So after all the planning and organising and mad, last-minute rushing around, Christmas Day has finally been and gone. I hope everyone had a good one? It is always a lot of effort for just one day, but for most people, all that hard work is worth it to enjoy that quality time with loved ones. Now that it’s over though, we look to next Monday evening where we will once again gather with our family and friends to celebrate the arrival of 2013. The dawning of a brand new year inevitably evokes people to excitedly look ahead at what’s to come. At the same time, we also can’t help reflecting back on the last 12 months. If we reflect back on London theatre for 2012, what kind of year was it for the West End?
There were plenty of new arrivals to Theatreland this year, for both straight and musical theatre. In regard to the latter, it enjoyed a wide range of musical additions in 2012, including revivals (Cabaret – Savoy Theatre), jukebox (Let It Be – Prince of Wales Theatre), comedies (Spamalot – Harold Pinter Theatre/Playhouse Theatre) and new writing (Soho Cinders – Soho Theatre). The top four most highly anticipated musical productions to come to the West End this year however had to be these:
Sweeney Todd – Following a successful run at the Chichester Festival, Sondheim’s grisly musical transferred to the Adelphi Theatre in March 2012. The macabre tale of ‘the demon barber of Fleet Street’ and his thirst for bloody revenge is a classic in the world of musical theatre, and this production didn’t disappoint. Directed by Jonathan Kent and starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton as ‘Sweeney Todd’ and his pie shop owner accomplice ‘Mrs Lovett’, the musical drew in an audience nightly and was the talk of the town. It closed in September 2012 to make way for another highly anticipated musical…
The Bodyguard – This stage adaption of the 1992 Oscar Award-winning film opened at the Adelphi Theatre in December 2012. Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston originally portrayed Secret Service agent-turned bodyguard ‘Frank Farmer’ and singing superstar ‘Rachel Marron’ who, against all the odds, fall for one another, but now, Lloyd Owen and Heather Headley are recreating the magic on the West End stage. Written by Alexander Dinelaris and directed by Thea Sharrock, the musical features such classic songs as ‘I Have Nothing’, ‘Run To You’, ‘Queen of the Night’ and, of course, ‘I Will Always Love You’. After the success of film-turned-musical Ghost the Musical last year, The Bodyguard is once again proving that a much-loved film can make the transition to the stage without losing anything along the way.
Singin’ in the Rain – Another transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre which has done very well this year is this revival of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s musical. Adapted from the 1952 film, Singin’ in the Rain features music by Nacio Herb Brown and lyrics by Arthur Freed. The 2012 stage revival at the Palace Theatre starred Adam Cooper, Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen, as well as choreography by Olivier-nominee Andrew Wright. The tale of the emergence of the taking picture in the 20’s and a love story between Hollywood actor ‘Don Lockwood’ and a young chorus girl has been delighting audiences for years, and its return to the West End has delighted many more of them.
Viva Forever! – Based on the songs of The Spice Girls and featuring an original story by comedienne/actress Jennifer Saunders, this new musical was expected to be one of 2012’s biggest hits. The musical, which opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in December 2012, centres around the talented, young ‘Viva’ who enters an X-Factor-type reality show with her friends, causing friction between her fellow band members and her mother when she is propelled into the bright lights of overnight fame. Produced by Mamma Mia’s Judy Craymer and directed by Paul Garrington, the jukebox show stars Hannah John-Kamen and Sally-Ann Triplett and features many of The Spice Girl’s hit songs, such as ‘Say You’ll Be There’, ‘Wannabe’, ‘Spice Up Your Life’, a mash-up of ‘Mama’ and ‘Goodbye’ and, of course, the title song. Theatre critics recently panned the musical in their reviews, but many other audience members have highly praised it. Only time will tell whether it is, in fact, a 2012 success story.
Other musicals which were given the ‘thumbs-up’ this year were Top Hat (Aldwych Theatre), Kiss Me, Kate (The Old Vic), Merrily We Roll Along (Menier Chocolate Factory), Loserville (Garrick Theatre) and Taboo (Brixton Club House). The arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar went on a successful trip around the UK after Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a ‘Jesus’ through a television casting competition on ITV found the talented Ben Forster, and d director Danny Boyle was exalted for masterminding the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games here in London.
It wasn’t just a good year for the West End musical however; the West End play also had its fair share of critically acclaimed productions. Nick Payne’s Constellations premiered at the Royal Court Theatre before transferring to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End. Directed by Michael Longhurst, it was a beautiful play which jumped from moment to moment within the concept of a quantum universe as it explored the themes of free will and friendship, perfectly led by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time was another of 2012’s big-hitters. It transferred to the Apollo Theatre in March after a sell-out run at Cottesloe, National Theatre, with Luke Treadwell continuing in his well-received role of ‘Christopher Boone’. The play is based on Mark Haddon’s 2003 mystery novel and was adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens. It follows quirky 15 year old ‘Boone’ (who may or may not be autistic) as he investigates the death of a dog that he finds. Further notable plays include The Effect (Cottesloe, National Theatre), Hedda Gabler (Old Vic Theatre), Chariots of Fire (Gielgud Theatre), Abigail’s Party (Menier Chocolate Factory/Wyndham’s Theatre) and A Long Day’s Journey into Night (Apollo Theatre). The Shakespeare double bill at the Globe was also a highlight of the year, with Jerusalem star Mark Rylance playing the lead role in Richard III and ‘Olivia’ in Twelfth Night, the latter of which also saw Stephen Fry return to play ‘Malvolio’ in his first major stage role in seventeen years.
Reflecting back on 2012, it should be considered to be a successful year for West End theatre. There were undoubtedly countless more productions which ran in 2012 that warranted inclusion here, but sheer volume prevents me from mentioning them all. 2013 will soon be here, but let’s not forget all the wonderful productions of this year that gave theatre fans so many hours of joy. Merry Christmas readers, and a very happy New Year.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 27th December 2012