So here we are, in 2014. It’s a brand new year and theatre fans have twelve whole months stretching ahead of them…each one waiting to provide a multitude of different and exciting stage productions. At the close of 2013, I looked ahead to January to preview some of the best plays and musicals opening in the West End that month. Other theatre-based writers have since offered their own previews of the entire year, selecting the most talked-about and anticipated productions for 2014. No-one knows what will be a hit and what will flop though. Some of the most acclaimed shows of 2013 were the unexpected successes, while some which were assumed to be successful…well, weren’t. When contemplating what theatre-goers should look forward to in this next year, it’s basically just guesswork based on the assumptions of what is already known about the production: i.e. the cast, director, writer, the work itself, and so forth. Rather than tell you what might be worthwhile theatre viewing in 2014, I decided to list some of the shows on my personal list for 2014, which not only includes those which are new for this year, but also those already running in the West End which I haven’t yet seen or would like to see again.
There’s a lot for theatre-goers to look forward to this year, but there is also plenty already available to see in the West End. Musical productions tend to be longer-runners than stage plays, and everyone has their favourite musicals which they would quite happily revisit continuously without ever tiring of them. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera has been my all-time top musical for many years now and probably always will be. I adore everything about it, and with the original production still going strong after 27 years at Her Majesty’s Theatre, I’m clearly not the only one. Argentinian performer Geronimo Rauch is leading the musical into 2014 as the iconic title character and his presence there has provided an extra incentive for me to go back and see it again. I’ve been following the career of Rauch for the past few years, since coming across videos on YouTube of him performing the lead roles in international productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables; his ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘’Bring Him Home’ were mind-blowingly good. He finally made it to the UK stage last year when he reprised his role as Jean Valjean in the West End production of Les Miserables. I unfortunately never made it to the Queens Theatre to see him perform, something which I always found regrettable. A brilliant actor with one of the best voices around, the chance to see him, in my favourite musical this time, is one which cannot be missed again.
Les Miserables is my daughter’s favourite musical, and with 28 years in the West End, as much of a classic show as Phantom is. It’s up there in my Top Three shows too, and I suspect we will be making a trip there again this year. In addition, we both loved Once when we went to see it. The Broadway transfer was still in previews when we visited the Phoenix Theatre however, so it would be nice to go again now the show has firmly found its footing.
It’s always a difficult choice as to whether or not to revisit a favoured show already seen, or take in a new experience with a previously unseen one. Much as I would like to see Phantom, Les Miserables and Once again, there are still several productions in the West End which I am eager to see for the first time. The musical adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory was one such production, but with tickets already secured for a visit this month, that is one show I can cross off the list. In terms of musicals, the two which are probably at the top of my To-See list are The Book of Mormon and The Bodyguard. Both opened in the West End in 2012 and received great reviews, BOM in particular. The smash hit Broadway musical wouldn’t appeal to everyone, mostly in part to its filthy lyrics and satirical send-up of the Mormon religion, but it is refreshingly different and the near-enough instant sell-out of tickets speaks for itself. It has proven so popular with London audiences, that the production has adopted the same daily lottery practice as its American counter-part to try and meet the ticket demand. Having listened to the Broadway cast recording and read all the reviews, obtaining a ticket to actually see the show is the desired next step. In regards to The Bodyguard, as a fan of the original 1992 film I want to see how well it translates on to the stage as a musical.
It’s not just musicals which feature on my list though. There are a number of stage plays which I am aching to see and have determined to try and see this year; War Horse is one such play. I also want to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which is the longest-running production in the West End ever. It’s one of those instances where you take for granted that it’ll always be there so there’s no rush to see it, but who knows what the future holds, and a missed opportunity can’t be regained once it has gone. As a lover of a good horror story, The Woman in Black is also high on my list. I watched the film adaption which starred Daniel Radcliffe and was left feeling underwhelmed by it, but having heard how frightening people have found the live theatre experience, I really want to find out for myself how the two compare. Films and books have a way of whetting the appetite for the attached stage versions, which is what happened with Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Having heard plenty of good things about the National Theatre’s stage production, I read Haddon’s 2003 award-winning book and was hooked from then on, especially after the play cleaned up at the Olivier Awards. Performances of the play are currently suspended following the awful incident at the Apollo Theatre, but I still plan to attend once everything is back on track.
As mentioned earlier however, there are numerous treats on their way for theatre fans throughout 2014. The two which must be featured here are of course the revived production of Miss Saigon and the X Factor musical I Can’t Sing!
I never saw Miss Saigon when it was last here in the West End, and honestly, I don’t quite understand why it was taken off at all. In terms of classic musicals, it’s up there with Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera and fans have been beside themselves with glee ever since the announcement that it was returning to the West End in 2014. The excitement has been building ever since, and when tickets finally went on sale, it set a new West End box office record by taking £4.4 million in one day – that’s more than double what the previous record was. It’s going to be the hottest ticket in town when it finally opens at the Prince Edward Theatre in May and I’ll be among those trying to beg, borrow and steal one.
Then there’s I Can’t Sing! When this musical was first announced, I was less than impressed with the idea of an X Factor musical. In fact, I’d repeatedly ridiculed the notion on several occasions previously. The more that was revealed about it though, I more I’ve started to think that this could actually be something. A great cast has been assembled, including Cynthia Erivo who was acclaimed for her performance in The Color Purple, and the sneak peek of the title song has gone over pretty well. Being more of a tongue-in-cheek show which pokes fun at X Factor, it could have found the recipe for success, although no-one will know until it opens at the London Palladium in March (previews from 27th February).
I’m also looking forward to the two stage productions which are adapted from films I’ve always liked. The first is Fatal Attraction, adapted by screenwriter of the original 1987 film, James Dearden. Starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close, the psychological thriller about a woman who becomes dangerously obsessed following a weekend affair with a married man has become a cult classic and even inspired today’s phrase ‘bunny boiler’, in reference to the infamous scene where Close kills the family’s pet bunny and boils it on the stove. I’m intrigued to see if the stage production can recapture that original magic when it comes to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in March.
The second stage adaption which I’m intrigued by is Lee Hall’s Shakespeare in Love, based on the original 1998 film starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow. The story cleverly mirrors the playwright’s famous work Romeo and Juliet, as it depicts a love affair which inspires his writing of the play. A celebration of Shakespeare and the theatre…what film could be more perfectly suited for a stage adaption? It’s one of my favourite films anyway, and I suspect it will make a simply stunning production. It is due to open at the Noel Coward Theatre in July.
In what may be a controversial selection, one of the highlights of 2014 for me will be the expected UK tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel Love Never Dies. It divided fans when it premiered at the Adelphi Theatre in 2010, but I was firmly on the side of supporting the musical, which, admittedly, had it problems, but still remained a visually beautifully stage production with a sumptuous score. It was certainly better than some of the other shows running in the West End at the time. I’ve always hoped it would make a return, and following the UK tour, a second West End run may be on the cards. I for one, have my fingers crossed.
There are so many more shows I want to see in 2014, but I’d probably be here for the rest of the year if I listed them all. These are my top picks, so to speak. The beauty of theatre is that everything is open to personal interpretation, and what one person may love, others may hate. Some will agree with my choices and some won’t, but there is no right or wrong. Only opinions. So what’s your opinion? Why not comment on some of the shows on your ‘To See’ list for 2014…
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Content updated 1st February 2014