I’ve always believed that children should get the chance to enjoy theatre at a young age; I saw my first West End show when I was eight and haven’t looked back since. And so it’s great to see shows aimed at a younger audience attracting sell-out audiences, months or even years after opening.
But why should the kids have all the fun? Most of the ‘children’s’ shows in the West End are just as much fun for adults, maybe even more so, because they let us leave our boring adult lives behind for a couple of hours. So here are a few shows - some long-running, others coming soon - that I hope to still be enjoying when I’m old and grey. Maybe I’ll see you there.
One of my top shows of all time - I never get bored of The Lion King. There’s just so much that’s brilliant about it, and you don’t have to be a child to appreciate it. The opening scene still gives me goosebumps even after seeing it five times; actually I think life would be much better if every day began with a quick burst of 'The Circle of Life'. The puppets and costumes are so brilliantly done that after a while you totally forget you’re looking at humans pretending to be animals. And then there’s the uplifting story and fantastic characters. Personally I love the hyenas, Zazu and Pumbaa - and Scar, because, like most villains, he gets all the best lines.
I saw Matilda for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and don’t know why it took me so long. Like the novel by Roald Dahl on which it’s based, this is a clever, endearing and very funny show about a sad little girl who decides there’s no point feeling sorry for herself, and sets out to change her story. Featuring fantastic songs by Tim Minchin (the ingenious 'School Song' is one of my new favourites) and a hilarious performance from Craige Els as the wicked Miss Trunchbull, not to mention an amazing cast of child actors, this is a show not to be missed.
Goodnight Mister Tom is based on a novel by Michelle Magorian, which I remember reading as a child, but this play is definitely not just for children. It’s a heartwarming story about a grumpy old man in a rural English village, who reluctantly takes in evacuee William during World War 2, and in doing so changes both their lives. Goodnight Mister Tom comes to the West End in December for a Christmas season, after a UK tour, where it made audiences laugh and cry in equal measure. This story about the many rewards of friendship may be set 75 years ago, but it’ll never get old.
The latest big show to be announced in the West End, Aladdin will be taking over from Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre in 2016. Now, I’m still slightly in mourning about the departure of Miss Saigon, but I’m willing to admit its successor sounds like a lot of fun, and it’s certainly been getting rave reviews on Broadway. The classic story of a man, a lamp and three magic wishes will be brought to us by the producer of The Lion King, featuring all the songs we know from the Disney film, as well as some new music from Alan Menken. Aladdin, like all the best Disney stories, mixes comedy, romance and adventure in a show that USA Today called ‘pure genie-us’. Nice.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Christmas doesn’t start until Elf has been on. And that means Christmas officially begins in the West End this Saturday, with the new production of Elf! the musical. Starring Ben Forster, Kimberley Walsh and Joe McGann, the show is based on the 2003 movie about an incompetent young elf who eventually realises he’s actually human, and returns to New York to find his father. If you’re not feeling the Christmas spirit just yet, this is a story guaranteed to get you in the mood for the festive season. And it’ll make you laugh quite a lot along the way. Merry Christmas!
Another Roald Dahl, because you can never have too much Roald Dahl in your life, at any age. Most people know the story: chocolate-lover Charlie wins a golden ticket to Mr Wonka’s factory, along with four horrid other children, who one by one, meet sticky ends. Directed by Sam Mendes, the show features music by Marc Shaiman and stars Jonathan Slinger as the eccentric Willy Wonka (who’s fortunately a bit less creepy than Johnny Depp’s movie version). It’s colourful, entertaining and, like most Dahl stories, completely bonkers. In a good way.
Who says kids’ shows are just for kids?
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