Best West End Shows 2018: Feel-Good Musicals – Les Misérables, Wicked and Chicago

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What are the Best West End Shows in 2018?

There are so many to choose from. New entries like “Hamilton” have received rave reviews but you can’t get tickets for love nor money at the moment, whilst old favourites such as “Les Misérables” are still packing in the punters. And long may it continue, if you ask me.

Anyone who knows me knows that musical theatre is in my blood. I started participating in it when I was 7 and by the time I was 14, I was doing the choreography for my local adult amateur dramatic group. By the time I was 16, I was directing shows for them and I have never looked back. I have run my own performing arts school in the UK now for nearly 20 years and worked professionally as a director and choreographer on many shows. I love it!

We all need hobbies and activities to do in our spare time as the old saying:

“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy”

is very true. Life is so full of rich, consciousness-expanding experiences (and I’m not talking drugs here) but just the wonderful diverse, tapestry of self and societal-reflection that humanity has created and expressed through the arts, literature, dance, music, theatre and film. All too often nowadays we are told of the importance of the core curriculum subjects of maths, English and science, but I have always, and will always, champion the value of creative and artistic subjects for feeding the spirit and enhancing the soul.


So here are 3 of the best West End shows in London in 2018. I’ll be writing regular reviews and recommendations for different ways to get your cultural fixes, as we go, but for starters, here are my top feel-good musicals…..in no particular order!

HInt: You can either scroll down or click the names below to jump to that section.


Les Misérables

    

Where is it on?

Queen’s Theatre, 51 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6BA. Current run to at least March 2019.

What’s songs will I know?

I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Master of the House, One Day More, Do You Hear The People Sing?

What’s it about?

Based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel (which is widely considered to be one of the greatest novel ever written), this Boublil and Schonberg sung-through musical is a hybrid of musical theatre and opera. The subject matter is distinctly not ‘feel-good’ on the surface, but the morality tale that is woven within the pages of the libretto and score leave you uplifted, reassured and with your faith in humanity restored.

The story charts the life of Jean Valjean, whom we first meet as he works as a prisoner on a chain gang in 19th century France where he has served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. He is granted parole but his lust for vengeance at the injustice he feels for his long incarceration leads him to break his parole and steal some candlesticks from a friendly Bishop within days of his release.

He soon finds himself on the run again, but when he is caught by guards the Bishop shows Valjean tremendous mercy and lies for him, telling the officers that he gave the candlesticks to Valjean as a present.

From that moment, Valjean is a changed man, touched by the compassion the Bishop shows him. He vows to mend his ways and serve God. His anger and hatred leaves him in favour of kindness and philanthropy. He starts a new life but his past, in the form of his nemesis, the God-fearing, Javert are never far behind.

As the story unfolds we follow Valjean’s remaining years, his success as a business man living under a pseudonym; his continual fear of being discovered and returned to the chain gang, and his love for his adopted daughter, Cosette. This epic tale encompasses as time of upheaval in revolutionary France and is both gut-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time. The music is rousing, full of pathos and passion and many of the most memorable songs have gone down in musical-theatre history.

Is it any good?

I absolutely love this musical. I remember going to see it when if first opened in London in 1985 when I was studying my first year of my Drama degree. I went with a friend of mine and we had got 2 of the last tickets for one of the previews, but as such we were split up and sat behind a pillar, one on the left had side of the auditorium and one on the right-hand side. We each only had a restricted view of the stage, but I was blown away by the energy and passion of the performances.

I have been back many times since, and even directed my own ‘school’s version’ of it so it is one I know well and would recommend that everyone sees it at least once. It’s more like an opera than a traditional musical in that there is very little dialogue and even that is all under-scored and timed with the music.

However, this is the strength of the show because the memorable themes return throughout, from the unrequited love ballad “On My Own” to one of my favourites, the prayerful “Bring Him Home”, this musical will touch your soul with the depth of human emotions is portrays. And I don’t know anyone who blood is not stirred by the rousing choruses of “Do You Hear The People Sing?” and “One Day More”.

The show is the longest running musical of all time and has won Tony Awards, Lawrence Olivier Awards and many others, too numerous to mention. The show has moved venues since its opening and the cast is smaller than the original but it’s still well worth the money.

In October 2015 it celebrated its 30th anniversary which means there are members of the cast who I know were not even born when it first opened – I know this as I have worked with one of them years ago when he played in a version of “Anything Goes” I directed. Good to see he’s ended up in the West End!

Who should I take?

This musical is suitable I would say for children over 10, only because it is relatively long and sung-through. The subject matter is also not necessarily the easiest for children to grasp, although I would take my own children when they were older. Many children study the two younger cast member’s songs or “Castle on a Cloud” and “Little People Know” in music or singing lessons too, but I would think that 10 would be a good age recommendation.

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Wicked

   

Where is it on?

Apollo Victoria Theatre, 17 Wilton Road, London, SW1V 1LL. Currently running to at least May 2019.

What songs will I know?

