A musical for any occasion

As most people will know – especially if they live near a pub – it was St Patrick’s Day on Tuesday. This religious celebration commemorates the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, and the arrival of Christianity, but is nowadays more of an excuse to wear lots of green and drink to excess.

It is just the latest in a long and varied line of public holidays and other such annually-marked occasions which are celebrated here in the UK – in just over 2 weeks Easter is here, with many more following close behind.

There are such a variety of holidays recognised by the UK people, spread out across the year, and thinking about all these different days of celebration brought to mind another form of variety which should be celebrated: musical theatre. I’ve written on more than one occasion that the West End offers ‘something for everyone’, and that is very true; although theatre is very much about personal taste, there is a show to satisfy each and every individual’s particular taste buds. It was while following of this train of thought that I began to match musicals to holidays, working out which shows would be particularly suited for audiences on particular days, such as Christmas and Halloween.

The first major holiday of a new year is probably Valentine’s Day, a time for love and romance and to revel in the ‘hearts and flowers’ of it all. An ideal show for the occasion would be The Phantom of the Opera, which is one of the most iconic love stories in the history of musical theatre. Some may disagree, seeing it as a dark and gothic musical about a murderous masked madman, but Phantom is about more than that. Primarily, it is a love story. It is a musical filled with passion and desire, accompanied by a rich and sumptuous score and the splendour of Maria Bjornson’s glorious designs. Valentine’s Day is about expressing your love for someone, and at its heart, that is what Phantom is about as well, making it the perfect show for Valentine’s Day.

The following month is Mother’s Day, which celebrates mothers all around the world. My mother is a huge musical theatre fan and would be thrilled to see any show as a Mother’s Day treat, although she definitely has a soft spot for Les Miserables. That’s my mum though. Personal favourites aside, what show springs to mind when you think of Mother’s Day? It has to be Mamma Mia! For one, it celebrates the relationship between a mother and her daughter in a big way, and independent single mother Donna is one of, if not the, most central characters in the show. And secondly…it’s based on the music of ABBA, and who doesn’t love a bit of ABBA? It’s a show filled with feel-good fun and would be a wonderful experience for any mother as a Mother’s Day treat.

So where would have been a good place for musical theatre fans to be this Tuesday, if they weren’t celebrating St Patrick’s Day in the pub instead of course? They would have had great craic if they’d headed down to the Palace Theatre, as that is where the Roddy Doyle musical, The Commitments, is playing. It’s the story of how Jimmy Rabbitte shaped an bunch of amateur musicians and friends into the finest soul band Dublin has ever seen, The Commitments, before tensions within the group cause them to fall apart. On a day where all things Irish are celebrated, The Commitments is a brilliant way to pay homage to the Emerald Isle.

So where do you go for Easter? The choice balances on what aspect of Easter you are celebrating: the resurrection of Christ following his crucifixion, or fluffy-eared bunnies carrying baskets of chocolate eggs. For those who lean more towards the original religious meaning behind the holiday, Jesus Christ Superstar would be a good choice. I know it’s not currently playing in the West End, but for arguments sake, we’ll include it as there is no other musical more apt for this occasion. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s classic musical chronicles the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, from his arrival in Jerusalem, to his arrest following disciple Judas Iscariot’s betrayal, and ending with his crucifixion. It also features one of the greatest songs in musical theatre history, ‘Gethsemane’, and while that doesn’t have any actual baring on the religious aspect of Easter, any day is a good day to hear that performed!

If Easter is more about the chocolate for you though, then the obvious choice is Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The musical is based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story, in which a young boy from a poverty-stricken family wins the chance to go inside the mysterious chocolate factory of famous chocolatier, Willy Wonka. It’s a delicious chocolate-filled treat for all the family, and the perfect Easter treat.

On St George’s Day, we celebrate our English heritage and patriotism in the name of the patron saint of England, St George, the central figure in the well-known medieval legend of St George’s slaying of a dragon. Supporting a home-grown British musical on this day is a wonderful way to display your pride in your country. For family-fun, Matilda The Musical would be a nice way to mark the day, as it’s not only based on the book by celebrated British novelist, Roald Dahl, but was written by British talent, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly. Another proven British musical is Billy Elliot, adapted for the stage by another impressive creative team, Elton John and Lee Hall, following the initial success of Hall’s film of the same name. It follows Billy’s struggle to be accepted as a dancer after discovering a love and talent for ballet, set in Thatcherite Britain against the backdrop of the 1984-85 coal miner’s strike in north-eastern England.

Theatre fans could always bring the St George’s Day celebrations forward to see in the final performances of Made In Dagenham, which is now closing at the Adelphi Theatre on 11th April 2015. It centres on the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 and the fight for equal pay for women, which led to the Equal Pay Act 1970. It was a momentous moment in British history, and seeing a show based on the event would be a great tribute to both the new British musical, and St George’s Day itself.

I had to think for a while about Father’s Day. Fiddler On The Roof eventually came to mind, being a musical which centres on father, Tevye, and his relationship with his five daughters. It hasn’t been seen in London since 2007 though, so the next show I thought of was Sweeney Todd, which has returned to the West End with two different productions: the ENO’s version with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson at the London Coliseum and the transfer of the critically-acclaimed Tooting Arts Club production. Granted, it’s not the most sentimental show with all the grisly antics of the demon barber and Mrs Lovett, but underneath all the blood and pie-making, it’s a tale about a wronged man seeking vengeance for the loss of his beloved wife and daughter. There is love there and a strong father-daughter relationship story…rather nice for Father’s Day after-all. And all the blood and violence is likely to appeal to any man at a the end of the day!

Then I thought about Les Miserables. There are a lot of different characters and story-arcs going on in that show, but one of the strongest is that of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who ‘learns to love’ when he becomes a father to Cosette. After taking her in following the death of her mother, Fantine, the love of a father for his daughter is shown throughout the musical and it is Valjean’s self-less devotion to Cosette that drives every decision and action from that point onwards. Although not included in the stage production, the new song written for the film adaption, ‘Suddenly’, beautifully captures the emotions of becoming a father.

When Halloween rolls around, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Apollo Victoria to see Wicked. It’s not a show of scares and horror, true, but it does follow Elphaba’s transformation into The Wicked Witch of the West, and what is more synonymous with Halloween than witches? Throw in a few flying monkeys and it’s a fun Halloween night all round. The other option, of course, is the Michael Jackson jukebox musical, Thriller. Again, not an atypical Halloween scarefest, but the title song of the show is a ‘frighteningly’ good Halloween song – the music video which featured dancing zombies and other ghoulish creatures is one of the most iconic of all time and is a tribute to all things horror…a Halloween must.

There are always a wide assortment of pantomimes to be seen around Christmas time, a beloved British tradition that never gets old. In addition to those though, a Christmas-themed musical can usually be found too. Scrooge The Musical is a tried-and-tested classic adaption of the Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol, which usually makes an appearance during Yuletide. It played at the London Palladium in the 2014/15 Christmas season. A new production of Elf The Musical, based on the popular 2003 film starring Will Farrell, is also coming to the West End this Christmas for a 10-week run at the Dominion Theatre.

There are other shows which would fit just as well in the above-mentioned holidays, and similarly, there are other holidays not mentioned which seem tailor-made for particular musicals. These are just a few examples, and I’m sure plenty will disagree with the shows I’ve chosen, while some will probably be able to come up with better shows. It’s all fun and games though!

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Thursday 19th March 2015

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