SPRING 2011 LONDON PREVIEW: A New Oz, Ghost the Musical, a Fresh LaBute, Grandage's Goodbye

Special Features   SPRING 2011 LONDON PREVIEW: A New Oz, Ghost the Musical, a Fresh LaBute, Grandage's Goodbye
A look ahead to the 2011 theatre season in London. Among the noteworthy titles is The Wizard of Oz featuring new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.


After 2010's thin pickings for big musicals in the West End, there's already plenty to look forward to in 2011.

Danielle Hope stars in The Wizard of Oz.
photo courtesy BBC

A new stage version of The Wizard of Oz (beginning performances Feb. 7 at the London Palladium, prior to an official opening March 1) will remind us that we're not in Kansas anymore — but while Judy Garland is herself back on the London stage right now in a play about her last visit to London (in End of the Rainbow), this time Dorothy's ruby slippers will be filled by Danielle Hope, chosen to play Dorothy by public vote on the BBC1 TV series "Over the Rainbow." It will also feature Michael Crawford swapping the Phantom to play a presumably more wizened Wizard, and the cast will also include Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West. Produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it will feature songs from the film supplemented by new ones written by himself and Tim Rice, renewing their historic partnership that previously yielded such shows as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Two more film classics will also make their way to the musical stage: Betty Blue Eyes, a stage version of the British film comedy "A Private Function," opens at the Novello (from March 19), starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith, set during a Royal Wedding — no, not William and Kate (who will marry the following month), but that of William's grandparents Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

Songwriter Dave Stewart and star Caissie Levy.

Ghost the Musical will come to the Picadilly Theatre (from June 22, opens July 19, after an out-of-town try-out at Manchester's Opera House from March 28), with new songs by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Glen Ballard, and a cast led by Richard Fleeshman and Broadway's Caissie Levy (seen in the West End last year in Legally Blonde and Hair respectively). ). It is directed by Matthew Warchus, whose RSC production of Roald Dahl's Matilda (currently running at Stratford-upon-Avon's Courtyard Theatre to January 30) is also sure to head to the West End in 2011. Shrek also makes the journey from the screen to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in a newly revamped version of the Broadway production (from May 6, opens June 14), with Nigel Lindsay in the title role, Richard Blackwood as Donkey, Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad and Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona.

Also from Broadway, Million Dollar Quartet, a concert recreation of a legendary true-life recording session of four music legends Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, comes to the Coward (from Feb. 8, opens Feb. 28), and Broadway may yet send us another pop compilation in Rock of Ages.

Spelling Bee composer William Finn.

The Donmar will also offer the British premiere of William Finn's quirky 2005 Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (from Feb. 11, opens Feb. 21), directed by Jamie Lloyd.

At the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, this year's annual summer musical will be a new production of the Gershwin tuner Crazy for You (from July 28, opens Aug. 8).

Another musical being tested out-of-town is a new stage version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (running at Leicester's Curve, Feb. 11 to 26), directed and adapted by Kneehigh Theatre's Emma Rice (Brief Encounter on Broadway), with a West End venue still to be announced. Based on the film by Jacques Demy, it has music by Michel Legrand and an English translation by Sheldon Harnick.

The Royal Court led the way with the best plays of last year, and kicks off this year by transferring one of them, Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, which originally premiered at Playwrights Horizons, to the West End's Wyndham's (from Jan. 28, opens Feb. 8). Meanwhile at its home theatre in Sloane Square, it launches the new season with the premiere of Richard Bean's The Heretic (previews Feb. 4, opens Feb. 10), starring Juliet Stevenson as a University academic at odds with the orthodoxy over man-made climate change. It will be followed by the premiere of Simon Stephens' Wastwater (from March 31, opens April 5), revolving around three different couples set on the edges of Heathrow Airport.

Nina Raine, who wrote Tribes (another of the Royal Court's best plays of last year), will see her next play Tiger Country premiered at Hampstead Theatre (from Jan. 13, opens Jan. 19), as part of a season that will also include the London transfer of Enda Walsh's new play Penelope first seen at Edinburgh last summer and subsequently at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn (from Feb. 10, opens Feb. 16), and a revival of Mike Leigh's Ecstasy, directed by the author (from March 10, opens March 15).

