Mark Shenton: 10 musicals I’d like to see on the London stage
Some Broadway musicals take the slow road to London: Dreamgirls, currently previewing at the Savoy Theatre, opened in Broadway in 1981, taking 35 years to get here; Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Allegro finally premiered at Southwark Playhouse earlier this year, 68 years after its 1947 Broadway opening.
We also have Side Show playing at Southwark Playhouse (19 years after its 1997 Broadway opening); and coming in the next few months there’s The Life (also 19 years, and also coming to Southwark) and Maury Yeston’s Death Takes a Holiday (coming to the Charing Cross Theatre, five years on from its 2011 Off-Broadway premiere). Beyond London, Big (20 years on from its 1996 Broadway premiere) is now touring; and The Addams Family is due to launch in April in Edinburgh (seven years on from its 2010 Broadway opening).
These, then, are the top 10 musicals I’d like to see in London that have not been seen here yet – though there are many, many more. Please feel free to add them below in the comments, or tweet more suggestions. Perhaps a producer somewhere will be listening…
1. Next to Normal
No recent musical has affected me as deeply and personally as Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s 2009 Broadway show about a bereaved mother’s mental illness and how it affects her, her devoted husband and surviving daughter. I saw it nine times during its Broadway run – and it never failed to reduce me to floods of tears: partly recognition (no musical in my experience has so well plumbed the depths of loss that depression causes – and chronicled the highs that are sometimes its corollary) but also sheer love for its bold, brave take on such a taboo subject in the mainstream setting of Broadway.
2. Light in the Piazza
Adam Guettel is hardly prolific, alas; this is is his sole Broadway entry, though he’s also written the Off-Broadway masterwork Floyd Collins that was recently revived at Wilton’s Music Hall. Light in the Piazza, which received its British premiere in a production at Curve in Leicester in 2009, is yet to be seen in London, but contains a score of haunting magnificence, full of brooding melodies and operatic flourishes.
Wiliam Finn’s double bill of musicals – March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland – were written around the same set of characters but premiered Off-Broadway nine years apart, in 1981 and 1990 respectively. While the first musical sparkles with a kind of urban sophistication in its portrayal of a Manhattan man who leaves his wife and young son for another man, the second takes a far darker turn as the spectre of HIV/Aids arrives. Each part has been seen in the UK – March of the Falsettos even had a short West End run in a 1987 production that transferred from Manchester’s Library Theatre, while I fondly remembering seeing a student production from the 2001 Edinburgh Festival Fringe that was directed by a young Jamie Lloyd. But though they were first paired into one evening under the collective name Falsettos that was seen on Broadway in 1992, and is back there right now at the Walter Kerr Theatre, we’ve yet to see the double bill here.
4. Fun Home
Another stunning Off-Broadway musical around gay lives – telling of a young lesbian’s experiences of being brought up by her secretly gay father – this musical with a score by Jeanine Tesori and book by Lisa Kron originated at the Public Theater in 2014 before transferring to Broadway in 2015. Tesori is a major composer whose work we know far too little here: though we’ve seen West End outings for her shows Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek, and Caroline, or Change had a run at the National Theatre, we are also yet to see her utterly beautiful Violet.
5. The Boy from Oz
This bio-musical about the late, great Australian performer and songwriter Peter Allen was a star vehicle for Hugh Jackman on Broadway in 2003. It’s a crying shame we never got to see him do it here in London; but even if Jackman is unavailable, I’d love to see someone else do it. The Allen songbook is one of the best in modern pop; and it is neatly folded into his life story here.
6. The Act
The great Liza Minnelli was a regular muse and collaborator for John Kander and Fred Ebb. She made her Broadway debut, aged 19, in the 1965 production of their show Flora the Red Menace, and won a Tony for it; she would go on to star in the film version of Cabaret (winning an Oscar), and she was the first person to sing the now immortal title song of the 1977 film New York, New York – that Kander and Ebb wrote. That film was directed by Martin Scorsese, who would also direct her in Kander and Ebb’s The Act on Broadway the same year, for which she won her second Tony award. I’d love to have seen it – and it would make a great star vehicle for someone with the right vocal chops.
7. Woman of the Year
Another Kander and Ebb musical that has been unseen over here, this 1981 show was a vehicle for Lauren Bacall. Her rendition of the show’s One of the Boys on the 1981 Tony Awards is one of my all-time favourite YouTube musical clips.
8. The Will Rogers Follies
Cy Coleman is one of my favourite of all Broadway composers, and although we know shows such as City of Angels, Barnum and Sweet Charity very well (the latter is being revived at Manchester’s Royal Exchange this Christmas), I’d love to see a production of the 1991 Tony-winning best musical The Will Rogers Follies here, for which Coleman also took the Tony for best original score. Tommy Tune’s astonishing formation choreography is one of the great glories of the Broadway musical from the last 25 years.
This Disney-produced musical with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice played for nearly four years on Broadway after premiering 2000, but has strangely never made its way across the Atlantic to us. Given John and Rice’s British pedigree, this is a surprise. And it has some great songs, including Elaborate Lives (sung here by original stars Heather Headley and Adam Pascal).
The late, great director/choreographer Michael Bennett was partly responsible for hits A Chorus Line and the original Dreamgirls, but not all of his work was as successful. The show I’d have most liked to have seen is Ballroom, which premiered in 1978 but ran for just over three months. It has one of the great power ballads about being a mistress ever written, Fifty Percent, and was stunningly performed by the glorious Dorothy Loudon.
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