It may be the jewel of the theatre industry, but contrary to popular belief, the West End is not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to theatre. Think of it, if you will, as the giant, sparkly diamond set on a cherished ring, encircled by other precious stones which, while not be as big or expensive, are still precious just the same. That is the metaphorical design of the UK theatre scene. The West End is known as the home of some of the biggest and best plays and musicals in the country, and every year, millions of people from all over the world flood there to see them. It’s a multi-million pound industry that is respected and revered the world over, and though it’s hit by criticism at times (i.e. tickets prices, too many celebrity castings, becoming overly commercial) it doesn’t matter, because no-one can take the shine off the diamond.
That being said, the West End is not the exclusive home of theatre, as at the same time, there are always dozens of shows playing in and around London, as well as further afield. Fringe and regional theatre is a booming industry in itself, offering up plenty of little stagey gems that some theatre-goers actually prefer to the spectacle of a West End show. The quality of these productions speak for themselves, as many have been critically acclaimed successes that subsequently transfer into the West End for a further run (Sweeney Todd, anyone?)
In addition to the West End scene, the fringe theatre scene and the regional theatre scene, there are also those shows which travel the roads of the UK bringing theatre to the people, rather than bringing people to the theatre. They visit venues all round the country, entertaining theatre fans in their own backyard and spreading theatrical joy to the masses. Not everyone lives in London or can get into the city as often as they’d like, which ultimately limits the amount of theatre visits for those individuals. That sucks. As anyone who loves all things stagey knows, there is no greater high than the theatre experience, so a touring show is a thing of beautiful convenience for the non-Londoner.
Another thing that a touring show does is highlight the fact that not only is there a voracious appetite country-wide for the arts, but a great appreciation for the classics too. West End shows like Matilda, Memphis, The Book of Mormon and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory are currently riding high on a wave of popularity, and deservedly so, but they’ve yet to prove themselves as long-runners like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King have. Only time will tell if they have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of these giants and become classics that will stand the test of time. It’s no surprise that a touring production of Wicked or Jersey Boys will be a popular draw; they’re currently going strong in the West End but are still relatively young enough to be considered new and exciting. It’s not so easy for a decades-old show that has done the rounds countless times. There are a number of classics out there on the road right now however which, even though people have seen them time and time again, are still as in-demand as ever.
The musical-writing team of Rodgers and Hammerstein are responsible for many classic stage musicals which are just as beloved today as they were back in that golden age of musical theatre. Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I are among their most notable creations, as are Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music, both of which are currently on tour around the UK. The brand new production of Oklahoma! has been visiting venues all over the country since February 2015, starring Belinda Lang as Aunt Eller, Gary Wilmot as Ali Hakim, Charlotte Wakefield as Laurey and Ashley Day (who was recently featured as part of this site’s In Profile series) as Curly, while Danielle Hope (Maria) has been leading the newest tour of The Sound of Music opposite Steven Houghton (Captain von Trapp). Both have attracted audiences and positive reviews alike during the course of their touring dates, which are coming to an end seemingly all too soon with Oklahoma! finishing at the Wycombe Swan on 8th August 2015 and The Sound of Music playing its final performance at Leeds Grand Theatre on 1st August 2015. There’s more on the way though, as another all-time classic musical is set to open its UK tour at the Manchester Palace Theatre this November. Guys and Dolls debuted on Broadway in 1950, but is still a favourite with musical theatre fans over sixty years later, and Chichester Festival Theatre’s critically acclaimed production is hitting the road with its stars Sophie Thompson (Miss Adelaide) and Jamie Parket (Sky Masterson), and with a stop-over at the West End’s Savoy Theatre for the Christmas season. Before then though, a brand new production of Annie, one of the best-loved classics, will be making its première this week, opening at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle on 11th July 2015. As previously announced, Craig Revel-Horwood will be alternating the role of Miss Hannigan with Lesley Joseph, with Jodie Prenger taking over from 15th December 2015 and Elaine C. Smith playing the role at performances in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The rest of the cast was unveiled last week, and includes Alex Bourne as Oliver Warbucks, Holly Dale Spencer as Grace Farrell, Jonny Fines as Rooster and Djalenga Scott as Lily, with the role of Annie shared by Madeleine Haynes, Isabella Pappas and Sophia Pettit. Also joining them are James Alan-Evans, Lewis Bradley, Nic Gibney, Sinead Kenny, Michael Lin, Alice Liveing, Megan Louch, Callum McArdle, Benjamin Mundy, Steven Oliver, Heather Scott-Martin, Anne Smith, and Kate Somerset How, and the child cast which features Ashley Goldberg, Daisy Parry, Kate Woodman, Jessica Cartledge, Nikoo Saeki, Rosanna Beacock, Lissy Mant, Scarlet Churchhouse, Chloe Bowes, Connie Burgess, Mia Hope, Tegan Williams, Asha Banks, Amelia Love Coleman, Natasha Raphael, Claudia Rose Carlier, Liani Samuel and Scarlett Flannery. Produced by Michael Harrison and David Ian, and directed by Nikolai Foster, the touring show is a brand new production of this old classic – though hopefully not too new. The 2014 film remake of Annie varied greatly from the original and was slammed by the majority for it, winning only one award: the Golden Raspberry Award for ‘Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel’. Too often do people mess around with a classic and ultimately fail to make it an improvement on the original.
Musicals will come and go, but even though they’re gone from the West End, the truly great ones never really die. They return, time and again, because even though time may age them, they never get old.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Tuesday 7th July 2015