London theatre is pulling out all of the stops this summer to ensure that the capital’s theatre scene remains a chief attraction for millions of UK and overseas visitors.
A host of big hitting stars and large scale musicals are lined up to showcase a range of new productions, including performances by Jude Law, Helen Mirren, Ethan Hawke, Gillian Anderson and Ian McKellen.
The death of drama in the West End has been greatly exaggerated given the wide ranging slate of classic and contemporary plays premiering this summer. One of the most high profile will be Jude Law, taking to the stage in Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet, directed by Michael Grandage as part of his Donmar in the West End season. A strong supporting cast includes Penelope Wilton as Gertrude and Kevin McNally as Claudius, from 29 May at the Wyndham’s Theatre.
From Danes to Dames and Helen Mirren returns to London and the National Theatre from 4 June in Racine’s tragic play Phedre. The play concerns a woman (Mirren) consumed by passion for her stepson, which is highly plausible given that the stepson is played by hot young thing and Mamma Mia! The Movie star Dominic Cooper.
Helen Mirren starred in successful British movie Calendar Girls – which is now coming to the stage in a brand new production starring Patricia Hodge and Sian Phillips. Written by Tim Firth, the story of a group of middle-aged Women’s Institute members who pose for a calendar with a difference is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre.
Stage legends Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are reuniting after their onscreen antics in the X-Men movies to give us Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket Theatre from 20 April, in what promises to be a standout production of Samuel Beckett’s classic.
Talents from New York and London will converge at The Old Vic from 23 May for The Bridge Project – a three year partnership between The Old Vic, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Neal Street Productions. Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes will direct a new version of The Cherry Orchard plus Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, in a cast that features Ethan Hawke, Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack and recent star of Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, Rebecca Hall.
The Cherry Orchard is a new translation by Tom Stoppard, who will also see his 1993 play Arcadia revived in a new production at the Duke of York’s Theatre starring his son Ed Stoppard and Samantha Bond and Dan Stevens. In its first run at the National Theatre the play won a slew of awards including Critics’ Circle, Evening Standard and Olivier Awards.
Other notable players making their way into town include Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers) in Carrie’s War at the Apollo Theatre, and Gillian Anderson, who will star in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Donmar Warehouse, joining a stellar cast that includes Christopher Eccleston, Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald and Anton Lesser.
Musical theatre is firmly “based on a film” this year as a blockbuster stage production of Sister Act joins a West End brimming with adaptations of movies, including recent addition Priscilla Queen of the Desert starring Jason Donovan and long-runners Hairspray with Michael Ball, Dirty Dancing, The Lion King, Billy Elliot, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Sunset Boulevard – and Grease, which will star Dancing on Ice winner Ray Quinn as Danny from 11 May.
Sister Act, which runs from 7 May at the London Palladium, is produced by the film’s original star Whoopi Goldberg and features Sheila Hancock and rising star Patina Miller, with music courtesy of Alan Menken (Disney’s Beauty & The Beast).
Other movie-to-stage shows on the horizon include the Broadway production of Legally Blond opening at the Savoy Theatre at the end of the year and a stage adaptation of Oscar winning film Ghost, directed by Matthew Warchus, set for 2010.
Chief amongst the new musicals opening in London in the later part of 2009 will be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world premiere of The Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre in early November. The show is set to star current London Phantom Ramin Karimloo and will follow its London opening with productions in Toronto, Shanghai and then Broadway.
A number of shows that have run successfully in other venues are also making their way into the West End including Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply) and Henry Goodman in Duet For One at the Vaudeville Theatre; the acclaimed production of Steven Sondheim’s A Little Night Music starring Maureen Lipman at the Garrick Theatre; the National Theatre’s War Horse, a family drama set during World War I about a boy’s adventures to find his beloved horse, at the New London theatre; and following its smash-hit run on Broadway – a new UK production of uber hip musical Spring Awakening at the Novello Theatre.
Other long running musicals that continue to extend their runs and pack them in include Avenue Q – now at the Gielgud Theatre, Blood Brothers, We Will Rock You, Chicago, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Stomp, Oliver!, Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph, Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Thriller Live featuring the songs of Michael Jackson and an award-winning production of La Cage Aux Folles.
Long-running plays in London include scary thriller The Woman in Black, hilarious comedy The 39 Steps based on Alfred Hitchcock’s film and Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
Finally, the V&A Museum in London has opened its new Theatre and Performance galleries following the closure of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden in 2007. The new galleries will celebrate the UK’s heritage in culture and performance with hundreds of exhibits including costumes, set models, stage props, original posters and playbills, theatrical prints, paintings and photographs from some of London’s most famous theatrical productions.