My top 10 West End musical performances (continued)

Ruthie Henshall will star in Follies at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo: Mug Photography
Ruthie Henshall will star in Follies at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo: Mug Photography
Stuart Piper is managing director of Cole Kitchenn Personal Management Ltd
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I have been accused in the past of shamelessly promoting my own clients (a badge I wear with pride), so following my last blog where I chose 10 of my favourite West End performances from people I have represented, here's my next 10 from those I haven't:

Ruthie Henshall - Chicago

Is there a greater triple threat is the history of the West-End? I'd wager not. She's at her best in musical comedy that exploits all her skills - and Roxie Hart was her zenith.

Steve Balsamo & Zubin Varla - Jesus Christ Superstar

The pairing of these two in the excellent Lyceum revival was earth shatteringly brilliant. Balsamo sang Gethsemane like no one else had before or since. His ethereal presence was Jesus incarnate. And if I had to put one performance above all others Zubin would top the tree. His Judas was a man crossing the precipice from nervous breakdown to psychopathic madness. It was excruciating to watch, thus stained on my retina for all time. How on EARTH did these two not play the roles in the not very good film for video version made a few years later? I've never had a straight answer and I'd love to know.

Joanna Riding - Carousel

I knew Joanna would be on this list, but I just wasn't sure for which role. Ultimately though, the role that gave her her first Olivier was probably the one that solidified her place as one of musical theatres most accomplished dramatic actresses.

Rachel Tucker

Today, the role of Elphaba is the pinnacle of many a belter's ambition, and some wonderful ladies have played the role in London. But for my money Rachel is by far and away the best Elphaba I have ever seen, anywhere in the world. The tragedy that she didn't win I'd Do Anything turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Jenna Russell - Sunday in the Park with George

There's a truth that lies at the heart of everything Jenna does, which then allows the theatregoer to suspend disbelief so willingly that she can grab your heart with one hand, control how it heats, stop it, and jolt it into starting again, all with a raised eyebrow or half smile. Broadway in particular has always been most enamoured with Bernadette Peters' Dot (which I also love), which is why Jenna's was so well received - it couldn't have been more different.

Daniel Evans - Merrily We Roll Along

I almost chose Sunday in the Park with George against Daniel's name, but ultimately it was his Charley in the Donmar production of Merrily that first brought him to prominence. Daniel is a fiercely intelligent man, which made his tortured genius Charley utterly plausible. Daniel has proven himself in Sheffield to be an equally important director, but I'm glad he's not deprived the world oh his on stage talents too.

Ramin Karimloo - Phantom

Love Never Dies was... Complicated. But Ramin in Phantom was one of the best Phantom's of all time- and it was that good when he was Standby to Earl Carpenter. At that stage I think I watched his performance more than his resident director, as I was married to one of his two Christine's at the time, and represented the other. It restored my faith in the industry that a performance like that could not go unnoticed, and that he would sky rocket to the top of his game with an Olivier nod and commercial album release just a few years later.

Joanna Ampil - Miss Saigon

I watched the 10th anniversary performance, when Lea Salonga came out and sang a beautiful song that had been cut from the show previously - but it was Jo who just shook the audience to its core - for me, my favourite Kim ever.

Sheridan Smith - Into The Woods

People think of Legally Blonde as Sheridan's big West End moment, which of course it was, but after a debut in the NYMT's Bugsy Malone as Talullah (opposite me as Dandy Dan - taught her everything she knows, obv) she played Little Red Riding Hood in Sondheim's Into the Woods in cast that included Homeland's Damian Lewis and Sophie Thompson. And Sheridan literally stole the show. She was hilarious and heart breaking all at the same time. She should've received an Olivier nomination- god knows why she didnt. Maybe someone knew there'd be plenty of time for awards later...

Cynthia Erivo - Color Purple

My most recent addition to the list - Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I cried, I stood, I cheered. I have no other words. Well, I do: one of the most incredible performances I've ever seen in that converted warehouse. Or anywhere for that matter. A true star.

Is that 10 already? Dammit.

I wanted to include Jodie Walker, Hannah Waddingham, Michael Jibson, Nathan Lane... but this is quite enough lists for now – my next blog I shall return to prose style long form argument.


  1. This is fun!

    Juliet Prowse in Sweet Charity, in London, way back when.

    The original cast of Chorus Line at Drury Lane (the original production; sorry everyone, I didn’t see the recent one, I wish I had).

    Julie Covington and Ian Charleson in Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre (1982). Also Julia McKenzie in the same show. Bob Hoskins was good but I couldn’t not think of what Laurence Olivier would have been like if his intended Nathan Detroit had ever reached the stage of the Old Vic in 1971!

    Ian Charleson’s high beautiful high tenor coming right over every one else’s voices in the curtain call of, I think, Comedy of Errors (musical version), RSC at the Aldwych. A heart-stopping moment. A real, real loss.

    Twiggy and Tommy Tune (at the time a public item off stage which certainly helped their chemistry on stage), My One and Only, Broadway (1983). We suspected but didn’t really know at the time that the show had had a rocky birth So, in fact, the youngsters were fighting for their lives (and careers) in front of us in true Broadway/Hollywood style. Why Twiggy doesn’t have a continuing stellar career on the musical theatre stage I’ll never understand. I’d pay good money to see her sing and dance any time.

    Barry Dennan and Lila Kedrova in the original London production of Cabaret (1968). Sorry, Judi Dench was never a natural musical theatre performer for me.

