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
The premise of this new jukebox musical sounds mad, but the show itself is glorious. It imagines that Anne Hathaway rewrites the ending of Romeo and Juliet so that, rather than stabbing herself, Juliet goes to Paris with some mates and lives the life of a strong, independent woman. It’s set to a soundtrack of pop bangers by Swedish superstar songwriter Max Martin, whose credits include tunes by Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Backstreet Boys. By never taking itself remotely seriously, and with stellar performances from a fantastic cast led by Miriam-Teak Lee, & Juliet unexpectedly proved to be one of the year’s best musicals.
With the world feeling like it’s falling apart, this is a show that celebrates coming together. It started life in Canada, written by husband-and-wife team David Hein and Irene Sankoff, and tells the story of a tiny town in Newfoundland that took in travellers when 36 diverted jumbo jets had to land there on 9/11. It’s beautiful and uplifting while never shying away from the horror of that day, and a show that is such a powerful and positive force in troubled times.
One of a number of Broadway imports to the West End this year, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s musical was the one with the most to say. It’s already a huge hit in the US, with a devoted young fanbase, and it’s not hard to see why: it’s a show that takes teen anxiety and mental health issues seriously, and sets it to a score of hook-heavy pop tunes. The West End production also boasts a superb cast, led by newcomer Sam Tutty.
Sometimes excellence comes from unexpected quarters. SpitLip’s creation is a completely homegrown musical from former members of company Kill the Beast, retelling a famous Second World War plot involving a dead body and a briefcase. With a minuscule budget and in a short space of time, SpitLip created a show that’s not only flooringly funny, but a clever satire on class and history, too. It’s coming back for a run at Southwark Playhouse in January.
The combined forces of playwright Chris Bush and musician Richard Hawley made for a musical deeply rooted in, and showing huge love for, the city of Sheffield. With Hawley’s stirring music and a book full of rich, complex characters all based in the city’s Park Hill estate, the show touched on moments of local history – the pit closures and decline of the steel industry – while also tracing the social and economic history of our nation over seven decades. A real marvel of a work.
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