This week 15 years ago marked a landmark moment in the West End, as The Big Life opened at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Our review reported: “Theatrical history is being made twice over in the West End right now. Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Elmina’s Kitchen is the first play by a contemporary black writer to be produced in the West End. It has now been joined by the arrival of The Big Life, the first indigenously created black musical set in Britain to open on Shaftesbury Avenue. It transferred from Theatre Royal Stratford East, where it originally premiered last April.
“It may seem incredible that it has taken quite so long for this to happen, but no special pleading needs be made for either show as both earn their right to be there on any terms… Like the recently opened Billy Elliot, this is a British folk musical about real folk. And it could herald the dawning of a new golden age for British musicals. Not since the advent of the mega-musical in the early eighties has there been such a vibrancy and confidence in evidence…
“Paul Sirett has created an original story – lightly spun from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost – while Paul Joseph has written a superbly syncopated score of vibrant melodies. Jason Pennycooke’s slick and witty choreography makes it a tremendous dance show, too, while a superb ensemble cast – and brilliant onstage band – create a thrilling atmosphere. Clint Dyer’s staging has managed to retain the raw vigour it had at Stratford, but the show has been enhanced with a real rigour too, to make it one of the most joyful in town.”
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