Last week I saw two very different musicals, and adored them both. It has made me think about just how varied musical theatre can be if you stray from the big West End productions. I spent years thinking I didn’t like musicals, and than the Menier Chocolate Factory did a production of Merrily We Roll Along I loved, which opened my mind to exploring the genre. I tried other musicals and developed an obsession with Jamie Lloyd’s production of Urinetown at the St James (followed by a far too short West End transfer). For my friends who find it funny it to speculate how many times I saw it, all I’ll say is I didn’t hit double digits. Other delights in my musical awakening included Dessa Rose (Trafalgar Studios), Titanic (Southwark Playhouse) , The Color Purple (Menier Chocolate Factory), and the list could go on.
Here I wanted to focus on 4 brilliant musicals I think are particularly exciting, that you could go see: Roller Diner (Soho Theatre), La Strada (The Other Palace), Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Duke Of York’s) and These Trees Are Made of Blood (Arcola). With shows this diverse there is something here to suit most tastes, so why not challenge your preconceptions of what a musical can be, and check one out.
First up we have Roller Diner, which has just opened at the Soho Theatre. Roller Diner won the 2015 Verity Bathgate award, which makes it intriguing in and of itself, as it would have won based on the strength of the text alone and would have been competing with many non-musical plays (for any budding playwrights out there, the deadline to enter the 2017 Verity Bathgate is noon on the 5th July, so get cracking or you’ll have to wait until 2019! You can find out more about the terms & conditions on the Soho Theatre website).
Why see Roller Diner? The cast are brilliant, the story a mix of gritty reality and total fantasy, and it all comes together into something that feels like it will earn itself a cult following. Splashes of Rocky Horror, a tablespoon of Little Shop, a dash of Bowie, flavoured with a realistic dose of little England mentality, and I promise you, it won’t be like any other musical you’ve seen. Maybe not for someone who likes a straight forward, happy-ever-after style musical production with lots of jazz hands (actually none of my recommendations are for you, this is 2017, do we believe in a neat and tidy happily ever after anymore? You may want to see An American in Paris instead). This show made me laugh, it made me think and it left me craving a dodgy sausage.
Roller Diner is on at the Soho Theatre until 24th June.
My second musical outing last week was to see La Strada at the Other Palace (formerly the St James Theatre). It has finally arrived in London after a regional tour, and it is beautiful, so very beautiful. I was so wrapped up in the magic of this production, I didn’t want it to end. For those of you who loved the Fellini film, La Strada does not disappoint. It is magical, haunting and totally absorbing. Audrey Brisson is captivating as Gelsomina. When I read the program after the show and discovered she’d worked with Cirque du Soleil, it made a lot of sense. In fact the whole cast work together to weave a spell that is hard to break, even as you find yourself walking shiny-eyed towards Victoria station afterwards (outside of Bank station, is there a less magical place in this fair city of ours?).
La Strada is running at The Other Palace until 8th July
My next recommendation is for a musical I saw during its sold out run at the National Theatre. It is Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. I adored it and am currently fighting a losing battle trying to resist seeing it again at the Duke of York’s Theatre. If you are easily offended by bad language, this show may jar, but having said that, I recommended it to my very politely spoken mother and she still adored it, once she “got used to the language”. To be fair, given the current political climate, my mum has definitely become a lot more open minded when it comes to swearing. Our Ladies is a show about growing up, friendship, loss, sex, drink and teenagers testing the boundaries of what their lives might be. It is defiant, it is poignant and I take great joy in hearing people on the tube, who have just seen it, raving about it. I, for one, now have a very different reaction when I hear Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. This show is musical theatre at its best, and there are still some low priced tickets available, so you don’t have to ebay half the contents of your house to afford it.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is running at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 2nd September
My final recommendation hasn’t opened yet, at least not in its current form. These Trees are Made of Blood is a cabaret style show, with original live music, about the dirty war in Argentina. Told from the perspective of a mother who is trying to find out what happened to her daughter who was disappeared, along with so many other students at the time. Full disclosure, I saw the initial Scratch (early development, incomplete, feedback version) of this show at the BAC. After that I saw a completed version at the Southwark Playhouse. I also saw a concert performance of the songs at the St James Studio. This version, at the Arcola, is, I understand, an evolution of the Southwark production. I enjoyed this show so much, I was one of the people who threw in a little money (sadly a little is all I can ever spare, my theatre habit is expensive) to help crowd-fund this latest production and as a result I get to go to the dress rehearsal next week (bouncing on my chair, excitable as a child at the prospect). Blending cabaret, magic, comedy and beautiful original music, there is so much to enjoy in this show. While it tackles a dark time in human history, it does it with humour and honesty. I can’t really say much more, because I don’t know what will have changed from the Southwark production. Will I leave craving empanadas again? Only time will tell
The Trees are Made of Blood is running at the Arcola Theatre from 14th June – 15th July.