2002 West End

After the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th of the previous year, the West End suffered due to a lack of tourist interest. Many new musicals and plays blamed the events for their early demise, although it quickly became an excuse from producers looking to please shareholders.


Madonna (Wikipedia)

Celebrities became the buzz word for the year, to improve the volatile market and provide star quality to draw people back to the theatre. International Pop sensation Madonna took to the stage for the second time in her career to try and prove she could act – something that critics and many audiences failed to be convinced by. She starred in the Wyndham’s Theatre production of Up for Grabs, the 2000 play by Australian David Williamson. The play acted as an analysis of how wealth and power has the ability to corrupt the arts, which seemed ironic as audiences were paying record prices of over £40 to sit at the front of the theatre just to breathe the same air as the famous singer. The production was directed by Laurence Boswell and suffered due to Madonna’s overall lack of technical ability.


Gwyneth Paltrow reprised her film role in Proof at the Donmar Warehouse, receiving positive reviews from a variety of critics. Although many found holes in Auburn’s play, Paltrow was commended for her efforts at giving her character a distinct realism. Peter Hall brought together two of the Redgrave acting dynasty in his revival of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Theatre Royal Haymarket as real life mother and daughter Vanessa and Joely Richardson confirmed their family connection onstage. Hall relied on the acting to please the audience rather than any groundbreaking direction in Wilde’s social comedy that was confident but never cocky. The most successful celebrity turn of the year came from Judy Dench and Maggie Smith starring in David Hare’s play The Breath of Life at the Haymarket, which managed to sell out without printing a single poster.


Times were changing at the Donmar Warehouse as Sam Mendes stepped down as Artistic Director, passing the baton over the Michael Grandage who had already proven himself with productions of Privates on Parade and Sondheim’s trickiest musical Merrily We Roll Along.


Cats the Musical (Wikipedia)

On May 11, Cats the musical made history at the New London Theatre where it broke the record for the longest running musical in London. The show closed on its 21stbirthday, taking itsfinal box which was broadcast on a large screen in Covent Garden to the delight of thousands of fans. The show held the record until 2006, when Les Miserables took over the title. The year was also an end of an era for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s roller skating train musical Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, where it closed after a staggering 7,506 performances. The show still remains one of the longest running musicals in London’s history, only usurped by Lloyd Webber’s own Cats and Phantom of the Opera. The show was replaced by Lloyd Webber’s producing debut as Bombay Dreams opened at the theatre on April 29th. Featuring a score by Bollywood composer A.R Rahman and a book by Meera Syal, the show ran for a respectable two years before transferring to Broadway.


Chitty at the London Palladium, London shows 2002 (Wikipedia)

Other new musicals of the season included an ambitious production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium. Directed by RSC veteran Adrian Noble and starring Michael Ball as the wacky Caractacus Potts, the production literally ripped out the venue to create a realistic flying car. The hassle proved to be a success as the production brought in over £70million in its three and a half year run and became the longest running production at the venue. Jukebox musicals were once again well represented with Boy George’s Taboo and Queen’s We Will Rock You competing to out glam each other, the latter winning by remaining in residency at the Dominion Theatre for over 10 years.


The Olivier Awards created controversy by awarding Eastenders actress Martine McCutcheon the prize for Best Actress in a musical for her portrayal of cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in Trevor Nunn’s My Fair Lady. After missing a record number of performances due to ‘vocal injury’ and leaving the show after a mere 3 months, many felt that the award was unfairly given, as even producer Cameron Mackintosh later admitted he wouldn’t hire her again. The award for Best Actor did not go to her Henry Higgins, Jonathan Pryce, but instead rewarded Phillip Quast who starred in Trevor Nunn’s reworked revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic South Pacific at the Olivier Theatre.


Opening in London’s West End


We Will Rock You – The Dominion Theatre, The Full Monty, The Breath of Life – Haymarket, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Palladium, The Coast of Utopia – National, Anything Goes – National, A Streetcar Named Desire – National, Play Without Words – National, Vincent in Brixton – Wyndhams, Uncle Vanya – Donmar, Twelfth Night – Donmar, Proof – Donmar, Jesus Hopped the A Train – Donmar, Abigail’s Party – New Ambassadors, Macbeth – Albery, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Mrs Warren’s Profession – Strand, Bombay Dreams – Apollo Victoria, Taboo, Our House,