The top ten London musicals

From glamorous West End blockbusters to fringe theatre tearjerkers – they all have a place on our list of the best musicals currently on in London

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If you're partial to theatre that bursts into song, you'll want to make sure you're booking for the best. London's musical theatre scene isn't all jazz hands and Lloyd-Webber though, and our theatre team have chosen a top ten that takes in the best shows in town. Flick through our countdown to see who takes the top spot – you'll be humming to yourself by the end of it.

  1. See the musicals in a countdown
  2. See the musicals in a list
  • © Joan Marcus

    Once

    There is a genuine warmth and inclusiveness to this show that is a rarity in the razzle-dazzle-heavy West End. It’s there in the onstage bar the audience is invited to patronise beforehand, the cosy mirrors of Bob Crowley’s set, the delightfully odd-looking actors – who also double as the show’s musicians – and Steven Hoggett’s quirky choreography. And in a strong cast, Croatian actor Cviteši is a radiantly charismatic presence – I hope she does more work over here.

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  • Wicked

    The film world continues its love affair with werewolves, vampires and all things 'Twilight'. But theatre types have always known witches are where it's at. In its sixth year at the Apollo Victoria, Oz prequel 'Wicked' continues to fill this massive theatre with an international crowd of voracious consumers (glass of champagne and a choccy for £16 anyone?). But this stylish and bombastic musical still delivers, sailing over its patchy score thanks to a gravity-defying performance from its intense green-skinned undergrad who goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West.

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  • The Phantom of the Opera

    I’m not sure any show ‘deserves’ to be the most successful entertainment event of all time, but I’ll hand it current holder of that title, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – it still works hard for its audience. Sure, chunks of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus have never left 1986. But whereas describing a musical as ‘stuck in the ’80s’ is usually shorthand for cheap, thin synth orchestration, nothing could be further from the truth here: the portentously swirling keyboards and crunch of hair metal guitar that powers ‘Phantom’s title song have a black hole-like immensity, sucking you in with sheer juggernaut bombast.

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  • © Helen Maybanks

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

    Roald Dahl probably wouldn’t have liked the whiz-popping rave that Mendes has created from his addictive kids’ book ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ – because he felt it was Charlie’s story, and any adaptation inevitably becomes the Willy Wonka show. But what a show this is: a deliciously twisted anti-talent contest in which young Charlie finds a golden ticket and enters the factory of mysterious confectioner, Wonka, to battle four revoltingly spoiled brats for a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.

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  • © Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

    Jersey Boys

    Here's the 'Jersey Boys' concept. Take one gleaming back-catalogue – that of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, whose Bob Gaudio-penned songs have become so woven into the fabric of Western pop culture that it's easy to forget who actually wrote them. Next, instead of torturously extrapolating a zany plot out of the lyrics, simply make the story of 'Jersey Boys' the story of the Four Seasons.

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  • © Alastair Muir

    Les Miserables

    If the second longest running show in the West End was looking a little tired, a rejuvenating orchestral facelift was just what the doctor ordered. Cameron Mackintosh's 'little girl' has shaken off that 1980s synth vibe and finally woken up to the organic noughties. This is a new, richer sound with strong operatic undertones and even the faint echoes of chamber music. Led by compelling ex-'Phantom…' Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean, this dynamic cast blows a whirlwind through the Queen's Theatre, hurtling along Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's famous melodrama.

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  • © Johan Persson

    Urinetown

    ‘Urine good company’ runs one of the scatological gags that sprinkle this cult US musical like a golden shower. And you are in good company. For this UK premiere, hotshot director Jamie Lloyd has assembled an unlikely A team of talent from across the theatrical spectrum – and they gel wonderfully. Pretty boy West End star? That’s Richard Fleeshman, suitably buff as Bobby Strong, the working-class hero of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s eccentric satire. Credible musical theatre heavyweight? Step forward, Jenna Russell, freshly Olivier-nominated for last year’s exquisite ‘Merrily We Roll Along’.

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  • © Alastair Muir

    Billy Elliot the Musical

    Current cast features Harris Beattie, Harrison Dowzel, Redmand Rance and Kaine Ward as Billy. Six years after it first stamped, swore, and pirouetted into audiences' hearts, 'Billy Elliot the Musical' continues to mark itself out as one of the best nights in town. Both as tough as a miner's fist after a Friday night booze-up and as soaringly sensitive as one of Tchaikovsky's swans, it's a gritty story of hope that works its magic by defying sentimentality and slaying stereotypes.

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  • © Johan Persson

    The Book of Mormon

    Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the spirit of Broadway’s golden age as much as the sounds. The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets.

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  • Matilda the Musical

    'My mummy says I'm a miracle,' lisps a pampered mini-me at a purgatorial kiddies' birthday party at the outset of this delicious, treacly-dark family show. The obnoxious ma and pa of its titular, gifted, pint-sized heroine are not, of course, quite so doting. But 'Matilda' must be making its creators, playwright Dennis Kelly and comedian-songsmith Tim Minchin, a very proud pair of parents.

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© Joan Marcus

Once

There is a genuine warmth and inclusiveness to this show that is a rarity in the razzle-dazzle-heavy West End. It’s there in the onstage bar the audience is invited to patronise beforehand, the cosy mirrors of Bob Crowley’s set, the delightfully odd-looking actors – who also double as the show’s musicians – and Steven Hoggett’s quirky choreography. And in a strong cast, Croatian actor Cviteši is a radiantly charismatic presence – I hope she does more work over here.

READ MORE


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