LONDON FALL PREVIEW: Viva Forever!, The Bodyguard, People and The Effect

By Mark Shenton
September 1, 2012

Playbill London correspondent Mark Shenton shines a spotlight on some of the theatrical highlights promised in London and beyond this fall.



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A summer consumed by Olympics fever in London saw much of the West End turned into what was described as a "ghost town" and has led, at least partly, to an imminent clear-out of such long-runners as Chicago (closing Sept. 1 after 15 years and setting a record for the longest-running American musical of all time in the West End) and Blood Brothers (closing Oct. 27, after a continuous run of 24 years and over 10,000 performances, making it the third longest-runner ever in the West End, after Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera).

The prospect of the Olympics also held producers off from launching major new shows until it was a distant memory; but now several are circling over the West End like planes over Heathrow, ready to come into land. The musicals include Viva Forever! and a stage version of The Bodyguard, plus regional tours for Broadway shows American Idiot and 9 to 5 and an out-of-town try-out for Finding Neverland, originally planned for La Jolla but now relocated to Leicester's Curve, with Rob Ashford still at the helm and Harvey Weinstein producing. There's also an arena stage tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring an actor playing Jesus chosen by public vote on reality TV, and the Beatles' tribute show Let It Be (known as Rain on Broadway).

Amongst the stars that will be gracing these and other plays this fall are Broadway's Heather Headley, Tim Minchin, Jonathan Pryce, Sheridan Smith, Rupert Everett, Juliette Binoche, Kim Cattrall, John Lithgow, Roger Rees, Mathew Horne, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Dominic West, Laura Michelle Kelly, Will Young, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Tamsin Greig, Ken Stott, Tommy Steele, Billie Piper and Mark Rylance. Amongst the dramatic highlights, the Royal Court is staging new plays by Caryl Churchill and Jez Butterworth, the National has the world premiere of Alan Bennett's latest, and director Michael Grandage is returning to launch his own company in the West End.

Heather Headley and Lloyd Owen
Photo by Matt Crockett

Musicals in the West End
The biggest new musicals are, of course, Viva Forever!, featuring the song catalogue of the Spice Girls that have been worked into a new story by Jennifer Saunders, under the stewardship of Mamma Mia! producer Judy Craymer (at the Piccadilly Theatre from Nov. 27); and The Bodyguard, based on the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston film of the same name that will use Houston's hits and star Heather Headley and Lloyd Owen (at the Adelphi from Nov. 6).

The Beatles musical Rain, re-titled Let it Be, comes from Broadway to the Prince of Wales (from Sept. 14), before The Book of Mormon follows it into the same theatre (from Feb. 25, 2013). Will Young will star as the Emcee in the return of Rufus Norris' production of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret (Savoy Theatre from Oct. 3), with Michelle Ryan as Sally Bowles and veteran actress Sian Phillips as Fraulein Schneider.

Loserville, a new rock musical by James Bourne (best known for being a member of Busted and Son of Dork) and Elliot Davis, comes to the Garrick (from Oct. 1) after previously being seen at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

On the revivals front, Leslie Bricusse's Scrooge will return to the London Palladium with Tommy Steele once again playing the title role (from Oct. 24), and Trevor Nunn's current Chichester production of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate will transfer to the Old Vic (from Nov. 20), with a cast that includes Hannah Waddingham, Alex Bourne and Adam Garcia.

Matthew Rowland stars as Boy George in Taboo.

Musicals beyond the West End
Elsewhere in London, Boy George's Taboo returns to London to run at Brixton's Club House (from Sept. 6), and Sondheim and Lapine's Merrily We Roll Along is to be directed by Maria Friedman (at the Menier Chocolate Factory from Nov. 16). Friedman's own Sondheim credits as performer include playing Mary in a previous incarnation of Merrily at Leicester Haymarket, Fosca in the London premiere of Passion and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd opposite Bryn Terfel at the Royal Festival Hall.

Jesus Christ Superstar will launch a UK arena stage tour with a four-day run at London's 02 Arena from Sept. 21-23, and will also be staged at Wembley Arena on Oct. 17 as part of its extensive touring schedule. The cast includes Tim Minchin (composer of Matilda) as Judas, Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm as Mary Magdalene, Chris Moyles as King Herod and Alexander Hanson as Pilate, with Ben Forster, chosen by public vote on ITV's "Superstar" casting program, as Jesus.

Green Day's American Idiot will launch an extensive UK tour at Southampton's Mayflower Theatre from Oct. 9; the tour will come to London's Hammersmith Apollo from Dec. 3-15. Also touring this fall is a new production of Dolly Parton's 9 to 5, beginning at Manchester's Opera House from Oct. 12, with a cast that includes Jackie Clune, Bonnie Langford and Natalie Casey. There will also be a national tour for Disney's The Lion King, still playing at the West End's Lyceum, kicking off at Bristol Hippodrome from Sept. 6.

Finding Neverland, with a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens, Far from Heaven) and directed by Rob Ashford, will premiere at Leicester's Curve for a run from Sept. 21 to Oct. 18, with a cast led by Julian Ovenden and Rosalie Craig. It will be followed later in the year at the same theatre by a new production of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! starring Caroline O'Connor as Dolly Levi (Nov. 30-Jan. 12 2013).

