ShenTens: My Top 10 list of Broadway shows I’d like to see in the West End

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This week’s podcast picks up a suggestion from one of our regular listeners, Tony Lacey who hails from the south west of France, to look at my favourite Broadway shows that are yet to make it across the Atlantic and/or to the West End, and I’d love to see here. 

TO LISTEN:

Thanks to theatres like Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory, that list is diminishing (who in recent years have been responsible for the British premieres of show as diverse as Allegro, Xanadu and Side Show at the former, and The Color Purple and The Bridges of Madison County at the latter), but nonetheless a masterpiece like Dreamgirls took a staggering 35 years to reach our shores, when Sonia Friedman finally staged its UK premiere in 2016 (and it will head out on the touring road later in the year around the UK). Even Follies took 16 years to come to the West End, after premiering on Broadway in 1971; it has since had two revivals there, to our one here. 

1 Next to Normal by Tom Kitt (music), Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics)
This Putlizer prize winning musical, first premiered on Broadway in 2009 after an earlier run at off-Broadway’s Second Stage in 2008, is one of my favourite musicals of the century so far (along with Groundhog Day, Jerry Springer – the Opera and Matilda), not least because it is so personally resonant.

A show that brilliantly articulates the pain and separation from yourself of suffering from depression, I’ve cried with recognition and empathy every time of the 10 times I saw the original production at Broadway’s Booth Theatre. Diane’s story is very different to my own — she suffers bipolar depression, triggered after losing an infant child — but I utterly related to her experience of dealing with the illness, and her quest for peace.

Michael Greif’s original shattering production was driven by a performance full of unrestrained pain and nervous energy from Alice Ripley, and also featured a break-out performance from Aaron Tveit as her now adult son, who never had a chance to grow up but whom her subconscious summonses back into her life. Ripley was succeeded in the role by the late, great Marin Mazzie, who I was also lucky to see twice in the role.

It is yet to be seen in Britain.

WATCH: From the 2009 Tony Awards ceremony, Alice Ripley sings You Don’t Know and the company, including J. Robert Spencer, Aaron Tveit, Jennifer Damiano, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Louis Hobson, join her for I Am the One.

2 The Last Ship by Sting (music and lyrics), John Logan and Brian Yorkey (book)

This musical, scored by Sting and set in his own hometown where he grew up in the shadow of a dying shipbuilding industry in Wallsend on Tyne and Wear, was first recorded by the composer as a studio album, which he also subsequently performed a live version of at New York’s Public Theater in 2013. It was premiered onstage in a production directed by Joe Mantello that played at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in 2014 after an out-of-town try-out in Chicago.

The original cast was led by Jimmy Nail and Michael Esper, with British performers Sally Ann Triplett and Rachel Tucker also in featured roles. Sting himself stepped into the role originated by Nail in an attempt to draw audiences when they show started floundering at the box office, but he could not save it.

WATCH: Rachel Tucker, accompanied by Sting on guitar, sings August Winds:

In 2015, I heard Sting perform the score live in a concert version at the Sage, Gateshead, and wrote at the time in a column for The Stage:

With his soulful rock rasp, and backed by an electrifying international set of musicians – including Newcastle’s own fiddle sibling maestros Kathryn and Peter Tickell, drummer Joe Bonadio (who also served duty in the pit band for The Last Ship on Broadway), Swedish born bass player Ira Coleman and melodeon player Julian Sutton, all led by Emmy-winning musical director and keyboard player Rob Mathes – Sting gave a truly blazing account of this gorgeous folk-inflected score.”

I’d previously interviewed him in New York at his then-home on Central Park West, when the show’s run was drawing to an early close, and he told me:

“I feel sad that we’re closing, but that’s showbusiness. I’m pretty sanguine about it, actually, and there’s a poetry about it, too. I thought I was writing about a shipyard, but actually it turns out I was writing about the community of the play. There are so many lines [in the show] congruent with the situation we’re now in – it’s about saving the play as against saving the shipyard.”

But it wasn’t the end of the road — or quayside — for the show. It came back home to Britain in a new revised version, with a new book and direction by Lorne Campbell, that toured the UK in 2016 (and I caught in Northampton), and subsequently transferred to Toronto for a season (where I saw it again, with Sting back in the show.

WATCH: Scenes from the Toronto production.

But it is yet to be seen in the West End.

