FALL 2010 LONDON SEASON PREVIEW: Fela!, Les Miz, Passion, Flashdance and The Bard

Special Features   FALL 2010 LONDON SEASON PREVIEW: Fela!, Les Miz, Passion, Flashdance and The Bard
London doesn't officially run in seasons — there isn't the Broadway equivalent of the Tony Awards cut-off for eligibility to define one. But after a traditional August lull in the capital, as the arts focus shifts temporarily to the annual Edinburgh Festival, September sees a flurry of new activity in the West End and beyond that doesn't let up till Christmas.

Norm Lewis in Les Miserables
Norm Lewis in Les Miserables Photo by Catherine Ashmore

The big news on the musicals front is a landmark anniversary: the Cameron Mackintosh version of Les Miserables has been with us for a full quarter of a century, and will mark the event with an all-time first — three productions of the show will play simultaneously in London. While the original edition continues at the Queen's, a new U.K. touring version will bring the title, if not the same Trevor Nunn-John Caird production, back at its original London home, the Barbican Theatre (Sept. 14-Oct. 2) where Cameron Mackintosh first launched the English-language version of the Paris-originated Boublil/Schönberg tuner based on Victor Hugo, in collaboration with the RSC; and an all-star, one-off concert version will also be staged at London's mammoth 02 Arena Oct. 3. The latter will include Broadway's Norm Lewis, teen pop sensation Nick Jonas, Lea Salonga, Matt Lucas and Alfie Boe amongst the company.

Meanwhile, the transatlantic celebrations of another key anniversary — the 80th birthday of Stephen Sondheim — continues in London at the Donmar Warehouse, a venue that has regularly championed his work and will continue that legacy with a new production of Passion, starring Elena Roger (Eva in the last London revival of Evita), from Sept. 10. It will form the centrepiece of a "Sondheim at 80" season that will also include concert stagings of two previous Donmar productions of Merrily We Roll Along and Company (to be staged at the West End's Queen's Theatre, Oct. 31 and Nov. 7, respectively), and interviews with the Master himself (Oct. 11) and a discussion between the Donmar's former and current artistic directors Sam Mendes and Michael Grandage (Sept. 16).

More key musical dates for the fall include the London transfer of Broadway's Fela! to the National's Olivier Theatre (from Nov. 6), with Sahr Ngaujah reprising his New York performance in the title role of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, joining a new British company in Bill T. Jones' production. The Young Vic launches its fall season with a new production of Galt MacDermot's short-lived 1984 Broadway musical The Human Comedy, being presented as a community musical with a chorus of 100 (Sept. 13-18).

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in Flashdance
photo by Catherine Ashmore

The West End sees the arrival of two musicals based on films — Flashdance – the Musical, based on the 1983 film about a welder by day and a flashdancer by night, begins performances at the Shaftesbury Theatre Sept. 24; while Love Story, Howard Goodall and Stephen Clark's adaptation of the 1970 romantic weepie, heads to the Duchess from Nov. 27, after a summer run at Chichester's Minerva Theatre.

Chichester is also responsible for a number of plays heading to town this fall. Onassis, starring Robert Lindsay (the Tony winning star of Me and My Girl) in the title role of Martin Sherman's new play about the late Greek shipping magnate and husband of Jackie O, is re-staged at the Novello Theatre from Sept. 30, after trying out at Chichester last summer; while Yes, Prime Minister, a stage version of the long-running '80s British TV series of the same name, heads to the Gielgud from Chichester from Sept. 17. The name of the game elsewhere on the plays front is mainly revivals or transpositions from novels and screenplays, such as Sebastian Faulks' best-selling 1993 novel Birdsong (adapted to open at the Comedy Theatre, starring Ben Barnes under the direction of Trevor Nunn, from Sept. 18), and David Mamet's 1987 film House of Games (adapted at the Almeida, from Sept. 9). There will be return runs for previous stagings of the National Theatre of Scotland's 2006 production of Black Watch to the Barbican (Nov. 27-Jan. 22) and Complicite's production of A Disappearing Number (Novello Theatre, Sept. 10-25 only), both of which have been seen in New York. Meanwhile, real-life father-and-son team Timothy and Samuel West will reprise their performances as father-and-son(s) in Caryl Churchill's A Number that they first did at Sheffield's Crucible Studio in 2006, at the Menier Chocolate Factory from Sept. 29.

