The Year's Best: Playbill Contributors Choose Unforgettable Theatre Experiences of 2013

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21 Dec 2013

Nick Hendrix in The Light Princess.
Photo by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

MARK SHENTON, London Correspondent

The Musicals

There has been a generous slate of new musicals in the West End, including the coincidental returns – in separate projects – of Tim Rice (with From Here to Eternity, which has in fact turned out to be running From Here to Not Much Longer at the Shaftesbury) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (with Stephen Ward at the Aldwych Theatre). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Sam Mendes and with a composing team led by Broadway's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, was spectacular, but a bit sticky.

But the best new musicals were all imported from Broadway. Commercially speaking, The Book of Mormon swept the boards (and set a new top ticket price for the West End of £152 for premium seats), but Once and The Scottsboro Boys were both more quietly thrilling in recreations of their original Broadway stagings.

On the revivals front, the London Palladium was probably the wrong venue for A Chorus Line, but Michael Bennett and Bob Avian's original production was meticulously recreated in the West End for the first time since the original closed in 1979, with Avian again (and original Chorus Liner Baayork Lee) directing and choreographing a stunning cast led by John Partridge, Scarlett Strallen and Leigh Zimmerman.

Vicki Lee Taylor, who played Maggie in that production, closed at the 2,286-seat London Palladium on Saturday and opened four days later in the role of Daisy Gamble in a beautiful fringe revival of Burton and Lane's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at the 50-seater Union Theatre in South London, proving the extraordinary way the business works for some performers.

The Union was also the scene for two more of my favorite musical revivals of the year, with the first-ever London revival of John Barry and Don Black's 1974 musical Billy staged with thrilling flair by Michael Strassen; and Benny Andersson, Bjorn Alvaeus and Tim Rice's Chess also imaginatively revived there by Christopher Howell and Steven Harris. Another terrific fringe revival saw Maury Yeston's Titanic take the roof off the new Southwark Playhouse, while Cynthia Erivo virtually single-handedly did the same for the London premiere of The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

There were a couple of serious musical disappointments, but even these had some compensating pleasures. At the National, Tori Amos' The Light Princess fell to earth with a gentle thud, despite the sterling efforts of star Rosalie Craig in the title role to keep it afloat giving one of the performances of the year. And at the Charing Cross Theatre, the UK premiere of Jerry Herman's Dear World made me want to cry out "Dear God," but it was great to see Betty Buckley on a London theatre stage again for the first time since she took over in Sunset Boulevard.

Finally, Patti LuPone revisited Sunset Boulevard herself in song and anecdotes for the first time since she was ignominiously fired from the latter when she did a week of unstructured interviews with the irrepressible Seth Rudetsky at Leicester Square Theatre – and on one of the two nights I saw her told a very indiscreet story about backstage problems at Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It was one of my all-time favorite events of the year.

Best of the Plays and Players

A new model for the West End saw Michael Grandage, who previously helmed the Donmar Warehouse for a triumphant decade, transplanting its ethos of star castings and high quality shows for a season of five plays in the commercial sector, and coming up trumps with shows that included Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw in John Logan's new play Peter and Alice, Daniel Radcliffe in a revival of Conor McPherson's The Cripple of Inishmaan and Jude Law currently in the title role of Henry V to give some of the performances of the year.

The best new plays of the year were Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica, which transferred from the Almeida to the Harold Pinter; the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Jack Thorne's version of Let the Right One In at the Royal Court; and four terrific shows at the Bush, Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced (imported from New York), Cush Jumbo's solo Josephine and I, Rory Kinnear's The Herd and Tom Wells' Jumpers for Goalposts.


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