3 The Prom by Matthew Sklar (music), Chad Beguelin (lyrics, and co-writer of the book with Bob Martin, based on an original concept by Jack Viertel)

When I reviewed this original musical’s Broadway debut in 2018, I described it thus in The Stage,

“Owing something to the Glee and Smash television franchises, it takes Broadway types and tropes on the road to a small-town Indiana community wrestling with societal change and promoting a story of lesbian acceptance.

The Prom tells the story of an American teenager who wants to take her girlfriend to the school prom, against the wishes of the school’s governors. /There are similarities to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, though the support comes not from family as in Jamie, but from four graspingly ambitious Broadway types, trying to generate a publicity campaign of outrage on her behalf in order to promote themselves.”

Though the original run was barely over nine months, the story and score have now reached a much wider audience after it was made into a Netflix film, with a cast newly led by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden.

WATCH: the Netflix trailer:

When the film received a press screening on Netflix last November ahead of its public release, I live tweeted my reactions, and started getting texts from Corden himself (whom I’ve known for some years):

“You’re watching The Prom. And I’m so wanting you to like it!!!!! My god it’s terrifying thinking that people are watching it!”

When I told him I was indeed, he duly replied:

“I’m so pleased you’re enjoying it. I feel like if you don’t like it then the whole thing is pointless!”

4 The Boy from Oz by Peter Allen (music and lyrics), Martin Sherman (book)
This Australian-born musical biography of the late, great Australian-born showman and composer Peter Allen, was originally premiered in Sydney in 1998, with a book by Nick Enright and starring Todd McKenney in the title role. In 2003 it became a vehicle for another Australian-born song and dance man and acting icon Hugh Jackman when it was taken to Broadway’s Imperial Theatre, winning him the 2004 Tony for best actor in a musical.

WATCH: Hugh Jackman and company on the 2004 Tony Awards.

With its irresistible collection of original Peter Allen songs, Jackman was phenomenal in the role, and subsequently reprised it in Australia in an arena-stage touring production, playing to audiences of over 10,000 people. Jackman also did some of the songs from it in his 2019 arena stage solo tour, entitled “The Man. The Music. The Show”.

In 2010 I also saw original sat McKenney reprise the role in a new production in Sydney.
 
5 The Will Rogers Follies, by Cy Coleman (music), Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics), Peter Stone (book)

After Sondheim and John Kander, I reckon that Cy Coleman is the greatest Broadway composer to have been writing in my theatregoing lifetime (so far), though he has long passed on. But it isn’t so much for the score (though it has some real gems, like Will-a-Mania and Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like) that I love this show as it was for Tommy Tune’s absolutely dazzling staging. This was the last in Tune’s run of original directorial and choreographic hits that also included such staging masterpieces as Nine and Grand Hotel, originally premiering at the Palace Theatre in 1991 with cast led by Keith Carradine in the title role and also featuring Dee Hoty. (After Tune revisited his earlier hit The Best little Whorehouse in Texas for a very short-lived sequel called The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public in 1994, he never directed another Broadway show again, to our eternal loss).

The stage pictures that Tune conjures with his fellow creatives are second to none; so are some of his brilliant casting choices, that included Cady Huffman as Ziegfeld’s Favourite, before she went onto a similar triumphant role as the original Ulla in The Producers. Huffman was succeeded during the Broadway run by Marla Maples, who would go on to become Donald Trump’s second wife (and mother of Tiffany).

WATCH: the company on the 1991 Tony Awards

6 The Act by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics), George Furth (book)
This stunningly scored vehicle for Liza Minnelli — a Kander and Ebb regular — premiered on Broadway in 1977, when she was at the height of her fame, having in the same year starred in Martin Scorsese’s film New York, New York (also playing a nightclub singer, opposite Robert de Niro as a musician she is in a relationship with). Scorsese, in his sole Broadway directorial credit, also directed this musical, that featured such dazzlers as Shine It On, the hilarious Arthur in the Afternoon and City Lights.

WATCH: Liza Minnelli on the 1978 Tony Awards:

7 Woman of the Year by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics), Peter Stone (book)
Another Kander and Ebb scored musical, first premiered on Broadway in 1981, was another vehicle for an iconic leading actor, namely Lauren Bacall. The clip of her performing One the boys (whose one of the girls) from the 1981 Tony Awards broadcast is my favourite of any Tony ceremony.

WATCH: Lauren Bacall and company:

8 Aida by Elton John (music), Tim Rice (lyrics), Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang (2000)
Disney’s only original musical for Broadway not based on a pre-existing animated cartoon from their catalogue (as were Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Tarzan and Frozen), Aida was instead based on Verdi’s opera of the same name. But despite a score by British duo Elton John and Tim Rice (who are also partly responsible for the score to The Lion King), and featuring such corkers as Elaborate Lives and Written in the Stars) it has never come to the West End.

