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Strictly Ballroom at Piccadilly Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson

A Guide to West End Musicals 2018

17 June 2018 Suzanne Frost

We’ve all been there: the in-laws, nieces and nephews, your parents, friends of friends or that person you once met on a plane is coming to London and they want to see a show! Which one should they queue for, they ask you, their very own London expert, expected to know everything. Maybe you are a musical theatre buff but even then, the choice on offer is vast and picking the right show for the right people can be tricky. So, we’ve put together a handy West End musical guide for every type!

Your parents/in-laws/auntie/uncle/distant relatives are in town
42nd Street Company. Image Credit: C. Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

What you are looking for is a classic. Something tried and tested, something beautiful, non-controversial (you don’t want to disappear into your seat cringing with embarrassment), and reminiscent of the golden age of Broadway, with some good old-fashioned crooning and music to tap your toes to… What you are looking for is 42nd Street! This dapper American dream fable is cheeky and chic in a wholesome all American, all singing, all dancing kind of way. It’s big on sparkle and big on entertainment and those tap dancing feet of the most famous opening in musical theatre history never fail to amaze. For something with a bit more drama and depth, Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera are some of the longest running shows in the West End for a reason. Rock solid storytelling and fantastic music passed the test of time, and in case you are worried, both shows have aged well and their huge production value means they still look spellbinding 30 years on.
 
42nd Street is currently taking bookings until October 2018. Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera are taking bookings until March 2019.
 

Your sister/brother/best friend is bringing the kids
Royal Shakespeare Companys Matilda The Musical. Credit Manuel Harlan

For children to teenagers to their parents in tow, there is no better show than Matilda. Roald Dahl’s cheeky children’s book has been adapted for the stage with masterful creativity, making this a little gem of a show. The beautiful set alone is worth a visit, the energy and accomplishment of the little performers is inspiring to anyone in the audience and the message of empowerment at the heart of the story is something that any parent, no matter what school of education they subscribe to, can surely agree on. Matilda has a kick-ass girl heroine at the centre of the story but there are enough naughty boys on stage as well to make this show feel pleasantly gender neutral. And because Roald Dahl never underestimated or sugar-coated his young readers, Matilda still has a meaningful message for older kids as well. Plus it is funny as hell! Alternatively, School of Rock about preppy school kids discovering the power of music by forming a rock band is an equally entertaining joyride.
 
Matilda is currently taking bookings until October 2019. School of Rock is extended until January 2019.
 

But I hate Musicals…
The Book Of Mormon at The Prince of Wales Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

Faced with this special group of people, take it as a challenge: They just haven’t found the right show yet. Yes, musicals can be cheesy, they can be silly, a lot of them are downright terrible but trust us, there is a show for everyone, and for the people who hate musicals may we suggest The Book of Mormon – a show so outrageously offensive and side splittingly funny we dare even the most determined musical theatre grump not to giggle. With writing credentials by the makers of South Park, this is a show you can happily take your boyfriend or annoying little brother to without ruining their street cred, then watch them gasp as the defiantly un-PC show gleefully mocks Religion, Americans, gays, blacks, AIDS… and Bono. It is fist-in-mouth shockingly rude and hilarious as hell. But ultimately, in terms of dramatic structure, storytelling and music it is a rock solid, well-crafted musical, which explains it’s lasting success. For more giggles, Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein, based on the trashy 1974 horror-comedy film, has just the right balance between frat boy humour and big Broadway tunes. For all its silliness, Mel Brooks is an expert in musical theatre history and for a big green monster tap dancing like Fed Astaire to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” look no further!
 
The Book of Mormon is currently taking bookings only until August 2018. Young Frankenstein is expected to close in August 2018.
 

The Musical Theatre Buff
John McCrea and company. Credit: Alistair Muir

Do you have a friend who has seen everything, bought every T-shirt and knows every lyric? What you need is some new writing! Everybody’s talking about Jamie is a new original British musical (and there aren’t many of those these days) and it is a real treat. Based on a TV documentary about a small town kid dreaming of being a drag queen, the show celebrates diversity, tolerance, self-acceptance, taking a stand against bullying and going for your dreams. With poppy songs by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells, and a sassy central performance by the drop dead gorgeous John McCrea as Jamie, it is a masterclass in fabulousness. The only place you could get even more glitter is at Strictly Ballroom, which opened just a month ago, so you can be sure to impress your musical expert friend with a seriously hot ticket. Based on Baz Luhrman’s cult film set around a 1980s Ballroom Dancing competition – and lovingly mocking the whole fake-tan-and neon-costumes style – this was a perfect show for Britain’s young choreographer whizz Drew McOnie to sink his teeth into. There are whirlwind dance scenes, a soundtrack of 80s pop hits, glitter cannons and Will Young in a sequinned cat-suit – what more could a musical theatre buff ask for?
 
Everybody’s taking about Jamie is currently taking bookings until April 2019. Strictly Ballroom is currently booking until October 2018.
 

For the Intellectual
Image Credit: Chicago the Musical via Facebook

If you know someone who will decidedly not enjoy a glitter cannon but rather prefers to leave the theatre intellectually stimulated, then Stephen Sondheim is the thinking person’s alternative to Lloyd Webber. His show Company, frequently billed as 'the first concept musical', takes an unflinching and honest look at the ups and downs of married life. In typical Sondheim style, the dark and detached humour will have you knowingly smirk – then suddenly crack your heart wide open. Company opens in London in September with a new gender reversed production. Bobby, the ardent singleton, will now be a woman, promising to give us new insight into the mind-set of the single girl 2018. Until then, there’s Bob Fosse’s phenomenal Chicago. The musical unfortunately fell into the celebrity cast trap that sometimes happens to long running shows, but the show itself still packs a punch. Our obsession with celebrity, fame and notoriety, our craving for news as entertainment and the phenomenon of trial by media have only become more prominent in recent years and Chicago holds a mirror up to the ugly face of humanity – whilst still managing to looking seriously sexy itself. Chicago is a class act that should leave you thinking, as long as you’re not too razzle-dazzled by it all.

Company opens at the Gielgud Theatre in September 2018. Chicago is taking bookings until October 2018.
 

For everyone lucky enough to be alive right now
Image Credit: Hamilton West End via Facebook

Of course you want to see Hamilton. Everyone in town wants to see Hamilton. Some of us (sorry for bragging) have seen Hamilton and this uber-hit of a show isn’t actually as sold out as you would have been lead to believe. Check online and there is decent availability in the more acceptable price range from about November this year. You might have to sit up in the rafters but the Victoria Palace Theatre has been given an overhaul for this show, and visibility is not too shabby up there. Also, it is worth to remembering that Hamilton started as a concept album. So sure, you want to see the show, but the visuals don’t necessarily add anything indispensable. The phenomenal lyrics and music is where it’s at with Hamilton - listen and you wont miss a single plot line. Yes, prices for this show are outrageous but if you are willing to fork out a bit more than usual, premium tickets are up for grabs literally for tomorrow, and Hamilton thankfully is the kind of cultural phenomenon that lives up to its reputation.

Hamilton is expected to run at the Victoria Palace Theatre for years to come
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