With the year drawing to a close it's time to look back on all my theatrical outings of 2016 and which were the very best of the best. I've had the pleasure to see a fair share of mostly great productions and so narrowing it down to just 10 favourites wasn't an easy job, but I got there in the end. The final list is a decent mix of West End and fringe shows, with even a UK tour thrown in. The majority are musicals because I do tend to see more of those, but there are a few plays in my favourites too. So without further ado, here are my top 10 favourite theatre shows from 2016!
10. Miss Atomic Bomb - St James Theatre
The musical is the brainchild of writing trio Gabriel Vick, Adam Long and Alex Johnson-Long, and so crazy that you cannot make it up (and that's what made it so good). Set amid the height of the nuclear tests in 1950s America, Las Vegas isn't yet the slick and excessive city we know it as today. It was a struggle for the businesses to lure tourists to their hotels and convince the cash-strapped visitors to spend their money, and so some local brains conjured up the idea for viewing parties to watch the nuclear clouds in the nearby desert and they even organised themed soirees with atomic cocktails, and eventually a beauty pageant to crown Miss Atomic Bomb. This new piece of British writing had all the elements for a good old-fashioned musical; a story rooted in reality but heightened for theatrical flair, over-the-top comedic moments, showstopping group numbers (jazz hands and all), and an incredibly talented cast (including Catherine Tate and Simon Lipkin). Explosive it may not have been, but I sure had a blast watching it. Read my full review here >>
9. Little Shop of Horrors – New Wimbledon Theatre
Sell A Door Theatre Company has been doing stellar things within the UK in recent years, going from strength to strength with their touring productions that often rival West End shows in talent and production values. The UK Tour of Little Shop of Horrors, was their latest musical offering and it was a pretty perfect adaptation of the creature story where a flower shop clerk grows a monstrous plant that starts demanding human blood to grow and prosper. Sell A Door elevated the cult classic to a show worthy of a West End stage with a stunning set design and (mostly) spot-on casting. Main characters Seymour and Audrey were hugely flawed, yet the delightful renditions of the characters by Sam Lupton and Stephanie Clift made it impossible not to fall in love with them. Who knew a creature feature could be so sweet? With catchy tunes and likeable leads Little Shop of Horrors turned the absurd monster story into a whole heap of tongue-in-cheek fun. Read my full review here >>
8. In the Heights – King's Cross Theatre
Even if you're not a musical theatre fanatic, the hype that is Hamilton the Musical can't have gone unnoticed. But Hamilton wasn't creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's first musical, and we've been lucky in London that his earlier work, In the Heights, has been playing successfully for a few years now. I first saw it in 2015, but I did go back a few times this year as I loved it so much. Set in a sweltering hot summer in New York's Washington Heights, the musical tells the stories of the residents in a hugely vibrant way. In the Heights is an exhiliratingly energetic show; it popped, it locked and it even made me shed a tear or two. A definite must-see before it sadly closes its doors at King's Cross Theatre in January 2017. Read my full review of an earlier visit here >>
7. Sunset Boulevard – London Coliseum
The phenomenal Sunset Boulevard was a really special experience because the ENO production was very limited and had an INCREDIBLE cast, including Glenn Close and Michael Xavier. I had never seen the film, but as soon as the overture started playing I fell in love with Andrew Lloyd Webber's music for this show, and the cast was an absolute sensation. Of course Glenn Close was brilliant (outstanding on the acting front, though vocally she wasn't the very best I've ever heard), but Michael Xavier has also grown a lot since The Pajama Game and was complimented well by Siobhan Dillon. An absolutely stunning show and I feel truly privileged for having had the chance to see it.
