“Changes, oh! Down below. Up Above”. That’s a lyric, of course, borrowed from A Chorus Line, the Broadway classic returning to the West End next month (from February 2) to the London Palladium, for the first time since it was first staged in London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
That was, coincidentally, the first musical I ever saw in the West End, soon after arriving in London from South Africa (where I was born and lived up to the age of 16) in 1979. I remember it keenly; not just that my ticket cost me just 50p (!), for a balcony seat that in fact had me moved to the rear stalls, but also because the original Broadway cast album was one of the first I had ever bought for myself back in Johannesburg.
While that opening lyric refers, of course, to the onset of puberty, the year ahead will also see plenty of changes up above on the marquees of the West End, too, as well as down below amongst the rankings of the major players behind the scenes of British theatre. My selective preview of the year in theatre ahead that has already been announced will appear in the New Year edition of The Stage, out this Thursday, along with this year’s winners of The Stage 100 Awards and the paper’s annual theatrical power list of the movers and shakers in the West End and beyond.
The year ahead is already promising us an amazing line-up of star actors, mostly returning home to the stage where their careers began and have long drawn sustenance from. Just some of the names that will be gracing London stages in the coming months are Judi Dench, Helen Mirrren, Daniel Radcliffe, Jude Law, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell, Rupert Everett, Antony Sher, Felicity Kendal, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones, James McAvoy, Rowan Atkinson, Lee Evans, Zoe Wanamaker, Douglas Hodge, Ben Whishaw and Sheila Hancock.
Here are the 40 plays and musicals I’m most looking forward to:
Musicals, New and Revivals
1 & 2) The 2011 and 2012 Tony winning musicals are arriving less than a month apart in the West End: the (multi) million dollar question is whether 2011 winner Book of Mormon will match its Broadway success when it arrives at the Prince of Wales from February 25, or whether the quieter, more heartfelt (and more homegrown) charms of Irish musical Once will eclipse it (at the Phoenix from March 16).
3 & 4) As well as the aforementioned revival of A Chorus Line, whose three terrific leading ladies Scarlett Strallen as Cassie, Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila, and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Diana are reason enough to re-visit it, I also can’t wait to see Jerry Herman’s 1969 flop Dear World receive its UK premiere at the Charing Cross Theatre from February 4, with Broadway’s eccentrically brilliant Betty Buckley taking the role originally created by Angela Lansbury.
5) While Matilda continues in the West End and heads to Broadway in March, another Roald Dahl story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is also being brought to the stage when Sam Mendes directs Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from May 18, with new songs from Hairspray’s Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
6 & 7) On the fully British new musicals front, Tim Rice has teamed up with a new composer Stuart Brayson to write a new stage version of the 1951 novel From Here to Eternity (at the Shaftesbury from September 30), while Soho Theatre will host the world premiere of LIFT, a musical by Craig Adams and Ian Watson, from Jan. 30, set in the elevator of a London tube station and with a cast that includes the wonderful Julie Atherton.
1 & 2) There is nothing like a dame, and there is nothing like the two called Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. Mirren, who has of course already won the Oscar for playing the Queen, will now star in the same role in a new play The Audience, which comes to the Gielgud Theatre from Feb. 15, directed by Stephen Daldry. And Judi Dench will join forces with Ben Whishaw to star in the world premiere of John Logan’s Peter and Alice, presented as the second in the Michael Grandage Company’s residency at the Noel Coward Theatre (previewing from March 9). Grandage and Logan’s last collaboration on Red at the Donmar Warehouse went on to Broadway.
3 & 4) Another writer/director team – Bruce Norris and Dominic Cooke – reunite at the Royal Court, where the latter bows out as artistic director by staging the world premiere of Norris’s The Low Road, which the the theatre commissioned, from March 21. (Meanwhile the fringe Gate Theatre will offer the UK premiere of another Norris play Purple Heart from Feb. 28, directed by that theatre’s artistic director Christopher Haydon).
5) Also at the Court, Jeremy Herrin reunites with Polly Stenham, whose first two plays he has also directed, when he stages No Quarter in the Theatre Upstairs from January 11.
