Its 2016, so instead of my usual top ten choices of the week, here are the ten shows I’m most looking forward to this year!
1. Grey Gardens. I don’t have to wait long for my year’s first eagerly anticipated show — the U.K premiere of Scott Frankel, Michael Korie and Doug Wright’s 2006 musical takes place this week at Southwark Playhouse on Thursday (January 7)!
I saw the original production at off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons back in 2006, starring Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson a daughter and mother who were the reclusive relatives of Jacqueline Onassis that lived in squalor in an East Hampton mansion; both won Tony Awards for their efforts when the show moved to Broadway (where I saw it again).
Now I can’t wait to see Jenna Russell, one of our very best musical actors who I’ve been seeing in musicals for the last thirty years and has herself been Tony nominated when the Menier’s Sunday in the Park with George transferred to Broadway, joining veteran Sheila Hancock (pictured above), who first made a massive impression on me as London’s first Mrs Lovett when Sweeney Todd was brought to London’s Drury Lane in 1980. It’s one of a series of Broadway shows crossing the pond this year — including Disney’s Aladdin (to the Prince Edward) and Motown (to the Shaftesbury) — but this is the one I can’t wait to see again. Website: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/grey-gardens/
2. The Flick. The Royal Court previously brought London Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation to an off-site space in Haggerston in 2013 as part of their Theatre Local initiative, in a production that featured Imelda Staunton. Now the National import her 2014 Pulitzer prize winning play The Flick, still running at off-Broadway’s Barrow Street Theatre, to the Dorfman in April. Website: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/coming-soon-the-flick
3. Rabbit Hole. Another Pulitzer prize winner — this time from 2007 — David Lindsay-Abaire’s play receives its UK premiere at Hampstead Theatre, beginning performances Jan. 29, 2016, prior to an official opening Feb. 4, with a cast that includes Penny Downie (replacing the originally announced Alison Steadman), Claire Skinner and Tom Goodman-Hill (pictured above). Website: http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2016/rabbit-hole/
4. Jesus Christ Superstar. Just as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical School of Rock has premiered on Broadway last year ahead of a planned West End transfer this autumn to the London Palladium, so Jesus Christ Superstar — his early 70s rock opera written with Tim Rice — was first premiered on Broadway in 1971 ahead of its transfer to the West End in 1972. Now the show, which has one of Lloyd Webber’s very best scores, is revived at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, beginning performances July 15 prior to an official opening July 21. Prior to that, Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard is also getting another outing – this time at the London Coliseum, where Glenn Close is reprising her Tony winning 1995 Broadway performance as Norma Desmond. Website: https://openairtheatre.com/production/jesus-christ-superstar
5 Audra McDonald. There is no talent I revere more in modern musical theatre than Audra McDonald (pictured right), who has already won a record 6 Tony Awards, more than any other actor in history (and she’s still only 45!) She’s not made a London concert appearance since she was a Diva at the Donmar back in 1999; now it looks like we’ll be seeing her twice in the same year, first in a one-off pair of concerts at the Leicester Square Theatre on January 17; and then she is being tipped to reprise her 2014 Tony winning turn as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in the West End during the summer, when she’s on an already scheduled hiatus from her next Broadway appearance in Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed that opens at the Music Box in April. Website for Leicester Square Theatre: http://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/category/event-category/music
6. The Buskers Opera.While I revere Howard Goodall and love Andrew Lloyd Webber, and am also a keen fan of Richard Thomas, pickings are otherwise still slim for British-born composers of musicals to break out that haven’t had a pop career first (like Elton John). I’ve long been championing the work of Dougal Irvine — could The Buskers Opera, beginning performances April 28 prior to an official opening May 5 at the Park Theatre finally establish him? Website: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-buskers-opera
7. People, Places and Things. Duncan Macmillan’s 2015 National Theatre hit play about a woman going spectacularly off the rails and finding recovery deservedly transfers to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre, beginning performances March 15 prior to an official opening March 23, with Denise Gough (pictured above) reprising her performance as the damaged woman. Website: http://www.peopleplacesthingsonstage.com
8. Uncle Vanya. Robert Icke, who directed last year’s Oresteia that was for many a theatrical highlights of the year, returns to the Almeida to direct his own new version of Chekhov, beginning performances Feb. 5 prior to an official opening Feb. 12, with Paul Rhys in the title role and Jessica Brown Findlay (best known as Lady Sybil in TV’s “Downton Abbey”) as Sonia. (Meanwhile another Downton star — Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith in the show — stars in Jamie Lloyd’s latest show at the Trafalgar Studios The Maids, with Uzo Aduba, the double Emmy Award-winning star of “Orange is the New Black”, and Zawe Ashton). Website: www.almeida.co.uk
9. The Kenneth Branagh residency at the Garrick continues with two imported shows: Red Velvet (originally seen at the Tricycle, and now in the West End for the first time, with Adrian Lester reprising his Critics’ Circle Award winning performance as 19th century black American actor Ira Aldridge, beginning performances Jan. 23 prior to an official opening Feb. 1) then The Painkiller (originally seen at Belfast’s Lyric in 2011, with Branagh and Rob Brydon reunited for a comedy directed by Sean Foley, beginning performances March 5 prior to an official opening March 17. It is followed by an original production, when Branagh reunites with the stars of his 2015 film “Cinderella” Lily James and Richard Madden (pictured with him above) to direct them in the title roles of Romeo and Juliet, beginning performances May 12 prior to an official opening May 25 in a cast that also includes Derek Jacobi. Website: http://www.branaghtheatre.com/
10. Jekyll and Hyde. Matthew Warchus’s opening tenure at the helm of Old Vic gathers steam with Ralph Fiennes and Timothy Spall starring in Warchus’s revivals of Ibsen’s The Master Builder (beginning performances Jan. 23 priorate an official opening Feb. 3) and Pinter’s The Caretaker (beginning performances Mach 26 prior than official opening April 6) respectively. But the show I’m really looking forward to is the Old Vic debut for the McOnie Company — choreographer Drew McOnie’s own dance company — in Jekyll and Hyde, beginning performances May 2o prior to an official opening May 25 for a run through May 28 only. Website: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/