It made a break-out star of Heather Hadley in the title role, and also featured Adam Pascal (as Ramades); when I saw the show during previews, Pascal, topless at one point, revealed a lush furry chest; by the time I returned for a press performance, he’d been made family-friendly and entirely waxed. When I met him in Provincetown and told him of my disappointment at the time, he confirmed that he has now long since allowed it to grow back!

WATCH: Adam Pascal and Heather Headley perform Elaborate Lives

9 Baby by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby Jr (lyrics), Sybille Pearson (book)

This 1983 Broadway musical about three sets of parents expecting babies features an absolutely ravishing score by Maltby and Shire, a duo who’ve written such marvellous Off-Broadway revues as Starting Here Starting Now (1977) and Closer to Heaven (1989), but have not been able to score big on Broadway together (though they did actually score the show Big there in 1996; and Maltby had his own significant hit by writing the English lyrics for Boublil and Schonberg’s Miss Saigon). The show featured a star-making, Tony nominated performance from Liz Callaway, one of Broadway’s most clarion-voiced sopranos, who introduced what would become a signature song for her in the show: The Story Goes On.

WATCH: Liz Callaway performs he song in cabaret at 54 Below with Samantha Massell in 2017:

Though it has had a UK touring production in 1990 (with a cast that included Susie Blake, Tim Flavin, Caroline O’Connor, Nigel Richards and Dilys Watling) and I saw at Basildon’s Towngate Theatre, it has never had a West End run.

10 The Wiz by Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics), William F Brown (book)
This new musical version of The Wizard of Oz, featuring an all-black cast, ran for over 4 years during its original Broadway run that began in 1975, and won the show that year’s Tony for best musical. It has come to Britain for runs at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1984 and Hackney Empire in 2001. It will next be revived at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre (https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/the-wiz) from November 24 to January 16; maybe this production will finally bring the show to the West End?

WATCH: Diana Ross (as Dorothy) and Michael Jackson (as Scarecrow) in the 1978 film version, performing Ease on down the Road.

SOME MORE TITLES:

  • My list already has two Kander and Ebb shows; I’d add a third, The Visit (originally conceived as a vehicle for Angela Lansbury in 2001, but who was replaced by Chita Rivera after the death of Lansbury’s husband for its out-of-town try-out at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2001, soon after 9/11). Rivera reprised the show at Arlington’s Signature Theatre in 2008, in a Broadway benefit performance in 2011, and at Williatown Theatre Festival in in 2014, before it finally made it to Broadway in 2015 for a sadly-abbreviated run.

WATCH: Chita Rivera performs Love and Love Alone:

  • I’d also like to see the Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman show Catch me if You Can, based on the Spielberg film of the same name, that premiered on Broadway in 2011 with a cast led by Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit make it to a full London production

WATCH: From the 2011 Tony Awards

  • The Shakespearean comedy musical Something Rotten!, premiered on Broadway in 2015, was due to be given its British premiere at Birmingham Rep in 2020, but has been postponed owing to Covid.

WATCH: Christian Borle and company performing Hard to be the Bard at the White House:

  • Dave Molloy’s stunning musical version of (part of) Tolstoy’s War an Peace, entitled Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, seen on Broadway in 2016 in a stunning immersive production by director Rachel Chavkin that entirely reconfigured the Imperial Theatre into an in-the-round space, is a cutting-edge musical that deserves to be seen in the UK.
  • And Beetlejuice, a stage version of Tim Burton’s film with music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and book by Scott Brown and Anthony King that premiered on Broadway in 2019 but whose run was brought to a premature end when it was served notice by its landlords to accommodate a revival of The Music Man, despite the fact that business was building, will definitely have another life — next stop Britain, perhaps?

WATCH: Alex Brightman and company on The View:

NEXT PODCAST
In a fortnight we will be back with our 20th episode of ShenTens since we launched this podcast in January, so we’ll have done what Betty Buckley dubbed a ShenTwens when I chose twenty instead of ten people for inclusion one week. 
 
That will be our last one for now while we take a break over the summer. And instead of looking to some of the past glories, I want to look at the future — with a top ten made up of stars of the future, from writers and directors to actors that I’m keeping a keen eye on. 

AND FINALLY:
Special thanks to my producer Paul Branch; Howard Goodall, for theme music; and Thomas Mann for the logo design

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