Sir Peter Hall

At the National, former artistic director Peter Hall, who recently turned 80, starts the year by directing his daughter Rebecca as Viola in Twelfth Night (from Jan. 11, opens January 18). Also on the South Bank, Danny Boyle will return to the theatre for the first time since winning the Oscar for directing "Slumdog Millionaire" and the release of his latest film "127 Hours," to direct Nick Dear's new play Frankenstein (from Feb. 5, opens Feb. 22), with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating in the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. The National will also offer the world premieres of Greenland, co-written by Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne (from Jan. 25, opens Feb. 1), and Ryan Craig's The Holy Rosenbergs (from March 8, opens March 16); and a revival of Clifford Odets' Rocket to the Moon (from March 23, opens March 30). Further ahead, the 2011 Travelex season that begins in April will include Zoë Wanamaker returning to the National to star as Madame Ranevskaya in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, as well as the Ibsen's The Emperor and Galilean and a new production of Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen. James Corden, who was part of the original cast of The History Boys at the National and on Broadway, will return to the theatre to star in Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters, and the Royal Court's artistic director Dominic Cooke will make his NT directorial debut with a new production of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.

At the Donmar, Michael Grandage will sign off as artistic director by staging Schiller's Luise Miller (from June 8, opens June 13), with a cast that includes Felicity Jones. Before that, Bijan Sheibani will direct David Bradley in a new production of Pinter's Moonlight (from April 7, opens April 12).

David Wilson Barnes in Becky Shaw.
photo by Joan Marcus

At the Almeida, David Wilson Barnes will reprise the role he played in the original Off-Broadway production of Gina Gionfriddo's Becky Shaw (from Jan. 13, opens Jan. 20), in a cast that also includes Haydn Gwynne (Broadway's Billy Elliot). It will be followed by the world premiere of David Eldridge's The Knot of the Heart (from March 10, opens March 17), featuring Lisa Dillon, Abigail Cruttenden and Margot Leicester, and then a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, starring Penelope Wilton (from May 5, opens May 12).

The Barbican's bite11 season will include the return of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, presenting Ivo van Hove's production of Antonioni Project (Feb. 1-5), adapted from Italian film director Michaelangelo Antonioni's 1960s film trilogy that will be brought to the stage in a version that is simultaneously performed, filmed and projected onto a giant screen. Robert Lepage (whose Cirque du Soleil production of Totem comes to London's Royal Albert Hall from Jan. 5 to Feb. 17) will return to the Barbican in The Blue Dragon, which he directs and also appears in (Feb. 17-26). From Australia, Belvoir and Black Swan Theatre Company bring The Sapphires to the venue (March 2-12), and Peter Brook brings his Bouffes de Nord production of Mozart's The Magic Flute there from Paris (March 23-27). Further ahead, Deborah Warner directs Sheridan's The School for Scandal (May 11-June 18), and Olivier Award-winning company Duckie present Lullaby (June 24-July 24), which will have audiences having a sleep-over in the Pit.

The current RSC season at the Roundhouse will continue with Lucy Bailey's production of Julius Caesar (from Jan. 6, opens Jan. 10), Michael Boyd's staging of As You Like It (from Jan. 13, opens Jan. 17) and David Farr's production of King Lear starring Greg Hicks in the title role (from Jan. 21, opens Jan. 25). At Shakespeare's Globe, the 2011 season, running from April to October, will include new productions of All's Well That Ends Well and Much Ado About Nothing, as well as Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, the return of Howard Brenton's Anne Boleyn and the premiere of Chris Hannan's The God of Soho. At the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, the only Shakespeare this year is Pericles re-imagined for audiences aged six and over; the 2011 season otherwise comprises a new stage version of The Lord of the Flies (from May 19, opens May 25), John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (from June 23, opens June 28) and the aforementioned musical Crazy for You.

Thea Sharrock
photo by Aubrey Reuben

At the Old Vic, Thea Sharrock will return to Rattigan, who staged After the Dance at the National last year to huge acclaim, to direct Anne-Marie Duff in his final play Cause Célèbre (from March 17, opens March 29); and Sharrock will also be represented by the return to the West End of her production of Coward's Blithe Spirit to the Apollo Theatre (from March 2, opens March 9), staring Alison Steadman as Madame Arcati.

The latter will be preceded at the Apollo by a short run of Leslie Jordan's autobiographical one-man show My Trip Down the Pink Carpet (from Jan. 27, opens Feb. 3), seen Off-Broadway in 2010. Also in the West End, Keira Knightley, "Mad Men" star Elisabeth Moss, Ellen Burstyn and Carol Kane will star in Ian Rickson's production of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour at the Comedy Theatre (from Jan. 22, opens Feb. 9), and Matthew Fox (TV's "Lost") and Olivia Williams will star in the world premiere of yet another new play by the prolific Neil LaBute, In a Forest Dark and Deep, at the Vaudeville Theatre (from March 3, opens March 14).

All of these, and more news as it breaks, will be reported here on Playbill.com. Happy New Year!

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

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