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BLOG : Believe It Or Not… 10 West End Shows Inspired By Real Events

By Liz Dyer
Monday 22 June 2015

Sometimes the unlikeliest of events can be the inspiration for a phenomenon. Who would have thought, for instance, that a show based on an unsuccessful, two-day uprising in France (not even the big revolution that everyone's heard of) would turn into the world’s longest-running musical?

Believe It Or Not… 10 West End Shows Inspired By Real Events

There’s something a bit special about shows based on true stories, I think. They bring history to life in a way that no textbook ever could, by putting a human face on events we might otherwise know little or nothing about (I’ve successfully answered more than one pub quiz question about Vietnam thanks to Miss Saigon). So here are ten shows that are currently booking in the West End, all based on real events.

10. Billy Elliot

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Billy Elliot is set during the 1984-5 miners’ strike in northern England. This background is really important to the central story, as Billy's fight to pursue his dreams is set against the much bigger struggle faced by his local community.

9. Gypsy

Based on the memoirs of burlesque star, Gypsy Rose Lee, this tale of the ultimate pushy mother is getting rave reviews every night (I even saw one critic give it 6 out of 5...), with particular praise for its stars, Imelda Staunton and Lara Pulver

8. Miss Saigon

An updated version of Puccini's Madam Butterfly, transferred to the Vietnam War. This tragic story of a young Vietnamese girl - played by the incredible Eva Noblezada - who falls for an American GI, has audiences in floods of tears every night. 

7. War Horse

Another weepy one - based on Michael Morpurgo's novel, War Horse is the tale of a boy and his horse during World War One. Featuring incredible life-sized animals from the Handspring Puppet Company, this show is very much on my 'must-see' list.

6. Memphis

A show about forbidden love and rock n roll, set in the underground dance clubs of 1950s Tennessee, Memphis is loosely based on the story of Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music. X Factor winner Matt Cardle is set to star opposite Beverly Knight from July, taking over from current lead Killian Donnelly.

5. Les Miserables

The ultimate musical, a sweeping story of love, loss, injustice and revolution. Les Mis has been seen by over 70 million people in 43 countries across the world (including me, more times than I can count), and is set around the events of the unsuccessful student uprising in Paris, in 1832.

4. Jersey Boys

A jukebox musical with a difference, Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, exploring how the band met, rose to fame and eventually went their separate ways. Featuring a whole bunch of hits you may never have realised were originally theirs, Jersey Boys will send you out into the street singing and dancing.

3. The Audience

Recently returned to the West End starring Kristen Scott Thomas, The Audience imagines Queen Elizabeth II's private weekly meetings with the twelve prime ministers to come to power during her reign. Now with an updated script to reflect the recent general election, the play is as relevant as it is entertaining.

2. Photograph 51

Probably best known as the show that marks Nicole Kidman's return to the West End stage after 17 years, Photograph 51 is the story of Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whose research unlocked the secret code of DNA. Opening in September, Photograph 51 tickets are selling fast.

1. Kinky Boots

And last but not least, Kinky Boots - opening in August and starring Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry. With music from Cyndi Lauper, the show charts the fortunes of Charlie Price, who comes up with a unique way to save his family's shoe factory. And yes - it's based on a true story.

Tickets for all these shows are on sale now, so don't miss out!


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Liz Dyer

Liz is a lifelong theatre fan who gets very angry when people talk during the show. Her first West End show was Joseph with Phillip Schofield in the 90s. And yes, she still knows all the colours of his coat. In order.

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