6 & 7) I’m looking forward to seeing the National Theatre’s sell-out productions of Simon Stephens’s stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time again when it transfers to the West End’s Apollo from March 1, and also James Graham’s House of Commons drama This House when it moves from the Cottesloe to the Olivier from February 28.
8 & 9) I’m also looking forward to the chance to catch up with two transfers from the regions, for Kneehigh’s Steptoe & Son (from Leeds to the Lyric Hammersmith from March 19) and for Cora Bissett’s Glasgow Girls (from Glasgow to Stratford East from February 8).
10) Later in the year, the West End will see the world premiere of Barking in Essex by the late television writer Clive Exton, starring Lee Evans and Sheila Hancock at Wyndham’s from Sept. 6.
1-3) As well as Peter and Alice, the Michael Grandage Company ‘s game-changing West End line-up also includes Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan (with Daniel Radcliffe from June 8), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with Sheridan Smith as Titania and David Walliams as Bottom, from September 7) and Henry V (with Jude Law in the title role from Nov. 13).
4 & 5) More West End Shakespeare will also see the launch of the new Jamie Lloyd company at a transformed, reconfigured Trafalgar Studios with James McAvoy playing the title role in Macbeth (from Feb. 9), and Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones reuniting after their previous Broadway and West End triumphs in Driving Miss Daisy to star as Beatrice and Benedick in Mark Rylance’s production of Much Ado About Nothing (at the Old Vic from Sept. 7).
6 & 7) At the Donmar Warehouse, Joe Wright – who was himself brought up in the shadow of the Little Angel Theatre in Islington that his parents founded -– will stage Pinero’s Victorian backstage play Trelawny of the Wells (from Feb. 15), to be followed by the first London revival of Conor McPherson’s 1997 play The Weir (from April 18), directed by the Donmar’s artistic director Josie Rourke.
8 & 9) As well as his Curious Incident transfer, Simon Stephens will also see his 2002 play Port receive a new production at the National, again directed by the busy Marianne Elliott who also staged its original production (in the Lyttelton Theatre from Jan. 22). Also at the National, Antony Sher will star in the title role of the 1931 German play The Captain of Kopenick, directed by former RSC artistic director Adrian Noble making his NT debut (in the Olivier from Jan. 29).
10 & 11) In the West End, there will be revivals of Harold Pinter’s Old Times (starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams, at the Pinter Theatre from Jan. 12) and Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms (starring Rowan Atkinson at Wyndham’s from Jan. 23, whose original production was directed by Pinter).
12 & 13) Zoe Wanamaker will star in a revival of Peter Nichols’s Passion Play (at the Duke of York’s from May 1), and Felicity Kendal and Kara Tointon will appear in a West End transfer for Bath Theatre Royal’s touring production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking (at Wyndham’s from May 14).
14 & 15) Hampstead Theatre’s recent revival of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss will transfer to the Duke of York’s (from Jan. 17), with Rupert Everett reprising his performance as Oscar Wilde and Freddie Fox as his lover Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas. Another more contemporary (and happier) gay love story classic Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing will return to the Arts in a new production starring Suranne Jones, from April 13.
16) Another modern classic making a welcome return, under its original director Max Stafford-Clark’s auspices, is Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, which concludes a national tour for his Out of Joint company with a season at the St James Theatre (from Jan. 30).
1 & 2) I’m looking forward to The Full Monty, returning to its Sheffield roots to premiere as a stage play written by its Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from Feb. 2, prior to an 11-week national tour. At Leicester’s Curve, Frances Ruffelle (Tony winner for the original production of Les Miserables, in which she created the role of Eponine) will play the title role in Pam Gems’s Piaf (from February 22).
3-7) Hitting the touring road are Priscilla Queen of the Desert (kicking off at Manchester’s Opera House from Feb. 9), Ghost (starting at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre in April) and Wicked (at Manchester’s Palace Theatre from Sept. 12). And Barry Humphries will return to the UK for his final farwell tour as Dame Edna and other characters in Eat Pray Laugh!, starting at Milton Keynes from Oct. 23.
As always, I’ll be here every weekday (apart from holiday breaks!), offering a regular commentary of news and opinions from both my seat on the centre (or side) aisles at most West End first nights, as well as my desk at home and office. I’ll also be offering regular coverage from my second home city of New York, where I am right now and will be filing a report from next this Friday.