Your 2019 West End wrapped — Top 20 London theatre moments in 2019
| By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels
And that's a wrap! 🎬 The year 2019 saw an unprecedented number of milestones in London Theatreland. Broadway musical transfers like Waitress and 9 to 5 hit a home run whilst the West End itself became more diverse than ever before. It was a year when theatres weren't afraid to get political, staging some knockout productions exploring the state of the world — such as the coming-of-age story, A Hundred Words For Snow, and the premiere of Lucy Prebble's stage play A Very Expensive Poison based on Luke Harding's Litvinenko exposé of the same name).
From theatres going carbon neutral to A-list celebrities treading the boards, here are our picks for the Top 20 London theatre moments in 2019.
A news round-up: Top 20 memorable moments in London theatre in 2019
This year saw many big changes in the West End and brought a number of unforgettable moments (twenty to be exact). Here's our 2019 West End recap. Enjoy!
20. The Queen's Theatre got more than just some cosmetic changes...
We had known since summer 2018 that the Queen's Theatre would be undergoing a major refurbishment project, but perhaps no one was prepared for its makeover being accompanied with a name change as well. The news broke out in July 2019 and had theatre fans shook. Home to the longest-running London musical of all time, Les Miserables, the West End venue now goes by the name Sondheim Theatre. Don't wear it out, folks! Les Mis recently re-opened following its concert-style production this autumn. The cast currently stars Carrie Hope Fletcher as Fantine, Bradley Jaden as Javert, and Jon Robyns as Jean Valjean.
19. New Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle becomes 'crowned' Royal Patron for the National Theatre.
An actress herself before marrying into the Royal Family, Meghan Markle made headlines at the beginning of 2019 when she was announced to be taking over as Royal Patron for the National Theatre from Her Majesty The Queen, Elizabeth II. The wife of Prince Harry and mother to newborn son Archie will play an important role in supporting the arts in the years to come.
18. American Drag Race Invasion.
Everybody's Talking About Jamie, which follows a teenage drag queen who is barred from attending his high school prom, made West End 'herstory' when it cast not one, but two RuPaul's Drag Race stars in its production. Although Michelle Visage began performing as Miss Hedge in 2018, she continued on in the role until 26 January 2019. This was later followed by the announcement that Season Six winner Bianca Del Rio (Roy Haylock) would be starring as Loco Chanel (Hugo) over the summer. Fans of the Jamie musical just couldn't get enough of the charismatic drag performer and comedian, and following the premiere of RuPaul's Drage Race UK (the British version of the US reality series competition), it was announced that Del Rio would be returning to reprise her role.
17. Julian Clary becomes the first inductee into the London Palladium Wall of Fame.
Currently starring in the venue's panto production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, West End legend Julian Clary was announced earlier this month that he would become the first new face to feature on the outdoor Wall of Fame at the London Palladium, which was unveiled in autumn 2018.
16. Was 2019 the year of new London theatres?
2019 saw the introduction of several new London theatre venues, most notably the Turbine Theatre at Battersea Power Station, the spacious Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre (which featured the returns of Peter Pan and War Horse, the premiere of Sleepless: A Musical Romance, and the upcoming production of The Wedding Singer starring Kevin Clifton), and the fancy and visually-stunning Boulevard Theatre in Soho, currently running Ghost Quartet followed by The Sunset Limited.
15. Both Disney's The Lion King and Mamma Mia! celebrated 20 years in the West End.
The famous ABBA musical Mamma Mia! had its 20th birthday in the West End's Novello Theatre on 6 April 2019 and held a special performance that brought together 13 former Dynamos from the show's past casts. Several months later, The Lion King musical celebrated the same exact milestone, having been running at the Lyceum Theatre since 19 October 1999.
14. Mary Poppins returns to the West End.
After she made a big-screen comeback last year, 2019 saw the practically perfect Disney icon return to the London stage! Your favourite nanny Mary Poppins is currently babysitting UK theatregoers at the Prince Edward Theatre following the sad closing of Aladdin over the summer.
13. Speaking of Disney, Broadway's Frozen The Musical was officially announced to be transferring to the West End.
After 42nd Street wrapped up its run at the legendary Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the venue was swiftly closed for refurbishment (seems to be the trend these days). Frozen The Musical was originally teased to be transferring to the West End by Baz Bamigboye around Christmas time last year, but the news was "officially" confirmed later in March 2019. Now after the release of Frozen 2 and the announcement of Samantha Barks cast as the West End Elsa, we couldn't be more excited for this highly anticipated musical to open next year in autumn!
❄️ Frozen West End musical tickets on sale from 6 March 2020.
🎟️ Sign up for our mailing list here to be reminded as soon as Frozen tickets become available!
12. The Piccadilly Theatre ceiling collapsed during a performance of Death of a Salesman.
Luckily no one was killed during the incident that took place on the night of 6 November 2019, but it did cause several injuries and a brief closing of the show. The swift and heroic efforts of House Staff, who evacuated the theatre, and emergency services were worthy of a standing ovation. The Young Vic also jumped in at the last moment to put on a series of scratch performances of Death of a Salesman free of charge to those in attendance, a gesture that earned them an award nomination for Achievement in Technical Theatre at the upcoming The Stage Awards in 2020.
