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BLOG : Top 10 American Plays and Musicals to see this Spring

By Joseph Weinberg
Thursday 09 February 2017

It seems that more and more American plays and musicals are making their way to the West End. Here's a list of the top 10 to see this spring, to make your choices just a little easier.

10. The Frogs: Jermyn Street Theatre, 14 March - 8 April

What is it?

Stephen Sondheim & Burt Shevelove’s musical comedy, based on the Aristophanes play of the same name. The hilarious story follows Dionysus and his servant, Xanthias, as they travel to the underworld to bring back Bernard Shaw. The musical premiered in a swimming pool at Yale in 1974, featuring notable stars-to-be in the ensemble, such as Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. The piece was left largely untouched over the next few decades, but in 2004, it was revived for Broadway. Nathan Lane re-wrote sections of the book, and played the leading role of Dionysus. It’s this revised version that’s performed in modern productions, including this one.

Why should you see it?

This musical is rarely performed even in the States, and this production marks the U.K premiere. It’s a must-see for any Sondheim fan who wants to experience some of his lesser-known work.


9. Ugly Lies the Bone: National Theatre - Lyttelton, 22 February - 1 April

What is it?

Kate Fleetwood returns to the National to play Jess, a newly-discharged war veteran who comes home, injured and distressed, to her family in Florida. The funny drama by American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino premiered at the New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company in 2015.

Why should you see it?

The play received largely positive reviews in New York, and this production features a promising cast. Kate Fleetwood in particular is likely to bring her beautiful intensity to the role. The bold, fierce play deals with heavy topics and complex emotions, but also includes moments of humour.


8. 42nd Street: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Previews begin 20 March

What is it?

42nd Street premiered on Broadway in 1980, starring Jerry Orbach and Tammy Grimes. The dance-heavy musical, with a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, uses songs by the legendary Harry Warren and Al Dubin to tell the story of Julian Marsh, a Broadway director putting on a big-scale musical during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Peggy Sawyer, fresh-faced and innocent, wants to prove her talent and get her big break, but has-been Prima Donna, Dorothy Brock stands in her way.

Why should you see it?

This new production, directed by co-author Mark Bramble, is sure to light up the West End with its spectacular dancing, music, and top-notch talent. Grammy-Winner Sheena Easton will play Dorothy, and Tom Lister and Clare Halse will join her as Julian and Peggy, respectively. Bramble also directed the Tony-winning revival in 2001. Those looking for a glitzy love letter to old-school show-biz will be sure to enjoy this tap-happy musical.


7. Speech and Debate: Trafalgar Studios 2, 22 February - 1 April

What is it?

This dark comedy, by Tony-winner, Stephen Karam (The Humans) tells the story of three misfit teens, who become aware of a sex-scandal at their school involving one of their teachers, and put on a highly unexpected theatre production as a response. This production will star Douglas Booth (Riot Club, Noah), Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Patsy Ferran (Treasure Island, As You Like It) and Charlotte Lucas (Red Velvet, Posh)

Why should you see it?

The play, by Tony-winner Stephen Karam, was an off-Broadway hit in 2008, and has since become a favorite among regional theatres all over America. It may appeal particularly to a younger crowd, but the high-quality writing and relatable themes can be appreciated by any fan of bold contemporary theatre. Playwright, Stephen Karam is gaining popularity in the States, having received wide acclaim for his most recent play, The Humans.


6. The Wild Party: The Other Palace (formerly Saint James Theatre), 13 February - 2 April

What is it?

In 2000, two new musicals with the same name and source material premiered in New York. One was written by Andrew Lippa, and the other, by Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe. It is the LaChiusa musical that London theatre-goers will now have the opportunity to see at The Other Palace (the new name for the St. James Theatre). Despite its star-studded cast and 8 Tony nominations, the original Broadway production closed after only 68 performances, and since then it has only rarely been produced, and the Lippa musical garnered more attention than LaChiusa’s in subsequent years. Now, LaChiusa and Wolfe’s adaptation returns, in its UK premiere, starring Frances Ruffelle as Queenie.

Why should you see it?

LaChiusa’s musical is rarely performed, especially in high-profile productions like this one. Some may find his style to be less accessible than Lippa’s, but it has a dark complexity, and a strong sense of the period. In addition to Frances Ruffelle (of Les Mis fame), musical theatre fans will also have the opportunity to see the legendary triple-threat Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line, Company, Follies) return to the London stage.