Kim Cattrall
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The Plays: Reprises and Revivals
The Royal Court is bringing its productions of April de Angelis' Jumpy, starring Tamsin Greig, and Nick Payne's Constellations, with Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall, to the Duke of York's (from Aug. 16 and Nov. 9, respectively).

Shakespeare revivals ahead include the RSC/Wooster group co-production of Troilus and Cressida (Riverside Studios from Aug. 24), Jonathan Pryce in the title role of King Lear (Almeida from Aug. 31) and Kim Cattrall reprising the role of Cleopatra opposite Michael Pennington in Antony and Cleopatra (Chichester Festival Theatre from Sept. 7) that she previously played in Liverpool. The RSC will transfer its current production of Much Ado About Nothing, set in modern India, from Stratford-upon-Avon to the Noel Coward (from Sept. 24), and Mark Rylance will transfer from Shakespeare's Globe, where he is currently playing the title role in Richard III and Viola in Twelfth Night, to the West End's Apollo Theatre (from Nov. 2).

Amongst other starry revivals, Sheridan Smith will play the title role in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (Old Vic from Sept. 5), Rupert Everett will play Oscar Wilde in David Hare's The Judas Kiss (Hampstead from Sept. 6, played originally in London and on Broadway by Liam Neeson), Juliette Bincoche will star in a modern-day production of Strindberg's Mademoiselle Julie (Barbican Theatre from Sept. 20-29), Mathew Horne will star in Charley's Aunt (Menier Chocolate Factory from Sept. 20), Anne-Marie Duff will play the title role in Racine's Berenice (Donmar Warehouse from Sept. 27), Laura Michelle Kelly will star in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (Rose Theatre, Kingston from Sept. 27), Finbar Lynch will appear in O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms (Lyric Hammersmith from Oct. 3) and Ken Stott, Anna Friel and Samuel West will star in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (Vaudeville from Oct. 24).

At the National, Fiona Shaw returns to star in Howard Barker's Scenes from an Execution (in the Lyttelton Theatre from Sept. 26); Bertie Carvel, recently an Olivier Award winner for originating the role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical, will appear in Tirso de Molina's Damned for Despair (in the Olivier from Oct. 2); and John Lithgow will star in Arthur Wing Pinero's Victorian farce The Magistrate (in the Olivier from Nov. 14).

Trevor Nunn will direct Rob Brydon, Nigel Harman and Ashley Jensen in a new production of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy about amateur dramatics, A Chorus of Disapproval (Pinter Theatre from Sept. 17), then direct Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins in Samuel Beckett's After the Fall at the tiny fringe Jermyn Street Theatre from Oct. 9.

Another star director Michael Grandage launches a new producing company under his own name at the West End's Noel Coward Theatre in December, kicking off with Simon Russell Beale starring in Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade (from Dec. 1); star casting for future productions in the season next year will include Daniel Radcliffe, Judi Dench, Sheridan Smith, David Walliams and Ben Whishaw.

Dominic West
Photo by Marc Brenner

New Plays
Amongst the slate of new plays at the Royal Court, London's principal home for new writing, Caryl Churchill's latest Love and Information will begin performances in the mainhouse Sept. 6, where many of her previous plays including Cloud Nine and Top Girls were premiered as well; and director Ian Rickson and playwright Jez Butterworth, who last collaborated on Jerusalem at the Royal Court, will return for The River, running in the Studio Theatre Upstairs from Oct. 18 with a cast that includes Dominic West. Also in the main house, Lucy Kirkwood's NSFW will be directed by Simon Godwin (from Oct. 25), then artistic director Dominic Cooke will direct the premiere of Martin Crimp's In the Republic of Happiness (from Dec. 6).

Vicky Featherstone, who takes over as artistic director at the Royal Court next year from Dominic Cooke, brings her National Theatre of Scotland production of Enquirer, a site-specific production that looks at the state of modern journalism, to a venue in London that is still to be announced, running Oct. 3-21.

At the National, Rupert Goold will direct Billie Piper in the premiere of The Effect, a new play by Lucy Prebble with whom he previously collaborated on Enron, at the National's Cottesloe from Nov. 6. Other new plays at the National include young writer James Graham's This House (Cottesloe from Sept. 18) and Frances de la Tour in the world premiere of Alan Bennett's latest People (Lyttelton from Oct. 31).

Roger Rees will bring What You Will, his solo celebration of Shakespeare, to the West End's Apollo from Sept. 18, returning to his stage roots in London; he is currently also represented on Broadway as co-director of Peter and the Starcatcher.

Adrian Lester will star in Red Velvet, a play written by his wife Lolita Chakrabarti based on the true story of the black American actor Ira Aldridge, who took over the role of Othello from Edmund Kean in 19th-century London (at the Tricycle from Oct. 11). Mark Gatiss will play another real-life figure, King Charles I, in the world premiere of Howard Brenton's 55 Days (Hampstead Theatre from Oct. 18).

To keep up-to-date with everything that is happening in the U.K. theatre, visit Playbill.com's International news section, in which Mark Shenton reports daily from his London base.