Defying Gravity, I’m not that girl, Popular

What’s it about?

Billed as “the untold story of the witches of Oz”, the story here is a reworking of “The Wizard of Oz” with all the things you know about MGM’s 1939 Technicolor fantasy film being turned on its head. The defining feature of the Wicked Witch of the West – the fact that she is green – is given a back story and the character herself finds a whole new motivation which includes fighting injustice and standing up for human and animal rights issues.

It’s really a high school girl friend/growing up story, cleverly wound around the story that we all thought we knew.

However, the original film took a lot of liberties with L. Frank Baum’s original story entitled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” so it’s not the first time that there’s been a reworking for dramatic effect.

All the original characters are in the show (except for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and the role of the Lion is reduced, as in fact is Dorothy, who is really just a plot device for the last scene. But you have to go in with a clean slate, forget everything you think you know about the characters and start again.

Is it any good?

I can’t believe it but this musical is celebrating its 10th anniversary. “Where does the time go?” I ask myself. I seem to know all the songs and even my children know some of them – that’s got to be a good thing though, right?!

I really like this show. It’s a clever, feel-good musical although not always in the way that you expect and it is by one of my favourite writers, Stephen Schwartz. It takes you by surprise and resolves its many plot twists and subplots in a way that even the children can understand. That said, when I took my children, they had only seen the original film once and I’m still not convinced that they have made the connection between the film and the musical but that really doesn’t matter. The musical stands up on it’s own with an intricate plot, fabulous music and outstanding performances – it won’t matter if you know or connect it to The Wizard of Oz or not.

When it came out, Idina Menzel (of Frozen, “Let It Go” fame) not only rose to the rank of musical superstar but literally rose head and shoulders about the rest of the cast with her rendition of “Defying Gravity”, and my favourite song in the whole show, “I’m Not That girl”.

She’s no longer in the show but the role of Elphaba (the so-called ‘Wicked’ Witch of the West) is still one of the most prized by musical theatre wannabees and her songs are heard up and down the country in auditions by hopefuls, dreaming of the bright lights and stardom. Nothing wrong with that I say, and its good to see the 2 main characters in the show are female.

There is a love interest as well but it’s really the relationship of the women in the show that draws your attention and sets you thinking.

There are deeper parallels you can draw with this musical, such as the treatment people deemed ‘different’ to the norm; the need to ‘not judge a book by its cover’ the trappings of dependent relationships and the misuse of power for personal gain are just 4 of things we could dissect with the show.

But you’ll probably just want to take the kids, enjoy the theatrical spectacle of the whole event, wallow in the unusual harmonies and spend the half hour after if finished working out how it fits with the MGM film. And that’s fine. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll probably never spend another Boxing Day watching The Wizard of Oz in the same way again.

Who should I take?

This is really a great family musical that all the family will enjoy. There’s a moving dragon, magic, romance and more than a few moral dilemmas that will challenge and delight you.

It deserves its impressive list of over 90 international awards and claims of being the 16th longest-running West End musical of all time. More than that, it really will cast its spell and is worth every penny you spend transporting yourself to the mystical land of Oz. Things will never be the same again.

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Chicago

Chicago

    

Age restrictions apply. 13+ only

Where is it on?

Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0JP. Current run ends January 2019.

What’s songs will I know?

Razzle Dazzle, Cell Block Tango, All That Jazz, Mr Cellophane.

What’s it about?

Chicago is a fun-filled, satire on the topic of celebrity which is as relevant today as ever. As more and more ‘celebrity-this’ and ‘celebrity-that’ shows fill our airways, I can honestly say that I have usually never heard of most of the participating ‘celebrities’ who participate. Chicago is a parody of the way our society makes and breaks ‘celebrity status’ centered around a main duo of female murderers in 1930s America.

All hell breaks loose at the Cook County Jail when the resident celebrity husband-killer, Velma Kelly is knocked off the top spot by naive newbie Roxie Hart. She may look innocent but she packs a hell of a punch and is learning the ropes quicker than you can say “guilty!”

In an era when people can nowadays be ‘famous for being famous’, Chicago treads a fine line between classic Vaudeville song and dance show, and the social criticisms and parody of some of our most popular current ideals – the nature of fame and celebrity.

When my daughter’s say to me that they want to be famous one day, I always ask them “for what?” as it begs the question from me as to which skill or talent they would like to be famed for. Luckily for me, they both have an answer, but for many youngsters today, the thought of being famous ‘for anything’ is the biggest draw.

Chicago just takes this and turns it on its head since the heroines of the story are both murderers potentially on death row.

But it’s all done with the greatest of sassy fun and wicked sense of humour that you forgive and forget, blinded by the ‘razzle dazzle’ and ‘all that jazz’.

Chicago, the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, has delighted audiences around the world with its two Vaudevillian criminals Roxie and Velma. The pair are sent to Cook County Jail after they both commit murders, and the show takes you through their crimes, time in prison and subsequent trials. It’s set to a classic soundtrack featuring showstoppers such as “All That Jazz”, “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “Razzle Dazzle”.

