Sunday, 28 December 2014

Editor's Blog: Top 10 performances of 2014

2014 has been an incredible year for theatre. Established stars have reminded us why they are known as theatrical legends whilst some new faces have stepped into the limelight for the first time. After looking back at every single show I have seen this year (including West End, Broadway, off-West End, fringe and regional theatre), below I have highlighted ten performances which particularly stood out for me...

Angela Lansbury
Blithe Spirit
Gielgud Theatre
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

In March Angela Lansbury returned to the West End stage for the first time in over thirty years to reprise her role as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's masterpiece, Blithe Spirit. She didn't hold back one bit, I have never seen a performance like it! A true legend, Lansbury received huge applause each time she entered and exited the stage - she was utterly sensational.

Tam Mutu & Hadley Fraser
City Of Angels
Donmar Warehouse
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The entire City Of Angels cast give stand out performances, but it is Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu who click everything into place at the end of the first act with their rendition of 'You're Nothing Without Me'. Both actors perform their hearts out whilst making it look so easy and effortless. They have two of the finest male voices in musical theatre and take to the stage with tremendous charm as Stine and Stone.

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt
In The Heights
Southwark Playhouse
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir

In The Heights featured a remarkably talented cast, but without doubt the star of the show was Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as gossiping salon owner Daniela. The delivery of her one-liners was absolutely impeccable and I never wanted her to leave the stage. Hamilton-Barritt also invested all her energy and passion into every performance; I saw the show three times and on each occasion she left the stage at the end of the night in tears. A masterful performance.

Claudia Kariuki
Curve Theatre
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

I was enjoying every second of Paul Kerryson's production of Hairspray at the Curve; the entire cast were incredible, particularly Sophie-Louise Dann who had me weeping with laughter. The standard was incredibly high, but then out of nowhere Claudia Kariuki stepped forward in the second act and put her heart and soul into 'I Know Where I've Been'. Tears were streaming down her face and I found myself being swept away by her emotional performance, I felt and lived every lyric and ounce of pain. Her performance took the show to a whole new level where there are simply not enough stars or words of praise. I remember the audience screaming with appreciation before the song had even ended. Kariuki has the voice and talents of a global superstar. She hasn't stopped working since and is destined for big things.

Killian Donnelly & Beverley Knight
Shaftesbury Theatre
Photo Credit: Johan Perrson

Killian Donnelly and Beverley Knight are a theatrical match made in heaven! Knight was sensational in The Bodyguard but her portrayal of Felicia in Memphis blew me away even more. As well as acting the role superbly, each time Knight opened her mouth to sing my jaw fell to the ground; her vocal talents are absolutely astounding and we are so lucky to have such a supreme performer working in the West End. Not many people could match Knight's talents, but Donnelly is equally as sensational. The pair share strong chemistry and give masterclasses with their two solo numbers -  'Memphis Lives In Me' and 'Colored Woman'. 

Tanya Moodie
Intimate Apparel & The House That Will Not Stand 
Ustinov Studio/Park Theatre & Tricycle Theatre
Photo Credit: Simon Annand

Tanya Moodie's performance in Intimate Apparel is the most moving thing I have seen all year. Her portrayal of Esther was overwhelmingly enthralling. She carefully invited the audience to take Esther under their wing. Moodie allowed me to feel Esther’s pain, all I wanted was for the character to find the happiness and peace she deserved. In The House That Will Not Stand Moodie still managed to steal the show, despite it being an ensemble piece. She is one of the strongest stage actors working in British theatre.

Read our ★★★★ reviews of Intimate ApparelThe House That Will Not Stand

Tim Pigott-Smith
King Charles III
Almeida/Wyndham's Theatre
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

By the time I managed to catch up with King Charles III everybody had already told me that Tim Pigott-Smith gives the performance of his career. Building up hype can set the bar of expectation impossibly high, but Pigott-Smith's performance did not disappoint one bit. Mike Bartlett's play is exceptionally clever and Pigott-Smith's portrayal is the cherry on top. He is faced with a tricky job - most audience members will sit in their seats with a strong preconception of Charles - but Pigott-Smith grows with the piece, truly rising to the challenge. I imagine his performance will go down in theatrical history.

Jon Jon Briones
Miss Saigon
Prince Edward Theatre
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

I can't think of a word which accurately describes just how exceptional Jon Jon Briones is as The Engineer in the West End revival of Miss Saigon. Performing alongside a stellar cast, Briones owns the show. The actor first appeared in Miss Saigon when the original West End production opened in 1989. He has since starred as The Engineer in the US, Asian and UK Tours as well as in Germany and the Philippines, yet his performance remains fresh and full of life. Watching Briones' rendition of 'The American Dream' for the first time is probably one of my all-time favourite theatrical memories. His performance is truly out of this world

Imelda Staunton
Good People & Gypsy
Hampstead/Noel Coward Theatres & Chichester Festival Theatre
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The unstoppable Imelda Staunton has has another hugely successful year! As well as being amazing in Matthew Warchus' new movie PRIDE, she has dazzled audiences in two shows - both of which have secured West End transfers. Firstly Staunton revealed her more vulnerable side in Jonathan Kent’s production of Good People. Her performance was tough and funny, but she also let the audience in and took them on an emotional and heartfelt journey. Staunton then returned to Chichester to star as Mama Rose in Kent’s revival of Gypsy and brought the house down night after night. She was on fire from beginning to end with her rendition of 'Rose's Turn' bringing many to their feet.

Idina Menzel
Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York
Photo Credit:  Joan Marcus

I've always admired Idina Menzel's work but had never actually seen her perform live on stage. No sound recording, video or word can prepare you for just how breathtaking Menzel is live. She walked onstage to huge applause and cheers (and had to wait several minutes until she could begin the show) and from that moment on she exceeded all expectations. It's all about her eyes and the detailed relationship she builds with an audience. If/Then is a tricky musical and a ridiculously demanding role - it is perhaps an even bigger sing than Elphaba - but Menzel was in her element. Her vocals were unbelievably perfect, the rasp in her tone works a treat. Just as I thought I'd had my belting fix, Menzel took my breath way with her final rendition of 'Always Starting Over'. She performed every scene with sincerity, portraying a character who would never usually be represented in musical theatre. She truly cast me under her spell; what a woman!

Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

What was the best show you saw in 2014? Which performer blew you away? Tweet us your 2014 theatrical highlights as we are putting together a special feature with all of your replies!

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