In every family, there are always certain months in which there are an abundance of birthdays to celebrate. October is one of those months in my family, with at least four grouped together within the space of a few days from one another. October also seems to be a month filled with celebrations in the theatre world as well, as there are a number of West End musicals with birthdays this month.
Disney’s The Lion King celebrates 15 years in London this Sunday (19th October), and last week, the West End’s two longest running musicals, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, continued to break records as they respectively achieved 29 and 28 years in the West End. Both shows went all out a few years prior when they reached the milestone moment of their 25th anniversaries, with touring productions of each performed all around the UK and special performances arranged for the Big Days themselves. A fully-staged production of Phantom was held at the Royal Albert Hall for its 25th anniversary, while Les Miserables marked the date with a concert performance at the O2 Arena, both of which boasted impressive casts and a number of surprise appearances and performances during their finales.
The Les Miserables 25th anniversary was a night to remember, and this use of the concert performance seems to be a popular choice when it comes to celebrating notable anniversaries in musical theatre. A one-off concert of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell, led by stage stars Daniel Boys, Kerry Ellis and Jonathan Williams, was staged at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on 21st October 2011 to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary, while a 20th anniversary concert tour of RENT embarked from the Manchester Opera House on 25th April 2013, featuring Kerry Ellis, Rory Taylor, Nikki Davis-Jones, Paul Ayres, Leon Lopez, Ian Stroughair, Jemma Alexander and Kenny Thompson in the cast. Other shows have toured fully-staged productions in their anniversary years, including The Rocky Horror Show and Jesus Christ Superstar, both in celebration of their 40th anniversaries.
It was also announced this month that another classic musical coming up for its 40th anniversary will be celebrating with an exclusive concert performance. In 2015, it’ll be 40 years since Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music premièred in the West End, and a semi-staged concert performance will be taking place at the Palace Theatre on 26th January 2015 to mark the occasion. The names of the performers taking part in the event was revealed on the weekend, and in keeping with what has been billed as a ‘spectacular concert performance’, it seems an equally spectacular cast has been found. The line-up almost reads as an ‘Who’s Who?’ of the musical theatre industry, featuring such stage stars as Anne Reid as Madame Armfeldt and Janie Dee as Desiree Armfeldt. Also starring are David Birrell as Fredrik Egerman, Joanna Riding as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Simon Bailey as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Anna O’Byrne as Anne Egerman, Fra Fee as Henrik Egerman, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Petra and Bibi Jay as Fredrika Egerman, in addition to Joe Vetch (Frid), Nadim Naaman (Mr Erlanson), Scott Garnham (Mr Lindquist), Laura Tebbutt (Mrs Nordstrom), Emma Harrold (Mrs Anderssen) and Jenna Boyd (Mrs Segstrom). The cast will be accompanied on stage by a 25-piece live orchestra
A Little Night Music is the 1973 Broadway musical inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smile Of A Summer Night. Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, the award-winning show made its West End début in April 1975, opening at the Adelphi Theatre with the likes of Jean Simmons, Liz Robertson and Dianne Langton leading the company. Three London revivals followed in the years after the original production closed, with Dame Judi Dench winning an Olivier Award for ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ for her role as Desiree Armfeldt in the National Theatre’s 1995 revival. It was most recently staged by the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2008, featuring a host of well-known West End names, including Hannah Waddingham, Jessie Buckley, Alexander Hanson and Maureen Lipman. The production subsequently transferred into the West End the following year for a limited run at the Garrick Theatre. A film adaption was also released in 1977, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Lesley-Anne Down and Diana Rigg, and directed by Harold Prince.
The musical is set in turn-of-the-century Sweden and takes place in a weekend country house. The plot revolves around the intertwined love lives of a series of characters, including middle-aged Fredrik Egerman, his teenage trophy wife Anne, his son Henrik, the intriguing and beautiful actress Desiree Armfeldt, her mother Madame Armfeldt, the ferociously jealous Count Carl-Magnus, and his long-suffering wife Charlotte. Featured in the score is one of Sondheim’s most well-known songs, ‘Send In The Clowns’, which was written specifically for actress Glynis Johns in the original Broadway production. It has since been covered by many other musical theatre stars and recording artists, such as Frank Sinatra and even Krusty the Clown on an episode of The Simpsons!
The 40th anniversary concert of A Little Night Music is directed by Alastair Knights (Putting It Together, The Elaine Paige Show) and choreographed by the award-winning Andrew Wright (Singin’ in the Rain, Guys and Dolls), with Alex Parker (The Pajama Game, Stephen Ward) as musical director.
Shows come and go every day, it’s the nature of this business, but while some quickly pass into the misty vaults of our memories, others seem to have no expiry date attached. For a musical to still be remembered, and even more importantly, still loved, after forty years is a wonderful achievement, and one well worthy of being celebrated in a manner deserving of that iconic status.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Tuesday 14th October 2014