2012 West End
As London welcomed the long awaited 2012 Olympic year the theatre industry braced itself to see exactly how the ‘greatest show on earth’ would affect the glorious West End. With Andrew Lloyd Webber predicting a “bloodbath” over the period, stating that at least three big shows will close for at least three weeks, producers appeared tentative as box office sales did prove to be slower than expected for the summer months. A number of high profile transfers and new musicals which were expected to open in 2012 decided to wait until the New Year, as theatre real estate was at a premium and no one wanted to make the first move. Top of everyone’s wish list was the anticipated West End transfer for the Tony Award winning hit musical The Book of Mormon which is now opening at the Prince of Wales Theatre in February 2013. The show scored an impressive 14 Tony Award nominations, winning in 9 categories including Best Musical. It continues to be the hottest ticket on Broadway and the South Park creators from whom the musical comes are hoping that this success will be matched across the Atlantic. It was left then to two jukebox musicals to provide the big kicks for the West End, arriving just in time for the festive market. The first to open was The Bodyguard at the Adelphi Theatre, starring Tony Award winner Heather Headley in the iconic role of Rachel Marron. News of Whitney Houston’s death in February 2012 made the show seem more poignant, focusing the lens slightly to make it about the singer as well, as her back catalogue was pulled in to help tell the story. Reviews were mixed to positive, as Thea Sharrock helped the show stay on the right side of tacky tribute, and no one who owns a pair of ears could be less than impressed with Headley’s performance. Critics were less kind however to the disastrous Viva Forever that opened with an air of arrogance at the Piccadilly Theatre, reuniting all five Spice Girls at the press night. Producer Sonia Friedman and Jennifer Saunders failed to see the wood for the trees, obviously so convinced they were onto a winner, pitching the show at the wrong audience and creating one of the worst pieces of West End theatre seen in many years. Critically savaged, few found anything good to say about the show, aside from the performances by West End stars Sally Ann Triplet and Sally Dexter. The production soon reported bad ticket sales and if rumors are to be believed a rewrite is underway to help fix it. I wouldn’t personally know where to start.
The year started by splashing away the post-Christmas Blues with the first of one of the sparkling new musicals headed to the West End. First up came the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Singin in the Rain which opened at the Palace Theatre on February 4th after receiving rave critical reviews during the summer of 2011. Adam Cooper stared as silent film star Don Lockwood alongside the beautiful Scarlett Strallen in this toe tapping light entertainment based on the classic MGM film. Another successful transfer tap danced its way into the Aldwych Theatre as Top Hat opened on April 19th. Tom Chambers was joined by Summer Strallen (sister of the above) in this dazzling production which followed on from a successful UK tour. Top Hat followed a short run of Midnight Tango featuring the stars of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace which opened on January 20th for a ‘strictly’ limited period.
Chichester’s second successful show of 2011 also found a West End home when Stephen Sondheim’s London musical Sweeney Todd transferred to the Adelphi Theatre opening March 20th. Starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton as Sweeney and Mrs Lovett this production received rave reviews and dazzled the West End stage once again. Sondheim’s most recent musical Assassins opened at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington in a brand new production, along with a regional production of Gypsy starring Caroline O’Connor at Leicester’s Curve which began March 13th.
Two long running West End shows set out on UK tour, the first being a new production of Starlight Express produced by Bill Kenwright. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s edgy train musical ran for almost 18 years at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and took to the road after opening at the New Wimbledon Theatre in May. After celebrating 25 years in London’s West End The Phantom of the Opera launched a new UK wide tour opening in Plymouth in March. This re-imagined production featured new designs directed by Laurence Connor. Whilst Jesus Christ Superstar opened on Broadway, Lloyd Webber took part in a televised search to find the next Jesus for a Stadium tour of the show which began at the O2 arena. Ben Forster was selected as the final messiah and starred alongside Chris Moyles, Tim Minchin and Mel C to mixed reviews and papered houses.
Revivals threw up a mixed bag of success in London, as Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre mounted a new full scale production of Ragtime. This Flaherty and Ahrens musical is based on the novella by E.L Doctorow and shows a tapestry of turn of the century America. The venue seemed undeterred by the Olympic competition and even offered tickets priced at £20.12 for a limited period. The radical reinterpretation was too much for many people, and the combination of bad weather and other pursuits meant that Tim Sheader’s production was not the hit it was hoped to be. Opera North returned to the Barbican with a brand new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Carousel after a brief UK tour. Following the success of last summer’s South Pacific this gem of a show was an absolute pleasure, delivering a quality classy musical in an engaging way.
‘The play was the thing’ in the West End for 2012 with an array of new and old dramas treating audiences throughout the year. Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III ran for a limited time at the Apollo Theatre, hot on the tails of Jerusalem. Starring David Haig in the title role, this production transferred from the Theatre Royal Bath, and gained excellent reviews. It was soon followed by a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night from April 2 as David Suchet joined Laurie Metcalf in this gripping drama directed by Anthony Page. Comedy fans had plenty to choose from including revivals from two of the world’s most performed playwrights. Noel Coward’s Hay Fever opened on February 9th starring Lindsay Duncan as the first of the author’s works to be performed at the newly named Noel Coward Theatre. Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Absent Friends opened on the same day at the Harold Pinter Theatre starring Kara Tointon who was last seen Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre. Both provided enough laughs to lighten the mid-winter blues.
The 2011 musical Backbeat closed early at the Duke of York’s Theatre to give way to Zach Braff’s own play All New People from February 22nd. Famous for roles in the US sitcoms ‘Scrubs’ and ‘Garden State’ this transatlantic comedy had previously played in New York. Neil Simon’s play The Sunshine Boys proved successful at the Savoy Theatre in a new production starring Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths. The other half of ‘Cagney and Lacey’ Tyne Daley kicked off the year of multiple shows at the Vaudeville Theatre, as she starred in Master Class direct from a successful revival on Broadway. The venue struggled to attract audiences throughout the year with shows such as What the Butler Saw, Volcano and Uncle Vanya all posting early closing notices.
At the Donmar Warehouse Michael Grandage bid a fond farewell, handing over the reigns to Josie Rourke, who kicked off her season with The Recruiting Officer followed by The Physicists and Making Noise Quietly. All eyes were on the tiny venue to deliver and live up to its reputation as once of the best theatres in London, and it is fair to say that the results were mixed. Over at the National, director Nicholas Hytner showed no signs of leaving, announcing a new season which included the classic play She Stoops to Conquer (Jan 24) along with the premiere of Nicholas Wright’s new play Travelling Light (Jan 11) which starred Antony Sher and was one of their most disappointing pieces of the year. The Southbank Venue continued their successful NT Live project which broadcasts their work live all over the globe, along with affordable £12 Travelex Tickets. Staying south of the river, the Old Vic’s smash hit revival of Noises Off transferred to the West End’s Novello Theatre, before Mamma Mia! became its new resident in September, and produced similarly successful shows such as Jamie Lloyd’s production of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Kiss Me Kate.
If Shakespeare is what you were after then 2012 did not disappoint. The Globe’s season included a return to the space for Mark Rylance who reprised his roles as Olivia in Twelfth Night and the lead in Richard III, both of which transferred to the Apollo Theatre and became one of the hottest shows of the year, thanks in part to comedian Stephen Fry donning in the cross garter-ed yellow stockings. Regent’s Park presented an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream along with the RSC’s World Shakespeare Season which featured new productions of The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest at the Roundhouse, along with Julius Caeser and Much ado About Nothing at the Noel Coward.