More starry new revivals due around town include Ira Levin's Deathtrap, directed by Matthew Warchus and starring Simon Russell Beale, Broadway's Jonathan Groff and Estelle Parsons (now at the Noel Coward, opening officially Sept. 7); Clifford Odets' The Country Girl, starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove under the direction of Rufus Norris (at the Apollo Theatre from Oct. 6); J.B. Priestley's When We Are Married, with Maureen Lipman and Roy Hudd (Garrick Theatre from Oct. 19); and Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, with Alexander Hanson, fresh from his stint in Broadway's A Little Night Music, joining his real-life wife Samantha Bond (Vaudeville Theatre from Nov. 4).

Deathtrap stars Simon Russell Beale and Jonathan Groff
photo by Hugo Glendinning
Alison Steadman

Noel Coward comes to the Old Vic with Design for Living, starring Andrew Scott (Broadway's The Vertical Hour), Lisa Dillon and Tom Burke, from Sept. 3; while (looking ahead) early 2011 will see Blithe Spirit back in the West End with Alison Steadman as Madame Arcati (at the Apollo from March 2, 2012). Lisa Dillon will stay on at the Old Vic after Design for Living to be joined by Tom Hollander for Richard Eyre's new production of Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear from Dec. 4. There are also interesting revivals away from the West End. The Tricycle has a new production of Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, starring Antony Sher, from Sept. 30; the Lyric Hammersmith's new season includes Sarah Kane's Blasted from Oct. 22, in the play's first English-language production in London for a decade; the Young Vic revives Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, from Nov. 11, featuring a new score by Oscar and Golden Globe award-winning composer Dario Marianelli; and the Almeida has Stephen Dillane in the title role of Ibsen's The Master Builder, from Nov. 12, joined by Gemma Arterton.

The Donmar Warehouse launches a new initiative promoting the work of younger directors (in the small Trafalgar Studios 2) who have come through the Donmar's own resident assistant director program. Charlotte Westenra begins the season by directing the premiere of Beau Willimon's Lower Ninth, set in the New Orleans district of that name, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, from Sept. 30; and continues with Róisín McBrinn and Chris Rolls staging Alessandro Barrico's 1990 play Novecento and Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles, respectively.

Hamlet and King Lear are often regarded as the roles that bookend a great stage career for male actors; and both will be on offer in the London fall. Rory Kinnear will play Hamlet at the National for director Nicholas Hytner, from Sept. 30 (while at the regional Sheffield Crucible Theatre, John Simm will also play the role from Sept. 16); while Derek Jacobi, once a notable Dane himself, will play King Lear for Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse from Dec. 3. Both Hamlet and King Lear will also be seen globally as part of the NT Live project of broadcasts into cinemas, on Dec. 9 and Feb. 3, 2011, respectively; also due to be screened is Complicite's A Disappearing Number on Oct. 14.

Derek Jacobi
photo by Johan Persson

More classical theatre will be on offer in London when the RSC bring a repertoire of eight of its current Ensemble productions at Stratford-upon-Avon to the Round House, beginning with Romeo and Juliet from Nov. 30 and joined shortly afterwards by Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter's Tale, Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors before Christmas, with Julius Caesar, As You Like It and King Lear to follow in the New Year. There's also a double dose of Faust on the imminent horizon: Iceland's Vesturport will bring their version of the Goethe story to the Young Vic from Sept. 25; while Broadway's Des McAnuff makes his English National Opera directing debut to stage a new production of Gounod's operatic version from Sept. 18.

A final scattering of fall highlights includes the British debut of the L.A. and New York promenade hit, Accomplice, presented under the auspices of the Menier Chocolate Factory on the streets of Southwark and co-produced with Neil Patrick Harris, from Sept. 4; the British premiere of Bruce NorrisClybourne Park, inspired by A Raisin in the Sun, at the Royal Court (opening officially Sept. 2); the return of Clarke Peters' Five Guys Named Moe to the Theatre Royal, Stratford East from Sept. 4, where it was first launched 20 years ago before transferring to the West End and Broadway, with Peters himself back in the cast; and fringe productions of The Bells are Ringing (at the Union Theatre from Sept. 29), starring Chicago's Anna-Jane Casey, and The Drowsy Chaperone (at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse from Sept. 23).


(Mark Shenton is Playbill.com's London correspondent, covering breaking news from the West End and beyond.)

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