6. The Last 5 Years – St James Theatre
Written by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, Parade, Songs for a New World), The Last Five Years' most iconic feature is its unique approach to storytelling. Through protagonist Cathy's eyes we see her love story with Jamie unfold from the present into the past, while Jamie's story moves from the past into the present. Cathy and Jamie only ever meet on stage once; in the middle of the show during their marriage. The moving romance story was complemented well by a killer score and cast (Samantha Barks and Jonathan Bailey), a simplistic but effective lightning and set design, and a highly unique approach to storytelling which made it such a stand-out show. This was a truly beautiful piece of theatre. Read my full review here >>
5. Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
This is another one I didn't first see in 2016 (in fact, my first visit was all the way back in 2014), however I did go again in 2016, very near the end of the run and it remained one of my absolute favs throughout the year. In 1970s Saigon, at the tail end of the Vietnam War, 17-year-old recently orphaned Kim (Eva Noblezada) works as a bar girl at a sleazy club called 'Dreamland', which is run by The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones), when she meets an all-American handsome sergeant by the name of Chris (Chris Peluso). The epic spectacle that is Miss Saigon is big theatre at its very best. While it may lack a slight emotional punch in its final hour, this was more than made up for by the thrilling spectacle unfolding on the stage. At times it was surreal to think that what we were watching was in actual fact theatre, and not something which was filmed on a much larger scale. Read my full review of an earlier visit here >>
4. School of Rock – New London Theatre
There have been two Broadway musicals in recent years that have managed to get me obsessed with them through the soundtrack alone: Hamilton and School of Rock. While we have a little while longer to wait for Hamilton to open in London, School of Rock did arrive in October and I was so keen to see it that I ended up booking a ticket for previews. Worth it! This adaptation of the Jack Black movie with added songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber feels like the best of Matilda meets the best of Rock of Ages. It rocks and is so much fun, and holy crap the child actors are insanely talented (not only acting, singing and dancing, but playing the instruments live on stage too). Definitely one I'll be returning to in 2017!
3. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace Theatre
This was a very special experience because the theatrical continuation of the Harry Potter story was told in two back-to-back plays, meaning we immersed ourselves in this world for almost an entire day - which was truly magical. The first play kicks off during the epilogue in the final Harry Potter book and so takes place 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. What happened to our favourite trio since then? And what about the other characters we've grown to love (or hate)? As a die-hard Harry Potter fan, seeing the wizarding world in the theatre was of course an awe-inspiring experience, and I loved the clever way in which the magic was interwoven into the staging and set design. But what did I think of the story, new and old characters, and the cast? Read my full (spoiler-free) review here >>
2. RENT the Musical - St James Theatre
This was my last theatre outing of 2016, and what a phenomenal way to finish the season! The 20th anniversary production of RENT is perhaps not the most obvious Christmas show but it's the one you need to see this year. The raw and honest story of poverty, AIDS, and prejudice in contemporary New York City packs a powerful punch inside the intimate St James Theatre, and I will guarantee that you'll end up listening to the kick-ass music on repeat for days, possible even weeks, after (I have been). While, heart-breakingly, RENT was writer Jonathan Larson's last work as he died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm the night before the show's opening in 1996, what a legacy to leave behind. After winning a slew of Tonys and Drama Desk Awards during its original run, and even the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this show, and the latest revival, have proven RENT is definitely not a One Song Glory. Read my full review here >>
1. Amadeus – National Theatre
This play was by far my favourite theatre outing of the year. Amadeus tells the tale of the supposed rivalry between classic composer Antonio Salieri and child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when they were both working in Vienna towards the end of the 18th century and is nothing short of an epic theatrical spectacle. Salieri's monologues were inspiring, the costume design was stunning, musically it was constantly exciting with the 20-piece Southbank Sinfonia on stage as part of the action, and Mozart's slow descent into madness was both captivating and surprisingly moving. In short, this is a must-see production and if you cannot get to the NT for it, make sure you catch the cinema screening in February! Read my full review here >>
And that concludes my list of favourite theatre outings in 2016!
What were your favourite shows you saw this year?
What were your favourite shows you saw this year?