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

1/10
© 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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2/10

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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3/10

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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4/10
© 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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5/10
© 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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6/10
© 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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7/10
© 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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8/10
© 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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9/10
© 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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10/10

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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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, on the West End and beyond. Flick through our countdown to see who takes the top spot – you'll be humming to yourself by the end of it.

Matilda the Musical

Critics' choice

'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.

Read more
Cambridge Theatre Until Sunday December 20 2015

The Book of Mormon

Critics' choice

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.

Read more
Prince of Wales Theatre Until Saturday March 7 2015

Billy Elliot the Musical

Critics' choice

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.

Read more
Victoria Palace Theatre Until Saturday December 19 2015

Les Miserables

Critics' choice

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.

Read more
Queen's Theatre Until Saturday September 26 2015

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.

Read more
Piccadilly Theatre Until Sunday October 25 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Critics' choice

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.

Read more
Theatre Royal Drury Lane Until Saturday June 4 2016

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.

Read more
Her Majesty's Theatre Until Saturday September 26 2015

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.

Read more
Apollo Victoria Until Saturday November 7 2015

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
Phoenix Theatre Until Saturday March 21 2015

Get the best of London's theatre

Our guide to London musicals

Musicals coming soon Oh What a Lovely War Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop's classic tragi-comic musical about the Great War returns to the theatre where it premiered back in 1963, to coincide with the 100 anniversary of WWI. 'La Cage aux Folles'. Terry Johnson will direct a 'reimagining' of the production, in which deceptively cosy songs such as 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary' and 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' are performed against a projected backdrop of stark images and statistics. Caroline Quentin joins an ensmble cast which also includes Michael Simkins. I Can't Sing! If the best days of ITV's singing talent show 'The X Factor' are blatantly behind it, that's no reason to stop Simon Cowell trying to prop up the brand with this game undertaking: an officially sanctioned musical spoof of the show, produced by Cowell's own Syco Entertainment. But hells bells, money CAN buy you talent: written by telly surrealist Harry Hill, with songs by storied satirist Steve Brown, choreography from the yoof-friendly Zoonation mastermind Kate Prince, and direction from 'The Ladykillers' hitmaker Sean Foley, there's every reason to expect something special. Cynthia Erivo, who recently wowed as the lead in the Menier Chocolate Factory's production of 'The Color Purple', takes the main role alongside Nigel Harman. In any case, we confidently predict that it'll be at least infinity times better than 'Viva Forever!' the last West End musical to try and spoof TV talent shows. Note: Nigel Har

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Top 10 West End theatre shows

Our guide to the best theatre shows the West End has to offer Make sure you're booking for the best of the season with our critics' guide to the ten most recommended West End theatre shows on right now. The list will be updated weekly as new West End plays and musicals open and old ones close. Other major shows West End theatre shows Want to see a West End musical or play, but not sure which one? We've got it all right here. Musicals on in London Up-to-date reviews and discounted tickets in our comprehensive guide to all London’s musicals. 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 pair of proud parents. War Horse The National Theatre's beautiful, puppet production of Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse' has become the toast of the West End and Broadway. Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris's production uses human actors and elegant, amazing horse puppets to tell the tale of young Devon boy Albert and his beloved horse Joey during WWI The Book of Mormon ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical continues to shock in London. Although, truth be told, the strapping young Latter D

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The best theatre openings this month

Our theatre critics pick the shows they think will wow London this month London's theatre calendars are flooded with acclaimed shows, big names and hotshot directors, and there's no way anyone can see them all. As a starting point, the Time Out theatre team have picked ten shows opening in London this month that you won't regret booking for. The best theatre in London this February Latest theatre reviews Bear In this surreal short play, a couple conceive a bear. Not some cuddly teddy, mind, but a razor-clawed, sharp-toothed grizzly. The doctor is pretty baffled when he discovers what’s happened (who wouldn’t be?) but the parents, called only She and He, decide She will give birth to it anyway. These bear-parents sit, centre of the black box stage, on a sofa in their messy front room as they relate the tale. Members of the audience are asked to read out parts of Andy McNamee’s script throughout the piece and to begin with it all feels funny and sweet, with Angus MacRae’s simple, cute music giving it all the feeling of a fairytale. But what is McNamee’s increasingly dark debut actually about? It could be about passing judgment: from the cards we are offered to read out it appears the general public’s opinions on the couple’s decision are fairly nasty. It could also be about mental health. She becomes increasingly detached, disappearing into her own connection with her child at the expense of her relationship with He. It could also be about decisi

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Cheap West End theatre tickets

Unless the show is very hot or the run is short, you should be able to shop around and get discounted tickets to any West End show via third party sellers like our own Time Out theatre tickets service and TKTS. Cheap seats aren't guaranteed to be great seats but many big shows release excellent day tickets on the day of performance, generally at a cheap rate, available from the box office only. See below for show-by-show info on day tickets and Time Out's best West End offers. More cheap ticket tips West End Shows Major theatres Off-West End venues Fringe theatres Ongoing West End theatre ticket offers The 39 Steps One hour before each performance best tickets still available can be purchased by students and jobseekers for £15. The Bodyguard A limited number of £25 day-seats are available at the box office from 10am before every performance. The Book of Mormon A daily lottery will offer the winners a chance to buy 20 best stalls seats at £20 each. Entries will be accepted two and half hours before each performance, and drawn two hours before the performance. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time There are 150 £12 tickets to each performance. Dirty Dancing A limited number of £20 day tickets will be released at 10am on the day of the performance. Available to buy in person from the box office. Ghosts A number of £10 day-seats available from the box office for all Tuesday to Saturday performances; all Monday tickets just £15, going

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