2016: Top Musicals – Regional and Touring
Of many regrets I have about 2016, one that is acute is that I did not get to see more work in regions or on tour.
By all accounts, Flowers for Mrs Harris in Sheffield was terrific and I still harbour hopes that there will be a transfer of that production to London. It is the kind of show the National Theatre really should be supporting.
This is an imperfect list given it is based only on shows I saw myself, but it does include a lot of really great shows.
So here goes:
7. Travels With My Aunt
At Chichester, Patricia Hodge put “the living in life” as the wacky Aunt in Drewe and Stiles’ new musical, Travels With My Aunt. A terrific score augmented a clever, literary script and made for a festive, fizzy night of fun.
6. The Shakespeare Revue
A starfield backdrop. A grand piano. Five glamorous stools, black leather and shiny metal. Five performers, two women, three men. A sense of style. Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Revue was a heady cocktail built on all of these elements. Gleeful, erudite and passionate, it reminded you of the all-pervading nature of Shakespeare’s prodigious output and underlined the joy his plays and players continuously bring to the world.
5. Guys and Dolls
It was comforting to see the UK touring production of Guys and Dolls boast the best, or a better, line-up of major principals since Chichester, where this production began. London might get the “names”, but this tour boasted the exceptional talent. Why was the finest incarnation of Gordon Greenberg’s production of Guys and Dolls so far? Mainly because no attempt was made by Louise Dearman (Adelaide) or Maxwell Caulfield (Nathan) to overstep the mark, but also because Anna O’Bryne (Sarah) and Richard Fleeshman (Sky) were so superb. Why this cast didn’t play the West End is a question for the Spinx.
4. Thoroughly Modern Millie
Everything today is thoroughly modern…well, perhaps. But Stephen Mear’s delicious and totally captivating production of Thoroughly Modern Millie demonstrated precisely why “old fashioned” thinking about what makes musical theatre tick is still thrillingly modern. Four perfectly cast leading players and a complete understanding of the power of dance in delivering magical moments of lustrous theatricality ensured that this was a West End musical experience to be had in the grounds of Kilworth House. Thoroughly unmissable.
3. Sweet Charity
Bob Fosse is permanently linked with Sweet Charity, as is his wife, Gwen Verdon. The current off-Broadway production pays homage to the original staging of Sweet Charity, which turned on Fosse and Verdon. But, in Manchester, a complete re-imagining of Sweet Charity resulted in a production that featured great dancing but did not depend upon it; a production that is easily the most heart-breaking I have ever seen, and one where the acting and singing was emphatically to the fore. Funny, sexy, abrasive, and real, this Sweet Charity found its own way to mark an indelible impression on the hearts, minds and ears of all who saw it.
2. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
James Brining’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the first new production of that musical since Adrian Noble’s original in 2002, was a joyful and exuberant affair, chock full of gags and goggles. In keeping with the racing car that is the main character, the production utilised Formula One techniques: shiny, sleek design, first class operators in all key positions, a cracking pace, and Stephen Mear’s bustling, brilliant choreography as high-powered energising fuel. This is as good a musical ride as one might hope to enjoy, and as soon as you hit the final check-point, you just want to go back and take the track again.
1. Strictly Ballroom
Strictly Ballroom in Leeds was an unqualified success in every department. It featured the best original cast for a new musical in the U.K. since Matilda. Both principals and ensemble were all triple-threats, and poised, attractive, and entrancing ones. Score, book and direction fused into a seamless outpouring of joy, real humour and brilliantly calibrated romance. Drew McOnie directed something wonderful, a story for everyone, about honesty, individuality and being true to oneself. And he choreographed the piece with exuberance and undeniable skill. There was nothing not to love about this very theatrical version of Strictly Ballroom. It made your heart soar with unbridled happiness.