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Mark Shenton’s theatre picks: September 24

Lesley Bricusse (centre) with the cast of Pure Imagination Leslie Bricusse (centre) with the cast of Pure Imagination, (from left to right) Dave Willetts, Julie Atherton, Niall Sheehy, Siobhan McCarthy and Giles Terera. Photo: Ian McGlasham
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You wait ages for a new British musical, and then 80 arrive all at once: I’m referring, of course, to the nightly improvised musical Showstopper! that arrives in the West End for its first full run this week. But it’s only one (or 80) of the musicals I’ll be catching in London and beyond (including, for me, a week in New York from Monday, which I’ll be reporting on in this space in due course).

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical – Apollo Theatre, London

The first extended West End season for Showstopper!, previously seen in fringe, festival and one-nighter West End outings, kicks off on September 24 at the Apollo, and over the next two months, will see some 80 musicals made up on the spot from scratch in front of the audience, who participate in its creation.

Pure Imagination – St James Theatre, London

Also on the musicals front, the St James has Pure Imagination (opening on September 28), a revue celebrating the work of Leslie Bricusse including the title song that can also currently be heard in the West End in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A stellar cast includes West End veterans Dave Willetts and Siobhan McCarthy (the original Donna in Mamma Mia!). Also in the cast are the always wonderful Julie Atherton, Naill Sheehy (a finalist on ITV’s Superstar), and Giles Terrera, under the direction of Christopher Renshaw.

Jeni Bern as Katharine and Quirijn de Lang as Petruchio. Photo:
Jeni Bern as Katharine and Quirijn de Lang as Petruchio. Photo: Alastair Muir

Kiss Me, Kate – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Beyond London, Opera North kicks off a new production of the Broadway Cole Porter scored classic Kiss Me, Kate (opening September 24 at the Grand in Leeds, before touring to Theatre Royal Newcastle, The Lowry Salford Quays and Theatre Royal Nottingham) Opera singers Jeni Bern and Quirijn de Lang star as Lili Vanessi and Fred Graham, respectively, joined by musical theatre performers Tiffany Graves and Ashley Day as Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun respectively. It is directed by Jo Davies, with new choreography by Will Tuckett (recently interviewed in The Stage) and conducted by David Charles Abell.

The Smallest Show on Earth — Mercury Theatre, Colchester

The 1957 British film comedy The Smallest Show on Earth that starred Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford, is turned into a musical, featuring songs from the back catalogue of Irving Berlin, opening at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre on September 30 ahead of a national tour that will visit Coventry, High Wycombe, Glasgow, Plymouth, Crewe, Swansea and Malvern. Directed by Thom Southerland, who has also co-written the book with Paul Alexander, the score features Blue Skies, Shakin’ the Blues Away, Let Yourself Go, Steppin’ Out With my Baby and How Deep Is the Ocean. The cast includes Liza Goddard, Brian Capron, Haydn Oakley, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Ricky Butt.

Farinelli and the King – Duke of York’s Theatre, London

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse also has its first transfer to the West End as Mark Rylance reprises his King Philippe V of Spain in his wife’s first play, Farinelli and the King (opening on September 29). Claire van Kampen’s play, which is directed by John Dove, tells the story Farinelli, once the world’s most famous castrato and one of the greatest celebrities of his time in 18th century Spain, who trades fame and fortune in the opera houses of Europe for a life of servitude at the court of King Philippe V. Sam Crane plays Farinelli, with the singing role reprised by opera star Iestyn Davies and shared with Rupert Enticknap and Owen Willetts.

Nell Gwynn – Shakespeare’s Globe, London

The summer season at the Globe itself concludes with the premiere of Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn (opening on September 24), starring rising film and stage star Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the title role of a woman who emerged as Britain’s most celebrated actress and the king’s consort. Swale, who also works as a director, previously wrote Blue Stockings that was also premiered at the Globe in 2013. Her new play is directed by Christopher Luscombe, whose previous Globe directorial credits include The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Comedy of Errors.

Eventide – Arcola Theatre, London

More new plays around town include Critics’ Circle Most Promising Playwright winner Barney Norris’ Eventide (opening at the Arcola on September 25). Alice Hamilton directs a story of three people whose worlds are disappearing.

Sally Messham stars in Tipping the Velvet. Photo: Jay Brooks
Sally Messham stars in Tipping the Velvet. Photo: Jay Brooks

Tipping the Velvet – Lyric Hammersmith, London

Laura Wade’s new stage adaptation of Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet, opening at Lyric Hammersmith on September 28, is directed by Lyndsey Turner, who is also currently represented in London by her production of Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The production features Sally Meesham and Laura Rogers as two women who fall in love.

Roaring Trade – Park Theatre, London

Nick Moran (best known for his film roles in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and as Scabior in both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) stars in a revival of Steve Thompson’s 2009 play, Roaring Trade, about city traders, opening on September 30.

The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead – Everyman, Liverpool

Simon Armitage’s latest play The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead is premiered at Liverpool’s Everyman, ahead of a national tour under the auspices of English Touring Theatre.

Hecuba – Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Crucible at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
The Crucible at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

In the classics corner, Derbhle Crotty plays the title role in Marina Carr’s new version of Hecuba, directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s deputy artistic director Eric Whyman and opening at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Swan on September 24.

The Crucible – Royal Exchange, Manchester

Jonjo O’Neill is John Proctor in Miller’s The Crucible, revived at Manchester’s Royal Exchange by director Caroline Steinbeis (opening on September 23, with a press matinee also on September 24).

Richard III – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Yorkshire-born actor Reece Dinsdale returns to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Dinsdale, who starred in the theatre’s opening production of Wild Oats back in 1990, will play the title role in Shakespeare’s play, directed by Mark Rosenblatt, opening on September 30.

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