5. The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia: Theatre Royal Haymarket, March 24 - June 24

What is it?

The play, by the late Edward Albee, was first performed on Broadway in 2000, winning the Tony Award for Best Play. In it, Albee boldly experiments with themes of morality, social norms, and love. The result is a bizarre, yet oddly poignant look into the life of a family torn apart by a husband’s love affair with a goat. This new production, directed by Ian Rickson (Jerusalem, Evening at the Talk House), will star Emmy-winner, Damian Lewis and Oscar-nominee, Sophie Okonedo.

Why should you see it?

Though the subject matter might seem to be pushing boundaries, the play is fascinating and brilliantly written. With a first-rate cast and creative team on board, this production is looking like a promising addition to the West End spring season.


4. An American in Paris: Dominion Theatre, Previews begin 4 March

What is it?

Based on the 1951 MGM classic of the same name, An American in Paris opened on Broadway in 2015, receiving a whopping 14 Tony nominations, and now makes its West End debut. Christopher Wheeldon, known for his work in ballet, won a Tony for his beautiful and passionate choreography. The show also features iconic songs by George and Ira Gershwin, some of which were featured in the film, while others have been added for this adaptation. The story follows three men in Paris during World War II, who all fall in love with the same woman.

Why should you see it?

The choreography is stunning, as is the spectacular design. The story, though simple and old-fashioned, is filled with passion and romance. And of course you can’t beat Gershwin! Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild, who were both Tony-nominated for their performances in the Broadway production, will reprise their roles in the West End. Even if you’re not a fan of dance shows, you may still find it incredible to watch.


3. Carousel: English National Opera - London Coliseum, 7 April - 13 May

What is it?

After ENO’s successful ventures into musical theatre in the past two years (Sweeney Todd, Sunset Boulevard), they’re now bringing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel to the Coliseum. Written in 1945, Carousel marks the 2nd collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the geniuses behind such classics as Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music and The King and I. The musical follows the troubled relationship between Julie, a headstrong millworker, and Billy Bigelow, a volatile carousel barker. Like Sweeney Todd and Sunset Boulevard, Carousel will be performed at the ENO as a semi-staged concert production.

Why should you see it?

Carousel is undoubtedly among the most significant musicals in the cannon, exploring a range of complex emotions and themes. The masterful score features such heart-wrenching songs as “If I Loved You,” “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’” and “Soliloquy.” For any fans who might have missed Carousel’s previous encarnations  in London, this is a great opportunity to experience its thrilling story and music. Furthermore, Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins will lend their beautiful voices to the lead roles of Billy and Julie, respectively. Lonny Price, who directed both Sweeney Todd and Sunset Boulevard at the ENO, returns to direct Carousel.


2. The Glass Menagerie: Duke of York’s Theatre, Now playing until 30 April

What is it?

This highly acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ classic 1945 family drama has had a long road to the West End, and London theatre-goers should rejoice that it has finally arrived. Directed by John Tiffany (of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child), this production began at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre, and opened on Broadway in 2013 to rave reviews. It then returned to the U.K this summer in Edinburgh, and is now playing at the Duke of York’s theatre on the West End, with Cherry Jones reprising her Tony-nominated performance as Amanda.

Why should you see it?

John Tiffany’s direction is beautiful and inventive, while perfectly honouring Williams’ original heartfelt text. Cherry Jones is a tour de force as Amanda, and her performance alone is worth the price of admission. Fellow American actor, Michael Esper (seen recently in Lazarus) plays the troubled narrator, Tom. A must-see for any lover of Tennessee Williams, or of theatre in general!


1. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Harold Pinter Theatre, 22 February - 27 May

What is it?

Edward Albee’s 1962 hit has become one of the most iconic plays in American history. It follows a night in the life of George and Martha, an old married couple whose bitterness has manifested in a series of twisted games and brutal jabs. Nick and Honey, a young couple they’ve met at a party, come over to their house and become entangled in the couple’s toxic marital warfare. This new production will star Olivier-winners, Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd), Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones, The Producers), and Luke Treadaway (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), as well as Imogen Poots as Honey.

Why should you see it?

The play is iconic, and this starry cast is sure to deliver unforgettable performances. This is shaping up to be one of the biggest must-see production on the West End this spring. Fans of the actors, the play, or both would certainly regret missing this theatrical event.

Tags:

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