11. Was 2019 also the year of the UK theatre accidents?
Though it happened in Cardiff and not London, this next entry is still worthy of making our list. Just a month after the ceiling collapsed in the Piccadilly Theatre, the touring production of Les Miserables experienced an on-stage fire when the actor playing Javert accidentally set the barricade set-piece ablaze with the torch he was holding. No one was harmed during the incident as the safety curtain was quickly dropped and the theatre immediately evacuated. The show went on after the fire was put out.
10. Non-profit organisation Stagetext celebrated its 5th Captioning Awareness Week in the West End from 11 to 17 November 2019.
The week-long event saw the likes of Mamma Mia!, Come From Away, and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg participate with special captioned performances.
9. The Play That Goes Wrong gets its own TV series.
The smash-hit play by Mischief Theatre Company was announced to be adapted for the small screen earlier this year in a six-part miniseries.
8. Nick and Diane Marson, the real-life couple who partially inspired Canadian-American musical, Come From Away, made a special appearance on The One Show.
Their unlikely love story set against the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks helped inspire the hit show "we all need right now."
7. Thanks to celebrity star power, 2019 was no doubt the year of West End ticket-selling madness!
There were certainly no shortage of celebrity actors this year on the London theatre stage: Frasier's Kelsey Grammer in Man of La Mancha, opera singer Renee Fleming and Disney star Dove Cameron in The Light in the Piazza, The Wanted's Jay McGuinness in BIG The Musical, Matthew Broderick in The Starry Messenger, and X-Files actress Gillian Anderson in All About Eve all spring to mind.
But perhaps the biggest West End box-office breakers of 2019 were none other than the Harold Pinter Theatre production of Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston, the upcoming Old Vic production of 4000 Miles starring Call Me By Your Name's Timothee Chalamet, To Kill A Mockingbird starring Rhys Ifans at the Gielgud Theatre and of course, the upcoming summer 2020 production of Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo starring Whoopi Goldberg, which sold thousands upon thousands of tickets within mere hours of it going on sale.
6. Peter Nichols passed away at age 92.
The playwright sadly died before he could see the revival of his very own A Day in the Death of Joe Egg play. The Trafalgar Studios production staged a one-off memorial event for the writer that featured readings of his most praised works.
Read the article "Top 10 Joe Egg Facts" for more information on the playwright's personal connection to the piece.
5. & Juliet surprised.
When the Shakespearean remix musical featuring the greatest hits by Max Martin was first announced back in January 2019, reception was lukewarm before the show even started. Tickets were slow to sell and not even the announcement of Hamilton star Miriam-Teak Lee got the party pumping. But then it opened... and the rest was history. & Juliet: Her Musical is now slaying the stage at London's Shaftesbury Theatre and fans of good music and good production values just can't seem to get enough of it!
4. 2019 in the West End saw more female representation than ever before.
With female-led productions like Waitress, SIX, 9 to 5, and Emilia, it's increasingly more evident that the West End is gradually becoming a more equal playing field for all genders.
3. The phrase "Ladies and Gentlemen" was banned from National Theatre announcements.
In a bid to become more gender-neutral, the National Theatre announced it would no longer be using "ladies and gentlemen" to refer to audience members. LGBT rights activists have campaigned for such language to be removed, as it excludes those who identify as non-binary, such as "Writing's on the Wall" singer Sam Smith. The RSC have also pledged to create environments that are more welcoming for gender-fluid and trans people.
2. The first-ever Black British Theatre Awards were held during British Black History Month 2019.
Perhaps the biggest West End milestone in recent memory, the inaugural Black British Theatre Awards were held at The Old Finsbury Town Hall in Islington in a ceremony hosted by Strictly Come Dancing's Ore Oduba. It's hard to believe that we are nearly entering the 2020s and no such formal recognition had previously been given to Black British talents, who have been sorely underrepresented in the West End for many years. Luckily, things seem to be heading in the right direction. Winners at the first BBTAs included Sharon D. Clarke — who not only won Best Female Actor in a Musical for her performance in Caroline, or Change at the Playhouse Theatre but also the Lifetime Achievement Award — and Layton Williams, who won Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre.
1. London theatres continued in their efforts to go carbon neutral.
We live in scary times, indeed. Winters are getting warmer and summers are getting more blazing hot. The West End and London theatre scene have been increasing their efforts to protect the environment in recent years. In 2018, Nimax Theatre Group announced that they would be banning plastic straws, but as Greta Thunberg could agree, there is certainly a long way left to go.
The Royal Court Theatre was one of a handful of London theatre venues to commit to net-zero carbon emissions come 2020. Their green transformation was announced shortly after the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company terminated their cooperation with BP and Shell; and following increased pressure from climate change activists, the National Theatre also committed to becoming carbon neutral. Whether the remaining West End venues will join in on the fight against the climate crisis remains to be 'scene'. The year 2020 will mark a new decade and, hopefully, set the stage for some much-needed change.
Thank you for being one of our many avid readers in the year 2019! The writing staff at London Theatre Direct are constantly working around the clock to bring you all the latest West End and UK Theatre news. Follow our news page for all the latest breaking stories in Theatreland, including cast information, new productions, transfers, and more.
We wish you a Happy New Year!