This Wednesday, 17th November, it was Love Theatre Day. To celebrate, I thought I would put together a list of five of the best productions I have seen in the last twelve months. I have seen so many incredible productions this year and it has been so difficult choosing just five, but otherwise I could literally be here all day. So, without further ado, here are my five favourite productions from the last year.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
My parents constantly have Carole King playing at home. Listening to her music reminds me of weekends at home when my mum would be cooking Sunday dinner in the kitchen. Although involuntarily, I have spent quite a lot of time listening to her music, and I’m pretty sure I know all the words to every song on her album, Tapestry. So this summer when my mum suggested that the two of us spend a day in London and see a West End show, I immediately thought of Beautiful. At first my mum was apprehensive as she didn’t think someone else singing Carole King’s songs would live up to her expectations, but it’s safe to say that watching the show definitely changed her mind. Not all the songs in the musical are Carole King’s songs, as the story focuses on her and her husband’s friendship with another writing duo, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Therefore, a number of their songs are also used. It was a brilliant show and unexpectedly quite emotional for both me and my mum.
Funny Girl is an iconic musical and has not been performed on the West End since Barbra Streisand played the infamous role of Fanny Brice in 1966. So when it was announced that a new production starring Sheridan Smith was to open at the Savoy theatre in London, I was incredibly excited. I had booked tickets within 20 minutes of them being released and managed to get seats in the second row! The performance that I saw did not feature Sheridan Smith, but her phenomenal understudy Natasha J Barnes, who more than made up for the absence of Sheridan Smith. I had known quite a while in advance that Sheridan would not be performing the day we went, but I was nevertheless excited to see such an up to date version of the classic show. The experience of going to the Savoy was in itself a joy. There have been so many productions there that I have wanted to see but have never had the opportunity. Most notably Imelda Staunton’s performance in Gypsy last year, which earned her rave reviews and an Olivier Award. Knowing how many of my idols have performed on that stage was one of the reasons I took the opportunity to see Funny Girl so quickly. It was a wonderful and quite emotional production, and I have already booked tickets to see it when it goes on tour next year.
This year Wicked celebrated 10 years of being on the West End. You can find my full review of the performance here. It featured an all-star cast, including West End and Broadway star Rachel Tucker. Although I had seen Wicked twice before, there was something special about this performance. Perhaps it was the cast, perhaps it was because they were celebrating a big anniversary, perhaps it was who I saw the show with. Whatever it was, that day was an experience I will never forget and truly one of the best theatre performances I have ever seen.
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to see the First Lady of the West End in concert. I have adored Elaine Paige for a very long time and it was nothing short of a dream come true to see her sing live. Her UK tour, entitled Stripped Back, saw her sing a selection of songs from the songwriters she loves and has grown up listening to (including a beautifully slowed version of Carole King’s One Fine Day). She effortlessly connected with her audience, telling stories about her childhood and early career. The real highlight for me was her encore, when she sang Memory (Cats), If You Love Me (Piaf) and finally With One Look (Sunset Boulevard). It was almost as if she transformed into Grizabella, Edith Piaf and Norma Desmond respectively with each song. After fifty years of performing, it’s no surprise that her voice does not sound the same as it did when she played, for example, Eva Peron in Evita. However, personally I prefer her voice now. It is more mature, and she has no trouble reaching the notes she did fifty years ago. It was a concert I am so grateful to have been to and one that I will never forget.
Sunset Boulevard has the honour of being my favourite musical for many reasons. It has a timeless story and, although I’m not the biggest fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, I have to admit that it does have a beautiful score. The extensive list of famed actresses who have portrayed the fading movie star Norma Desmond is also incredibly impressive; Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige, Petula Clark… the list goes on and on! This year saw a revival of the musical, boasting the West End debut of Glenn Close (who originally played Norma on Broadway over twenty years ago). To be able to come back to such an iconic role twenty years later must have been a huge challenge for Close, but she more than lived up to the expectation. Although she is not an actress famed for her ability to sing, she is more than capable of devouring Lloyd Webber’s score (even if her voice isn’t quite what it was twenty years ago). It was an incredible experience to watch one of my favourite actresses play such an iconic role (something I could never have dreamed would happen), and at one of the most beautiful theatres in London, the Coliseum. It is a huge venue, and not really a theatre, but an opera house. The sophistication and beauty of the Coliseum made it the perfect venue for such a highly anticipated theatrical event. Despite the price of the tickets (I paid more to see Sunset than I have ever paid for a theatre ticket before!), I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world, and seeing Glenn Close in her West End debut made it all worth-while.
Please let me know what shows you have seen this year that made a big impression on you too!
Thank you so much for reading! And happy Love Theatre Day!