From the best musicals and plays to spectacular productions from the worlds of circus, immersive theatre, opera and dance, The Stage’s critics choose the 50 shows that really stood out in 2019
With no digital fur technology in sight, Nick Winston’s radical re-imagining of Cats continued the trend of making Lloyd Webber’s work feel fresh and exciting again. Locating the show in a near-derelict London Underground station during the Second World War, there were fantastic performances as well as breathtaking choreography. It was a production that made you forget how familiar Cats has become. Move over Taylor Swift.
In the past few years, directors have shown how inventive they can be with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue. Jamie Lloyd’s production for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – moving to the Barbican next year – is the latest in a line of thrilling acts of re-imagination. It’s an Evita for the social media age, with a rock-concert vibe and confetti showers, unafraid to make Evita unlikeable, and all the more powerful for it.
Before he died, Fiddler’s book writer Joseph Stein explained to director Trevor Nunn that he’d always wanted Fiddler to be “more real”. So that’s what Nunn did with his revival, which started life at the Menier Chocolate Factory before moving into the Playhouse Theatre. Certainly there were moments of light and humour in the production, led by the wonderful Andy Nyman, but the grim cruelty and the inexorable desolation of the pogrom scenes at the end will be hard to forget.
Josie Rourke concluded her artistic directorship of the Donmar with a revival of the problematic 1966 musical, by Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon, about the romantic travails of an eternally optimistic New York taxi dancer. Fusing new choreography with a Warhol-inspired design and throwing every toy in the directorial box at the stage, it boasted a wonderfully warm and raw performance from Anne-Marie Duff as Charity Hope Valentine. Adrian Lester’s glittery rendition of the Rhythm of Life – complete with massive spliff – was a highlight of the year.
Although initially overshadowed by a casting controversy, the many strengths of Tinuke Craig’s production of this musical – based on Alice Walker’s book – allowed it to soar on its own terms. Its difficult subjects of abuse and domestic violence made for a deeply moving experience, and at the centre of it was T’Shan Williams, giving a stunning performance as Celie.
The Stage’s pick of the best shows of 2019 was compiled by Natasha Tripney and Tim Bano, with contributions from George Hall, Anna James, Neil Norman and Francesca Peschier