    Tim Curry in the original production of Rocky Horror Show, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square. Also Julie Covington, again.

    Paul Nicholas, Marsha Hunt, Annabel Leventon, Micky Feast, Linda Kendrick, Sonja Kristina all terrific in the original London cast of Hair (1968).

    Elaine Page in Cats singing Memory and her whole performance in Evita.

    The un-named French actress I saw perform the title role in Irma La Douce in Paris in, I think, 1966. Why is this musical so rarely revived? It’s a delight.

    Frances Ruffelle in Piaf, Curve, Leicester (March, 2013)

    Tim Flavin in 42nd Street, Curve, Leicester, ex-Chichester (Dec 2011). The chorus in the same excellent show, which was ever better than the original London version, which I saw at Drury Lane in 1984.

    Patti Lupone, Gypsy, Broadway (2008)

    Elaine Stritch singing “I’m Still Here” in Company, Her Majesty’s (1972)

    Topol in Fiddler on the Roof, Her Majesty’s (1967), But also huge special mention to the choreography (Jerome Robbins), the Marc-Chagall-inspired set and the wonderful lighting design, which I still clearly remember more than 45 years later!

    Jean Simmons and Hermione Gingold in A Little Night Music, Adelphi Theatre (1975)

    The whole cast of Howard Lloyd-Lewis’s UK premiere of Pacific Overtures, Wythenshawe Forum, Manchester (1986) hugely better than any of the subsequent productions anyway of this excellent piece.

    Helen Mirren more or less impersonating Janis Joplin (very well!) in Teeth ‘n Smiles by David Hare, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square (1975)

    And a real oddball nomination: Josette Simon in Taming of the Shrew at Leicester Haymarket singing the Funky Chicken, brilliantly. Don’t ask me why. The show had an East European director, ’nuff said.

    And the prize for performance goes to …… a three-way tie between Josette Simon, Jean Simmons and Ian Charleson.

  2. I simply cannot understand your comments concerning the dreadful Twiggy, she proved in ‘My One And Only’ that she not only cannot dance but has absolutely no stage presence whatsoever.
    Oh dear!!! You missed out the entire original production of ‘The Boy Friend’ an absolute joy !!

  3. So, what I have learned from this and agree with Stuart  naming just ten performances is almost impossible. But I have had a go and placed my top ten musical performances based only on UK Productions that I have seen and which made a great impression on me. They are in no particular order….

    1) Kirby Ward  as Bobby Child – Crazy for You (1993 Prince Edward Theatre) 

    His performance as the original lea in the Prince Edward production is often overlooked but the energy and talent of it for me in how he lead and drove that production I have never forgotten.

    2) Anthony Head as Frank n’ Furter – The Rocky Horror Show (1990 Picadilly Theatre)

    In a role that’s already psy ominous with legendary performances by other people he gave new life to an old show and made this his own. I have always revered it. He was also a terrific Freddie in Chess at the Prince Edward Theatre taking over the role.

    3) Betty Buckley as  Norma Desmond – Sunset Boulevard (1994 Adelphi Theatre)

    Her Norma Desmond is unforgettable to anyone who got to see it.

    4) Peter  Karrie as Che – Evita (1987 First National tour)

    I saw him play Che at the Theatre Royal in Norwich and his performance and that production post it’s West End run I always remember. It made a great impression on this 13 year old and in its two week run at the Theatre Royal I went three times to see it. I would also note his performances as Phantom of the Opera and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables which were also both terrific.

    5) Bruce Hubbard as Joe – Showboat (1989 London Palladium)

    His performance I still remember with delight alongside the on-stage relationship he shared with Karla Burns was one of incredible chemistry, this was the greatest performance I have ever seen of this role. Sadly he passed away a few years ago but his performance can be heard and I am pleased lives on in the  complete studio recording of the show.

    6) Barry James joint position as  Otto Kringelein  in Grand Hotel (1992 Dominion Theatre) and as  Bamford Beadle  – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1993 National Theatre)

    Anyone who was lucky enough to see him in the undeservedly shortlived  Grand Hotel will always remember his performance especially in “Will take a Glass together” which even now makes me smile with joy. In Sweeney Todd Bamford Beadle is a role so often a bit part in Sweeney Todd but here Barry James  made it a terrific and memorable performance. If you do not know Barry James work and want to see what I am talking about further then check out his performance as Thenadier on the Les Miserables Complete Symphonic Recording where the character just busts through the speaker at you – and why I think he is the best actor who has ever played this role and one of the UK’s great musical character actors.

    7) Elena Roger as Eva – Evita (2006 Adelphi Theatre)

    I know people were divided over her performance but for me it was breathtaking. I would watch her perform “Buenos Aires” every day if I could but it was her acting in the later scenes between her and Peron which is why I think she took the role to another level and as an Argentinian herself gave this real authority that power also comes across in the cast recording of the show.

    8) Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer – Miss Saigon (1989 Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

    This was a truly great and virtuoso performance. His first musical and an incredible acting performance that often gets forgotten amid all the subsequent controversy of the shows transfer to Broadway. 

    9) Adrian Lester as Bobby – Company (1995 Donmar Warehouse)

    His acting performance in Being Alive and throughout as Bobby I have never forgotten.

    10) Alan Cummings as Emcee – Cabaret (1993 Donmar Warehouse)

    I felt he took Emcee to a whole other level – brave, cruel, funny, heartfelt and broken and you invested in his journey as an audience. If you missed it the first time he revives his performance next year for New York’s Roundabout Theatre revival.


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