|Jonathan Slinger in Urinetown|
For many years, London's West End was known for being full of Jukebox Musicals. Shows such as We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages dominated theatreland, bringing audiences to their feet night after night. However, jukebox musicals aren’t for everyone as there are many who would prefer to see something totally new.
2014 has been very different, there seems to be a change in the air – there has been a sudden influx of original shows. New plays and musicals are taking the West End by storm and proving that you don't need a famous well known score to send audiences out from a theatre with smiles on their faces.
I was very lucky to witness three of these brand new original shows in a recent visit to the capital and they all made an impact on me in very different ways.
Do musicals always have to have a happy ending? Well - not that I will be spoiling anything here… but over in Urinetown (currently at the Apollo Theatre) you are certainly made to question that idea. Jamie Lloyd's brilliant production of the Broadway musical, which had a sell-out run at the St James Theatre earlier this year, is continuing to pull in the crowds since its West End transfer back in September.
The dark satirical musical comedy with a twist, currently starting Phil Jupitus, Jonathan Slinger, Karis Jack and Matt Seadon Young, is set in a world where people have to "pay for the privilege to pee".
This show is so unique in that it is so witty and clever in its delivery; the transfer from the smaller St James Theatre has been smooth and ensures this original production is appealing to new audiences every night. For me the charisma, wit and dynamic timing of narrator Jonathan Slinger (Officer Lockstock) and his co-narrator, the feisty Karis Jack (Little Sally) are an absolute show highlight and a definite must-see as they lead this phenomenal ensemble in one of the most unique productions to hit London in recent years.
The cast of Made In Dagenham
Over at the Adelphi Theatre, another unique and very special little show that could not be more different to Urinetown. Take a story, known across the UK for how it changed the laws for women in work. Add in a Hollywood starlet in the shape of Gemma Arterton, a fabulous original score, a fantastic cast and put them all on one of the most unique set designs in the West End - and what have you got? This is Made In Dagenham.
Many were sceptical when the show opened earlier this year as to whether such a BRITISH story could have such a mass market appeal. But fast forward a few months and the Dagenham girls (and guys!) are taking the West End by storm. One of the things about this inspiring show that stood out for me was the strength of the cast that brings this amazing story to life every night. Gemma Arterton really surprised me - in a good way! Her voice suited every song she was asked to deliver so well and the range that she covered was just amazing. She is accompanied by a brilliant ensemble of performers - Sophie Louise Dann is a definite highlight - and a score that, although you won't recognise immediately, I guarantee you will be singing it as you leave the theatre! A brilliant example of how superb original British writing can be when it is given the chance to shine!
Finally, over at the Shaftesbury Theatre there is definitely some magic in the air. For me, one of the most eagerly anticipated new musicals of 2014 has been Memphis, starring Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly. And oh my word - it did not disappoint!
|Beverley Knight & Killian Donnelly |
The endearing forbidden love story of Felicia (Knight) and Huey (Donnelly) had to be one of the slickest, most dynamic shows I have EVER seen in the West End. Considering my visit to the show was not that long after their official opening, I could not get over how on point every element of the show was.
From the set, to the score, to the dancing, to the unbelievable talent in every single member of the ensemble - who dance and sing with so much energy you would think this was the last show they were ever going to do!
However, a special mention must go to the two leads whose on stage chemistry and raw talent totally made this show for me.
Beverley Knight is just sensational. If you were lucky enough to see her mind blowing performance in The Bodyguard earlier this year which was something to witness - well, let's just say her performance in Memphis is something else! She brings Felicia to life with such sassiness and pure emotion that you can't help feel a part of every step of her amazing journey.
And then there is Killian Donnelly. I had been lucky enough to witness Killian's performance in two previous shows in the West End - The Phantom of the Opera and The Commitments - and I thought I knew how good he was. But nothing could have prepared me for how mind-blowingly brilliant and utterly phenomenal he is in this show. As an audience, you were totally with him every step of the way; he made Huey be the friend that everyone wishes they could have. And his voice is a perfect fit to the fabulous score. However, hearing Killian sing Memphis Lives In Me was worth the price of the ticket alone. I have never heard someone sing with such power, passion and unending emotion that I was actually on my feet applauding by the song's end - I literally could not sit down! That's the kind of show Memphis is - it makes you feel so many heartfelt emotions, you can't help but love this show with every fibre of your being.
It is clear to see that in the West End world we all love and cherish, times are definitely changing. Gone are the days of the dominance of the Jukebox Musical and here are the days of balance.
Well known anthems balanced equally with new classics that, should you give them a chance, I guarantee you will fall in love with them, just like I did!