The year of 2011 has reached its end. Now it’s disappeared into the ether of the past and will, from here on in, forever be relegated to the store-room of the world, alongside all the other years which have been and gone. As we pack 2011 into that big cardboard box though, we make sure all the loose ends are tied up so we can wrap it all with a big pretty bow: in the theatre world, that means end-of-year round-ups.
So many critics, bloggers and theatre sites have gone down this route and I could have done the same but, to be honest, if you want to know which productions of 2011 were the cream of the crop then you just have to look at the picks of the recent theatre awards. The winners in the BroadwayWorld.com Awards and Evening Standard Theatre Awards… the nominations in the Whatsonstage.com Awards – they’re the best guides to what were the hits of the year. So instead, I’m going to stick with my attachment to musical theatre and just give special mention to some of the things I’ve seen and enjoyed this year.
Long-running shows: There are several shows in London’s West End which have their feet firmly planted in the ground now, but none so deep or strong than Les Miserables or The Phantom of the Opera. Both have passed that 25-year landmark and with good reason. An ex-convict’s struggle for freedom amidst the turmoil of revolution in nineteenth century France and a disfigured genius’ obsession with a young, beautiful soprano are two stories which, on the surface, are very different. Despite their differences however, they are both incredibly powerful and moving stories, full of passion, heart and that touch of darkness which audiences seem to flock to. On top of that, they are visually stunning shows with epic and beautiful scores. Everything that I love.
I’ve been to see Les Miserables a couple of times since its cast change in June, although I never made it in for the previous cast unfortunately, which I’m still a little regretful about to be honest. The current cast are pretty phenomenal however, and now that the equally phenomenal Ramin Karimloo is part of that cast (if only for a short time), I’m planning to make a third visit to the Queen’s Theatre soon.
The Phantom of the Opera is still at the top of my musical list – I simply adore it. The only time I’ve seen it this year though was for its 25th birthday celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall, which was a very memorable and wonderful night. A trip to Her Majesty’s Theatre in early 2012 is definitely in the books.
New shows: This probably comes as no surprise, but Matilda and Ghost were two of the best shows I’ve seen this year. I hadn’t expected to like Ghost all that much really; as an advocate for new writing, I tend to favour the more original pieces over this abundance of film-adapted musicals that we’ve been seeing. Having seen the film Ghost countless times, I was concerned that a stage version would spoil it by being a carbon copy, but Matthew Warchus’ direction made it fresh and captivating while still staying true to the emotional heart of the story. It has an incredible cast too – as does Matilda. Bertie Carvel’s ‘Miss Trunchbull’ was the performance of the year for me and the children in that show are unbelievable. The combination of Tim Minchin, Dennis Kelly and, again, Matthew Warchus turned Roald Dahl’s heart-warming tale book into a highly entertaining musical which sometimes makes you laugh and sometimes makes you cry. More musicals like these would be most welcome in the West End.
Revived shows: Some shows are just so good that even a little thing like closure can’t stop them; they find there way back and are bigger and better than before. Crazy For You certainly did that this year. Harking back to the old-school Hollywood musicals, its big song-and-dance numbers and top-rated cast blew audiences away – there’s no show that sent people home with such a spring in its step than Crazy For You. If you haven’t been to see it yet, then please do. You’ll go crazy for it!
First-Timer: There’s always so much to see in the West End and I just don’t have the time or money to see everything I want, so it’s often about prioritising. Inevitably, it’s the staple shows that get put on the back-burner, with the assumption that there will always be plenty of time to get to them. This can leave you caught short sometimes. I never made it to Priscilla, which had its final performance last night. From what I hear, I better make sure I book a trip to the Savoy Theatre for this year if I don’t want to get caught short again…
One I finally ticked off the To-See list though was We Will Rock You: a MADTrust excursion to the Dominion saw to that. Jukebox musicals aren’t particularly my thing, but I try not to tar them all with the same brush. WWRY might not have the greatest book in the world, but come on, it’s Queen! I, like any sane-minded person, am a huge Queen fan. Their music is timeless and spending a couple of hours hearing those iconic songs being belted out by amazing voices is without a doubt, a couple of hours well spent. An entire house on their feet, waving glow sticks in the air and singing along with huge grins on their faces – that to me, is a good time. I’m very glad it’s no longer on that To-See list.
Closed Shows: For the West End to avoid becoming stale, shows will always have to close in order to make way for the new. It’s always sad, but also necessary. Some show’s closures hit harder than other however. For me, I was particularly gutted to see Love Never Dies and Lend Me A Tenor go. I thoroughly enjoyed both shows and thought they were great assets to the West End – not everyone agreed though it seems.
Love Never Dies had plot problems. Everyone knows that. Yet it also had a richly succulent score, looked breathtakingly gorgeous and had characters that audiences already knew and loved. I think I saw it four or five times, which is the most I’ve ever been to see a show. It’s very rare for a musical to not have some kind of problem with it, but unfortunately, Love Never Dies became one of those shows who just couldn’t overcome theirs. Personally, I think they gave up on it too soon, but at least there’s a touring production making the rounds this year, so there’s still life in it yet.
Lend Me A Tenor was just what the West End needed, in my opinion. Fabulous, farcical fun. It was the epitome of a good time. I hadn’t laughed so much in a long while. The cast were superb, the songs sublime and every comedic moment timed to perfection. This one definitely closed before its time. I wish some theatre-goers would open their minds a little more and embrace the new and unfamiliar – then perhaps shows like this would stand more of a chance.
As well as all of these musicals I saw in 2011, I was also there for some other brilliant theatre events. The casts of The Phantom of the Opera, Priscilla and Les Miserables all did cabarets for MADTrust, all of which were great successes; not forgetting all the shows who were involved in our annual events: West End Eurovision; West End Bares and A West End Christmas, which were bigger and better than ever before. Alex Gaumond, Kieran Brown and Sheytoons’ cabaret nights were great fun and I went along to most of the events hosted by the King of the Cabaret: Mr Simon Greiff of SimG Productions. I also enjoyed myself at the Direct From The West End mini-tour, as well as the concerts of new composers, Stephen Luke Walker and Jonathan Reid Gealt. These latter two are writers I am a big supporter of, but I found so many other writers to support this year, including: Chris Passey; Tim Prottey-Jones; Scott Alan; Anderson and Petty; Dougal Irvine; Grant Olding; Tim Sutton; Laurence Mark-Wythe and Christopher Orton. With so many of these talents releasing albums and working on musicals, I’ll continue supporting them this year, as I hope you all will do too.
2011 has been a pretty good year for theatre and I have high hopes for 2012. This could definitely be the year for new writing, and I’m highly anticipating new musicals After The Turn, Houdini and, most of all, My Land’s Shore. So farewell 2011, I’ve had a blast with you – but I think 2012 and I are going to be very happy together.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)