2007 West End
2007 was an interesting year for London Theatre. After the ‘success’ of the previous years’ reality TV casting, Producers widened their search criteria further – the first without much success and the second, backed once again by The Lord, finding a genuine West End gem. Whilst the annual revival of Grease searched for a new Sandy and Danny to open at the Piccadilly Theatre, BBC came back with another cleverly titled talent search, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ with the aim to this time find a Joseph for a new revival at the Adelphi Theatre. Whilst many complained at the time that Lee Mead donning the ‘dream coat’ as a professional and trained actor defied the point of the programme, Mead himself proved to be an excellent leading man, and like Connie before him, drew in the crowds to see the revival based on the 1991 London Palladium Production that managed to run for a respectable time. That is until Gareth Gates took over the role and committed the musical once again to the Biblical graveyard.
The biggest musical triumph of the year came in a slightly larger form as Hairspray opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre, breaking the string of flops the venue had recently enjoyed. Starring unknown Leanne Jones as the larger than life Tracey Turnblad and a swollen Michael Ball as her mother, the show received high critical praise and was a roaring success, winning a string of Olivier Awards the next year. As ambitious new musicals go, nothing could beat The Lord of the Rings which opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane after a tryout period in Canada. As the most expensive musical ever made to date, the show attempted to cram all three novels into one stage show, in a particularly non traditional musical form. Laura Michelle Kelly brought A R Rahman’s score to life as Galadriel delivering a collection of unforgettable songs and ‘mood’ music. The show was savaged by the press and dubbed everything from ‘Bored of the Rings’ to ‘Flawed of the Rings’, but that didn’t stop the show running for a respectable 13 month run. The production cost upwards of $30million and featured a cast of 65 actors who fought tirelessly to bring Middle Earth to life. Controversy hit early on as actors were wounded by the hydraulic set which was constantly used to keep the show moving. Even the theatrical power of Matthew Warchus (director) and Peter Darling (choreographer) couldn’t save the production, which was described by producers as “a definitive megamusical”. The show was not however the biggest flop of 2007. That award went to Desperately Seeking Susan, the musical based on the film of the same name with music and lyrics by Blondie. The show opened at the Novello Theatre and ran for barely a month, losing over £3.5million.
Revivals fared better overall, with an impressive production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Savoy Theatre which starred Henry Goodman as Tevye. The production transferred from the Sheffield Crucible and enjoyed moderate success commercially. The Drowsy Chaperone transferred from Broadway to the Novello Theatre and starred Elaine Paige as the title role, albeit quite miss cast. The musical sensation of the year came in a smaller form at the Donmar Warehouse. Rob Ashford’s revival of the Jason Robert Brown musical Parade played from September 24 to November 24 to rave reviews. The production starred Bertie Carvel as Leo Frank and Lara Pulver as his wife Lucielle. The show featured new material, expanding certain characters and giving the show more depth. The intimate setting led to a powerful performance by the entire cast and was superbly directed.
Celebrities once again took to the stage in various forms. Orlando Bloom was keen to prove he wasn’t just a pretty face as he starred in David Storey’s revival of In Celebration, as was Christian Slater in Swimming with Sharks. Dame Maggie Smith played a fantastic role in The Lady of Dubuque which ran at the Haymarket directed by Anthony Page, although the show failed to win the audience’s imagination, and the show was not the success it had hoped to be. Matthew Warchus rekindled himself as he presented a hilarious production of the 1960s comedy Boeing-Boeing which enjoyed a fantastic run before transferring to New York. Eyebrows were firmly raised as the boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe took off his clothes in Thea Sharrock’s production of Equus alongside Richard Griffiths, prompting full houses waiting to judge the real size of Harry Potter’s wand. Patrick Stewart delivered a sterling performance as Macbeth in Rupert Goold’s modern adaptation at the Gielgud Theatre, which set the action in Eastern Europe and presented the bloody witches as a variety of sickening characters.
The biggest hit of the year came from the National Theatre in an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. The production used incredible puppet designs and horse sculptures to create the main characters in this tale about a young boy whose best friend (his horse) is sent to serve in the First World War. The production was a revelation and set new heights for even the National.