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Mark Shenton’s theatre picks: October 23

Beverley Knight in Memphis at Shaftesbury Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
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Autumn winds may be stripping the leaves from the trees, but it’s springtime in theatreland, with budding new shows sprouting up all over the country. My picks this week reflect the current crop of superb musicals on offer in London, a couple of gems in the regions and three shows you really mustn’t miss.

Memphis – Shaftesbury Theatre, London

The Tony award for best musical is generally regarded as the most important accolade of all the Tony’s, since it’s a label that will attach to the show forever after as well as boost its immediate box office. And it usually guarantees a transatlantic crossing, too. Case in point: Memphis (winner in 2010) officially arrives at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre on October 23, and my review will appear on The Stage website October 24.

[pullquote]A Tony usually guarantees a transatlantic crossing[/pullquote]

Of the other winners in the last 25 years, only The Will Rogers Follies (which won in 1991) and the shows that won in the last two years, Kinky Boots (2013) and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2014) are yet to be seen here. True, a couple of them have only had London showings at Southwark Playhouse, in the case of Titanic (1997) and In the Heights (2008), but others have not only made the crossing but also had a London revival since, like Rent (revived more than once), City of Angels (about to return in December in a new production to the Donmar Warehouse), Crazy for You, Passion and Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Others, however, have quickly faltered – Contact and Spring Awakening failed to match their Broadway runs. So will Memphis replicate its New York success over here? The producers have front-loaded it with two break-out musical stars: Beverley Knight, the soul singer who made a major splash when she took over in The Bodyguard; and Killian Donnelly, one of the discoveries of the stage version of The Commitments.

And though it’s called Memphis, the show is not a Motown-style retread of hits that have

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Photo: Tristram Kenton

emanated from that music factory of a city, but features an entirely original score by Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan.

Sunny Afternoon – Pinter Theatre, London

Instead, this week’s jukebox musical entry is the homegrown Sunny Afternoon (pictured, right), transferring from Hampstead Theatre to officially reopen at the Pinter Theatre on October 28, telling the story of Ray Davies and the Kinks through their irresistible songs, and I’m looking forward to seeing again. My review for The Stage will appear on October 29.

Sweeney Todd – Harrington’s Pie and Mash, Tooting

I also can’t wait to see the year’s most unusual yet appropriate sounding Sweeney Todd, being staged at Harrington’s Pie and Mash Shop in Tooting — a living, breathing place that has been in existence since 1908. Will they be serving shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top? Until the end of November, they will, thanks to the eager work of Mrs Lovett (to be played by Siobhan McCarthy, the West End’s original Donna in Mamma Mia!). My review for The Stage will appear October 30.

‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

The indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe embarks on its second full season with a new production of John Ford’s combustible ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, opening officially on October 28. Rising star director Michael Longhurst – soon to reprise his Royal

Photo: Manuel Harlan
Photo: Manuel Harlan

Court production of Constellations on Broadway – directs a cast that includes further rising stars in Max Bennett and Fiona Button, as well as Olivier Award winner Noma Dumezweni and Michael Gould.

Grand Guignol – Southwark Playhouse, London

Carl Grose’s Grand Guignol (pictured, right) transfers from Plymouth’s Drum Theatre in Simon Stokes’s revival of his own production, starring Jonathan Broadbent who was recently so heartbreaking in My Night With Reg.

But First This – Watermill Theatre, Newbury

I’m intrigued by the sound of But First This, a musical homage to Radio 4 that will feature Michael Fenton Stevens as John Humphreys, and a cast that includes another Mamma Mia! original, Louise Plowright, opening at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre on Monday (October 27).

The Witch of Edmonton – Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

RSC artistic director Gregory Doran brings the second John Ford play of the week to Stratford’s Swan, The Witch of Edmonton, co-written with Thomas Dekker and William Rowley, officially opening on October 29, This rarely-performed Jacobean domestic tragedy features the glorious Eileen Atkins in the title role of Elizabeth Sawyer, and will play in rep with The White Devil to November 29.

Don’t miss these…

The Scottsboro Boys
– Garrick Theatre, London

Photo: Tristram Kenton
Photo: Tristram Kenton

The transfer of Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys (pictured, right) gives the West End a serious jolt in the musical arm. When it first opened at the Young Vic, I seriously doubted it would have a commercial life beyond that, but I’m absolutely thrilled to be proved entirely wrong. A bracing, brilliant evening of brilliant musical theatre. It continues at the Garrick Theatre.

Here Lies Love – Dorfman, National Theatre, London

Another transfer from off-Broadway (where it continues to run at the Public Theatre, but which it has just this week been announced it will close on January 3), Here Lies Love is an arresting, thrillingly performed immersive experience, involving and implicating the audience in its revolutionary fervour. Booking at the National’s Dorfman Theatre to January 8.

Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre

Imelda Staunton is unmissable as Madame Rose in Jonathan Kent’s wonderful revival of the Broadway classic, running at Chichester to November 8 – but surely West End-bound after that?

Read more columns from Mark Shenton

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