biggest shows each year are those that star well-known names and faces, pulling in a wider cross section of audiences who are all eager to see the favourite familiar face live and in the flesh.
Whilst some theatre purists scoff at the arrival of Hollywood names parachuted in to sell tickets, there is no denying that many theatregoers are certainly tempted to a production by the lure of a recognisable star. Whether it be musicals, straight dramas or even comedy performance, the theatre industry relies on these productions to attract crowds to lesser known titles or even new work.
Whilst 2015 gave us the sell-out delights of Benedict Cumberbatch and Bradley Cooper, 2016 is already shaping up to offer a fine selection of celebrities for you to get excited about. We take a look at which celebrity performances you should be booking tickets for in the first half of 2016.
The celebrated star of screen and stage returns to Ibsen for a new production of The Master Builder at the Old Vic from 23 January. Popularly known for roles such as Lord Voldermort in the 'Harry Potter' franchise, and 'M' the last two 'James Bond' films, Fiennes has twice been nominated for an Academy Award for roles such as Count Almásy in The English Patient and Amon Goeth in Schindler's List. On stage, his roles have encompassed writers such as Shakespeare, Chekhov, Pirandello and Kaufman and Hart. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his leading role in Brian Friel's Faith Healer which transferred from Dublin to Broadway in 2006. Recent credits in London include God of Carnage in the West End and Oedipus and Man + Superman at the National Theatre, which was one of our top plays of last year. If you've never experienced the joy of seeing Mr Fiennes perform live, make sure you book your tickets for what we promise to be a masterclass in acting.
The hit sitcom Friends is one of the biggest TV shows of all time. Running for ten seasons between 1994 and 2004, the finale was watched live by 52.5 million American viewers making it the most watched television episode of the 2000s decade. Matthew Perry shot to fame playing the lovable 'Chandler Bing' throughout all seasons, a role which made him a household name internationally. His first West End play was opposite Minnie Driver in David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and he will reunite with director Lindsay Posner for the world premiere of his own play The End of Longing at the Playhouse Theatre. Since leaving 'Friends', Perry has been quite honest about his life, and we're expecting that this new play deals with some of these darker themes. It's a rare opportunity to see any of the six Friends actors live onstage, so we're extremely excited to see Mr Bing star in the 'play what he wrote'.
London is lucky enough to welcome the breakout star of Netflix's popular series Orange is the New Black to this Jamie Lloyd led revival of Jean Genet's The Maids from 20 February at Trafalgar Studios. The double Emmy Award-winning actress broke records by being the first person to win Emmys in both the Drama and Comedy categories for the same role, and she also already has two Golden Globe nominations under her belt. Theatre fans may have previously spotted her in the recent Broadway revival of Godspell at the Circle in the Square Theatre, or even the Broadway transfer of Coram Boy which ran at the Imperial back in 2007. She also recently broke the internet following her rendition of "If You Believe" from NBC's live televised production of The Wiz, which showed off her magnificent vocal powers. Make sure you snag your tickets to see her live in London in what is set to be another triumph for the Jamie Lloyd season.
Glenn Close's Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard has gone down in history as one of the most iconic musical theatre performances of all time. For those who may have missed it back in 1994 - you're in luck. Ms Close will make her West End debut in a brand new production of the hit musical which runs at the London Coliseum for a strictly limited run. Widely regarded as one of the most popular actresses of her age, Ms Close is the winner of three Emmy Awards, three Tony Awards and six Academy Award nominations, tying the record for the most nominations without a win. Her film credits are as diverse as Dangerous Liaisons, Guardians of the Galaxy, Air Force One, Fatal Attraction and Albert Nobbs, and she's recognisable with younger fans thanks to her role of Cruella DeVille in the live action version of 101 Dalmatians. It'll be as if she never said goodbye when she takes to the stage as Norma Desmond once again to deliver some of musical theatre's most well loved classics, complete with the wardrobe and dead chimp to match.
The next production in the celebrated Kenneth Branagh season is a revival of a Shakespeare classic, Romeo and Juliet. The tragedy of two star-crossed lovers will be reinvented by Branagh, who uses the stars of his recent film adaptation of Cinderella, Lily James and Richard Madden once again as the romantic leads. Lily James in particular has become a frequent feature on TV screens thanks to roles in 'Downton Abbey' and more recently 'War and Peace'. However, it's the casting of Derek Jacobi as Mercutio that's really had heads turning - and we can't wait to see the celebrated star of films such as 'Gladiator', 'Gosford Park' and 'The King's Speech' deliver the famous Queen Mab speech as Romeo's best friend. The National Treasure and CBE holder has clocked up an impressive awards shelf with everything from Olivier Awards, to a Tony Award, a BAFTA, an Emmy Award and a Knight 1st class of the Order of the Dannebrog. A true star on stage if ever there was one.
Actress, comedian and all round 'Funny Girl', Sheridan Smith makes a welcome return to the West End stage in the long awaited stage revival of the 1964 musical Funny Girl. The show is currently running at the Menier Chocolate Factory to sell-out houses, where it broke records for the fastest ever 'sell-out' in the venue's history. For those who haven't yet seen the show - don't despair! Smith will transfer with the production to the Savoy Theatre, the home of her previous musical comedy success (and Olivier Award win) Legally Blonde. Since appearing on TV screens in comedies such as 'Gavin and Stacey', 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps' and 'The Royale Family', Smith has made a name for herself as one of Britain's leading entertainers. Recent TV credits include powerful performances in 'Cilla' and 'The C-Word', which have both cemented her place in the nation's psyche as a much loved personality. Don't let anybody bring around a cloud to rain on your parade this Spring - grab your tickets to Funny Girl whilst you still can!
For more Stars on Stage - check out our dedicated list of celebrities appearing in the West End throughout 2016 here.