Is it any good?

If I was surprised at Wicked being 10, I’m even more gob-smacked that “Chicago” is 21 – I remember seeing it when my local amateur dramatic company performed it in the 1990s which must have been one of the last productions of it before the amateur rights were removed as it hit London.

I loved it then and I still love it now some 21 years later, you can’t beat Chicago for its sassy sexiness, adult humour and bold, ‘in-yer -face’ charm. Couple that with some perfect performances and you get a little bit of theatrical magic.

After a successful 15-year run in the West End, Chicago went on tour as most musicals do. It toured the UK for several years and is back now for a limited run at The Phoenix Theatre. If you’ve never seen it, or only know of the Catherine Zeta Jones’ film version, then I urge you to get your tickets before it finishes in January 2019.

Who should I take?

I love Chicago but it does contain some references to sex so it is recommended for 13+ only. If you have people who love dancing, then there is some great dancing in this show particularly.

There is also some adult humour based around greed and sex but once you understand that the whole show is a parody then no one should really be offended.

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And finally…

I hope you enjoyed our little look at some of the best musicals in London in 2018. Some of these will run on for many years to come and others like Chicago are only back for a limited run.

I’ll be writing more reviews and recommendations for what to see in London’s West End so be sure to come back to check them out.

In the meantime, have fun, that’s what life is about.

 

 

 

Posted in Culture.

Hi. I'm Gail and I'm a teacher, coach, writer and blogger who has been involved with self-development and the performing arts for over 30 years. I'm passionate about helping people to develop their full potential and I've studied education, the law of attraction, personal development and NLP which I write about on this site.

I love working with people of all ages and backgrounds and truly believe that we are all unique, unlimited creative beings who can do wonderful things with a positive attitude and spiritual outlook on life.

Here's to your continued success.

Gail

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for the wonderful review of Wicked, Chicago and Les Miserables. I’ll have to share this with my theater loving sister! I enjoy the songs that go along with these musicals, but sometimes I have a hard time sitting still during performances.

    • Haha – I know the feeling – especially if you have a wriggly 10-year old to sit next too! Actually I think I’ve trained my daughters fairly well on going to the theatre as they’ve been going since they were little and know what to do so it’s not so bad. I do highly recommend these musicals – there’s so many others around too that you can see also here and I’ll be writing reviews of these soon. Have a great day and hope you get to see some good culture soon.

  2. Great Gail, I can see by your post that you are so passionate about the art and music . And your post has all of them, you have directed it all well.
    Thanks.

    • Thanks Sumit. I definitely love my musical theatre as it’s been my life. Doing things you love is important as in my book, it’s why we are here – to live our own lives and create them the way we want to. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. All the best today. Gail

  3. Three great shows and great information that you have highlighted here for anybody visiting the capital. Coming from the north of England in Leeds I don’t get down that neck of the woods too often and have seen a few shows in the past but only local. We will make a weekend of it hopefully soon and will certainly bookmark your site for future reference. Thanks for the information.

    • Hi Mick
      Thanks for your comment. I love your neck of the woods too as I love going hiking and walking and although we have some great places down here, there’s nothing quite like a wild moor to blow away the cobwebs! Many of these shows have touring versions that you can also see when they come up to you. They usually pair down the casting as a necessity due to smaller stages on the tours, but that shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of them either.

  4. Hey Gail!

    I just read your post from top to bottom and I loved what I read. It is true indeed that life is supposed to be fun and look at the good part of it, and musical concerts are certainly one of them.

    How recommended are Les Miserables for an outsider like me?

    -Hekuran

    • Hi Hekuran. Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you liked it. You can probably tell that I just love musical theatre so it’s a no brainer for me. I would highly recommend Les Mis (as it it also referred to) because the music is so beautiful and it is a timeless story of revenge, hate, inner struggle and finally love conquering all. But it’s not sentimental or soppy, just good old human emotions being expressed and I think that that can transcend all barriers of culture, language or religion. We can all hear a piece of music and recognise and internal emotion that it stirs and Les Mis has music like that in abundance. It’s a bit like going to an opera in Italian – I don’t speak Italian at all, but you get the story line and you follow the emotions – simple. 🙂

  5. Hi Gail,

    I enjoyed reading your post and learned a lot. Les Mis is my absolute favorite. I have seen it twice, and have listened to the Soundtrack for years. I’ve always wanted to see Wicked. Last time I was in NYC, we tried to get tickets but we’re unable to. Maybe next time. I love musicals. Your post made me realize I need to make more of an effort to see them more often. I’ve always wanted to visit London. Maybe someday. Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?

    • Hi Holly. Thanks for leaving a comment. I’m glad you like musicals – they have been my whole life as you can probably tell. I know that life gets in the way sometimes too as there never seems to be enough time for the things we really love to do. I think that we must be doing something wrong there – more fun I say! 🙂 Have a great day and hopefully you’ll make it across the pond to London one day. Gail

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