I think we can all agree that 2016 wasn’t a great year, in terms of the bigger picture. The world lost a lot of amazing people and politics didn’t exactly go the way we all wanted it too. Nevertheless, for me and my love for all things Musical Theatre, 2016 turned out to be a pretty good year with a record number of theatre trips for me. I saw nineteen different shows, and even visited a couple of them twice. On the other hand, that did make this list a difficult one to make. To narrow nineteen down to five wasn’t easy, but here it is, my top five shows of 2016.
5. Mary Poppins – Theatre Royal Plymouth
Who didn’t love watching Mary Poppins when they were little? Getting swept away in the magic and wonder, with the idea that people can fly by umbrella and jump into paintings. On stage, it was even more spectacular. The set itself was able to bring out that childhood wonder, a giant dolls house of cherry tree lane opening up on stage to reveal the Banks family home. Not to mention the magic of the set pieces and props. Normally, I am able to work out how the special effects are done to an extent, but I have no idea how some of this were done. How did a spoonful of sugar happen? How did that kitchen fall to pieces then magically repair itself?
Zizi Strallen was a ‘practically perfect’ Mary (to quote the show itself). She was graceful and poised, bringing the magic to the role and making everything look seemingly effortless. Her voice was to die for and her interactions with the children and Bert were wonderful.
Particular highlights for me were ‘Step in Time’, an all singing and dancing spectacular that involved Bert (the wonderful Matt Lee) tap dancing upside down whilst hanging from the ceiling! Also, ‘A spoonful of sugar’ for the magical effects. Overall, the UK Tour of Mary Poppins was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
(The new songs and additional lyrics for this production of Mary Poppins were written by Stiles and Drewe, and this is not the only time they are involved with shows on this list)
4. Wind In The Willows – Theatre Royal Plymouth
Told you that you would be seeing Stiles and Drewe on this list again. A musical production of Wind in the Willows has been in the works for a while now, and it made its debut at the Theatre Royal Plymouth to rave reviews. And I absolutely loved it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having not really been a lover of the book, but it really surprised me. With wonderful casting, amazing sets and clever costumes, it appeared to delight both adults and children with its charm and fun.
Rufus Hound as Mr Toad was wonderful, he may not have had the strongest singing voice but he made up for it with bundles of energy and a love for performing the role which was clear to see. Casting wise, it was great, particularly Thomas Howes as Ratty and Fra Fee as Moley. They were brilliant and so adorable, you just fell in love with them. Vocally, the highlight for me came from Fra Fee and his performance of ‘A place to come back to’, a touching and sweet song about his love for his little home.
The costumes were genius, showing the audience that these were indeed animal characters without being too over the top and distracting. I especially loved the hedgehog outfits with their scout neck ties and spike covered jackets.
I am looking forward to seeing Wind in the Willows again in June, when it transfers to the London Palladium and I will happily say that I am proud to have seen it on it’s world premiere press night and it’s first week in London.
3. Titanic – The Charing Cross Theatre
The first show on this list that I visited twice in the space of a week. Before this show, I didn’t even know that there was a theatre underneath Charing Cross Station. This is a show that I went too on a whim, I didn’t know much about it. I had heard good things and I had seen a few of the cast members of this show in other shows including Memphis and Les Miserables. I don’t really know what I expected, but it was nothing like what I ended up seeing.
Everyone knows the basic story of Titanic, the ‘unsinkable’ ship that ended up sinking resulting in the death of over 1500 people. But, most peoples knowledge of it comes from the film, and this show wasn’t a show performance of the film. There was no Jack or Rose, no ‘ My heart will go on’. This was based more on the real people, and it was beautiful and tragic. You felt invested in these characters lives as they planned for their lives in America and what they could do after the voyage, but, of course, you knew that it was not going to be a happy ending for them.
Vocally, I don’t think I have ever heard anything as amazing as this. The ensemble numbers were incredible, especially ‘Lady’s Maid’ and the tragic finale. Particular vocal highlight’s for me were Niall Sheehy in ‘The proposal/the night was alive’ and Rob Houchen’s performance of ‘No Moon’.
The set and staging was so clever. The Charing Cross theatre is small, sitting less than 400 people and this was a cast of 17. Only a few people played only one role, everyone else played multiple people. I lost count of how many times Niall Sheehy must have rapidly dirtied up and cleaned again as he changed from playing Barret the stoker to Benjamin Guggenheim the millionaire. As for the staging, wow. With a small stage, they were still able to illustrate the lowering of the life boats and the sinking of the ship as the upper balcony tipped down.
It was amazing and I am glad I took a chance on this show, so glad I saw it twice.
2. Kinky Boots – Adelphi Theatre
The second show on the list that I saw twice this year, and once last year. I love this show so much that I saw it Wednesday night, then on Friday night in the same week. It is so full of life and energy and fun, whilst still holding onto that message that you can be all of who you want to be. It’s about friendship and acceptance, and finding a place where you belong and where you can accepted as the person you are. All whilst having an amazing (and shall I say GRAMMY nominated) soundtrack written by Cindy Lauper.
The three times I’ve seen this show, it was with the original cast, and I absolutely adored them. I haven’t seen it yet with the new cast yet, but definitely want too. When I saw it, Charlie Price was played by Killian Donnelly, and what can I say. His voice is incredible and his version of ‘Soul of a man’ is to die for. It isn’t a surprise that he is now playing the role on Broadway. Matt Henry as Lola is also a revelation, his voice is amazing and his ability to play both the over the top performer side of Lola and the softer side when we are introduced to Simon. Not to mention Amy Lennox is the role of Lauren. She is so funny and full of energy, especially in her solo ‘history of the wrong guys’.
The show has a heart. The heart of this show is too show people that being yourself is the best way to be, you shouldn’t feel that you have to live up to the expectations of others. ‘Not my father’s son’ is a beautiful ballad that illustrates this perfectly. There is something very special about this show and I am sure that I will visit it again the future.
1. Half A Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre
I might start rambling here. Ever since I was little, I have loved the film of Half a sixpence so when I heard that the new production was coming to the West End, I knew that I just had to see it. And, wow, it was worth it. This show is so full of joy and heart, I don’t think there is anything else like that, and I think that it is exactly what the West End needs.
And as for the guy in the lead role of Arthur Kipps, oh my god. Charlie Stemp is in 21 of the 23 numbers and never seems to even begin to run out of energy. He bounds around the stage with his cheeky chappie smile and just makes you fall in love with him. He has a long career ahead of him and I am sure that he has some awards coming his way too. I also loved Devon-Elise Johnson as Kipp’s childhood sweetheart Ann and Emma Williams as the wealthy girl that Arthur has always admired from afar.
Once again, this show features the genius of Stiles and Drewe. When I heard that new songs were being added and the old ones reworked, I wasn’t so sure because I loved the songs as they were in the film. But really, I have to admit that the new songs are among some of my favourites from the soundtrack, especially ‘Look Alive’, ‘Back the right horse’ and ‘just a few little things’. This musical features some of my favourite lines, I think ever. ‘Show me the works and I’ll throw in the spanners’ and ‘Whilst minding my P’s and minding my Q’s, my H’s fall down the cracks’ to name but a few.
Living far away from London means that I normally only get to go up there twice a year, but because of Half A Sixpence I am planning another trip up there. I have to see it again before it finishes, I just have too. I have to feel the joy in the auditorium during ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ again.