With its closing date confirmed for August, meaning you only have a matter of weeks left to see it, Show Boat is returned to pole position in Mark Shenton’s regularly updated list of top ten ticket recommendations, catapulted back into the number one slot. What are the other risers and fallers? Follow headline or photo links for each to book tickets.
My top ten shows this week
London is currently experiencing a rare history lesson in the both where Broadway’s great musical era began with Show Boat in 1927, and would land so triumphantly just 23 years later with Guys and Dolls, possibly the greatest musical of them all in my opinion (and now back at the Phoenix Theatre). But Show Boat is pretty astonishing, too, not least for one of the most rapturous, enchanting scores ever written; the standards just pour out of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, including ‘Ol Man River’, ‘Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’, ‘Why Do I Love You?’ and ‘Bill.’ Its been given a gorgeous production (pictured right) by Daniel Evans, transferred from Sheffield’s Crucible to the wrap-around intimacy of the New London, and featuring a cast full of stunning voices led by Gina Beck, Chris Peluso and the utterly ravishing sounding Rebecca Trehearn, whose rendition of ‘Bill’ is a real heartbreaker. So is the fact that this incredible production is having its run curtailed, and will now end on August 27 (it was originally booking to January). But you still have three months more to see it! I’ve already been back once — and I’ll be back – again (and again).
Last chance to see this before it shuts on June 18. Harrowing, intense, emotional, gripping and exhilarating, Duncan Macmillan’s transfer from the National to the West End’s Wyndham’s even had the critics on their feet for the first night standing ovation. As Fiona Mounford declared in her five-star review for the Evening Standard, “It’s rare to see a group of critics, cynical devils that we are, rise to their feet for a sweeping standing ovation on a press night. But this wasn’t any old opening, or any old leading actress. For my money, Denise Gough gives the greatest stage performance since Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.” And (for once) I entirely concur with Mountford. Gough deservedly won the Olivier for Best Actress.
3) LES BLANCS
Last chance to see this: it shuts June 2. The National is on a roll at the moment: as well as People, Places and Things (see above), and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, there’s also an utterly astonishing production of a virtually unknown play by Lorainne Hansberry. Best known for A Raisin in the Sun, she never finished this play before her death at the age of just 34, of pancreatic cancer. But now the National has visionary South African director Yael Farber directing a ritualistic production that burns with rage and feeling in is portrait of an African country falling apart on the edge of civil war. An outstanding cast is led by the magnificent, towering Danny Sapani, and also includes Sian Phillips, Elliot Cowan, James Fleet and Anna Madeley.
Yet another National Theatre show — Rufus Norris directs the great Weill/Brecht musical, first premiered in Berlin in 1928, in a newly revised version by Simon Stephens that makes its blistering satire on corruption bang up to date, full of moody malevolence. A fantastic cast led by Rory Kinnear, Nick Holder, Haydn Gwynne and Rosalie Craig give it full value.
5) THE FLICK
This import from off-Broadway of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer prize winner, again to the National (the number one venue in London at the moment) is a beautiful slow-burn: over three and a quarter hours, we observe the transfixing daily traffic of the lives of three low-paid workers in a Massachusetts cinema that still projects movies on film, rather than digitally. Runs to June 15 only.
6) THE INVISIBLE HAND
Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, seen at the Bush Theatre a few years ago, won him the Pulitzer prize for drama; though The Invisible Hand isn’t quite in its league, its nonetheless a gripping play, part hostage drama and part a thriller about how the money markets are manipulated. Indhu Rubasingham’s production is acted with fierce intensity by a cast that includes Daniel Lapaine as the hostage, with Tony Jayawardena as his Iman captor and Parth Thakerar as his idealistic London-born enforcer.
Frank Loesser’s immortal Broadway musical jut gets better and better. Chichester’s transfer to the West End has recently moved from the Savoy to the Phoenix and has a new cast who are just wonderful. Oliver Tompsett, who is possessed of one of the best male voices in British musical theatre, has stunningly inherited the role of Sky Masterson from Jamie Parker, and Samantha Spiro has taken over brilliantly as Miss Adelaide. It is also simultaneously on a UK tour I can’t wait to see, too, because Louise Dearman and Richard Fleeshman are playing the roles of Miss Adelaide and Sky there.
It has long been my absolutely favourite of any musical: as I wrote when this production premiered at Chichester in 2014, “Guys and Dolls is, to my mind and even more my heart and soul, simply the greatest of all the classic musicals of Broadway’s golden age of over half a century ago. No show for me summonses a mythical, virtually mystical version of its own mean but colourful streets with as much serious style and witty panache as Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’s incisive, clever distillation of Damon Runyon’s classic story and characters, set to Frank Loesser’s irresistibly tuneful but acerbically pointed songs.”
8) A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Shakespeare’s Globe has a new artistic director Emma Rice — who has admitted that not only has she not read all the plays but doesn’t understand them, either. But her debut production is a rollicking romp that is full of her own directorial trademarks yet also honours the play and its audience. I’ve seldom had such fun at the Globe — one of the happiest shows ever.
London’s Menier Chocolate Factory is currently riding high on both sides of the Atlantic with hit transfers of The Color Purple (to Broadway, where London star Cynthia Erivo has been Tony nominated) and Funny Girl (to the West End’s Savoy Theatre, marking this 1960s show’s first appearance in the West End since the original transferred from Broadway in 1966). Though star Sheridan Smith has temporarily (we hope) withdrawn from the show owing to ill-health, the show goes on with her brilliant understudy Natasha Barnes in the title role — I saw her do it at the Menier, and she, too, was amazing, as I wrote here at the time.
Transfer from Bath Theatre Royal of this touching, terrific new musical version of the 2005 British film set backstage and frontstage at the Windmill Theatre, which offered audiences live, nude (but completely immobile) women. The cast includes Emma Williams as one of the showgirls, plus Tracie Bennett in the title role, originally played by Judi Dench in the film. It runs to June 18 only.