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The Phantom of the Opera review

The Phantom of the Opera review

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. Mostly, though, ‘Phantom…’ remains strong because its high production values haven’t been allowed to sag. The late Maria Björnson’s design is a heady barrage of ravishing costumes and lavish sets that change frequently, working in everything from pastoral jollity to an ancient Carthaginian theme on the way to the Phantom’s stunning underground lair. It’s totally OTT – in one scene the Phantom zaps at his nemesis Raul with a staff that fires actual fireballs – and anybody who describes the plot (homicidal lunatic grooms girl) as romantic should probably be put on some sort of register. But its blazingly earnest ridiculousness and campy Grand Guignol story are entirely thrilling when realised with the show’s enormous budget. And while Hal Prince’s production may have been hailed as rather gauche back in the day, in 2013 it all comes across as rather more tasteful than the a

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
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‘9 to 5 the Musical’ review

‘9 to 5 the Musical’ review

Backwoods Barbie, rhinestone queen and all-round country music legend Dolly Parton has her glittering fingerprints all over this musical. She’s written all the songs, bar the iconic title track, especially for the show (this definitely isn’t a jukebox affair). She’s basically in it, as thinly disguised poodle-coiffed doppelgänger Doralee. And in case this escaped you, Parton pops up in video footage to introduce this whole bonkers confection to an audience of mad-keen fans. ‘9 to 5’ is a musical theatre version of the 1980 movie of the same name, which involves Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda running round an office and outwitting their dastardly male boss. And although this show started out in LA in 2005, it feels (shudder) pretty post-Weinstein, with its uncompromising focus on male shitness and violent retribution. Doralee (Natalie McQueen) can’t so much as climb a stepladder without her sleazy boss theatrically ogling her – and climbing any kind of career ladder is out of the question. Meanwhile Judy (Amber Davies, of ‘Love Island’ fame) is struggling to get to grips with some delightfully ’80s office tech, including a malevolent photocopier that attacks her with sheets of paper. And Violet – played by Caroline Sheen, subbing in for an injured Louise Redknapp who returns to the role next month – is a natural leader who’s longing for the promotion she deserves. The plot, when it shows up, is about as ridiculous as these women’s ultra-glam interpretation of ‘office wea

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Brace yourself for a shock! 'South Park' creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's broadway smash hit is here. 

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The Lion King

The Lion King

The posters have been plastered around the London Underground for years – long enough for this show to become the most successful musical of all time – but nothing prepares you for the sheer impact of 'The Lion King's opening sequence.

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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‘Waitress’ review

‘Waitress’ review

Lucie Jones has now taken over from Katharine McPhee in the role of Jenna in 'Waitress'. Blake Harrison and Ashley Roberts have also joined the cast as Ogie and Dawn.  The specials board in the diner in ‘Waitress’ advertises a bacon and blueberry pie. Most of the pies in Diane Paulus’s Broadway-conquering show are allegorical: their lurid lists of ingredients are flights of fancy in the mind of Katharine McPhee’s titular heroine Jenna, a pie-making prodigy who dreams of escaping her abusive marriage. However, as far as I can tell, the show is serious about the bacon and blueberry one. Bacon. Blueberry. Individually these are reasonable things, but with apologies to American readers, I cannot conceive why anybody in their right mind would even put them on the same level of the fridge, let alone lock them inside a pastry crust. Similarly, ‘Waitress’ is made from the very finest ingredients, but often they don’t actually feel like ingredients that should have been put together. Adapted from Adrienne Shelly’s cult 2007 indie flick of the same name, ‘Waitress’ is a moving musical full of flawed, morally compromised characters of the sort you so rarely get in this type of glossy Broadway show. Everyone, on some level, lets us or themselves down: indeed, the big showstopper, ‘She Used to Be Mine’ – delivered with exquisitely controlled sorrow by McPhee – is Jenna’s bitter ode to her disappointment in herself. There are no heroes here: not Jenna, not her hunky gynaecologist lov

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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Our favourite musicals

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

If you’re a plucky producer hoping to get your new show into the Criterion Theatre, you’re flat out of luck once again. Because less than nine months after 'The 39 Steps' shuttered after almost a decade glowering over Piccadilly Circus, it’s now home to the brand new comedy by Mischief Theatre, which, if there’s any justice in the theatre world, will run for even longer. 'The Comedy About A Bank Robbery' is the latest play by the bogglingly prolific and talented team behind 'The Play That Goes Wrong' (or more accurately the 'Play That Goes Wrong' franchise) and it’s their best and funniest work yet. A genre pastiche, screwball comedy and classic farce that’s as clean and clear as its brassy branding, it spins with a manic energy from Two Ronnies-esque wordplay through surreal set-pieces to slapstick stunts prepped to bring the house down. The story of a bungled jewel heist in a sleepy Minneapolis bank branch, it features a host of hilarious but well-drawn characters who roar across the stage and tumble into disaster after disaster, each one more elegantly drawn than the last. The writers’ ability to snatch a laugh out of every line, and to intricately prime each scenario with zinging punchlines and pay-offs is stunning, as call-backs and running gags pile up into teetering edifices of absurdity. The entire cast is bang on the money, but Mischief Theatre’s own Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer are the standouts as booming bank manager Robin Freeboys and hapless loser (and eter

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia!

Judy Craymer's bold idea of turning the insanely catchy songs of ABBA into a musical has paid off splendidly, in every sense – box office figures for 'Mamma Mia!' are as eye-watering as its outfits. This is largely because Catherine Johnson had the sense to weave the 1970s into her script, and director Phyllida Lloyd to cast accordingly. Heroine Donna Sheridan lived the free love dream (if only because her boyfriend ran out on her), wound up pregnant and survived to see her daughter, Sophie, reject all her principles in favour of a white wedding and the kind of certainty that comes from knowing which of your mother's three consecutive lovers ought to be walking you down the aisle. If you wanted to, you could see this as a conversation about feminism. But you'll look pretty silly debating patriarchal oppression while on your feet clapping to 'Dancing Queen'. Some of the songs are oddly static, but when the choreography does get going – for instance, when Donna's friend Tanya stylishly quashes a libidinous local puppy in 'Does Your Mother Know?' – it's terrific, and makes great use of props: I wonder if the producers can assure us that no electric drills or hairdryers were harmed in the making of this musical? The current cast appear to have been chosen more for their singing voices than their serious acting ability. But who needs dramatic conviction when you have purest pop to do the convincing for you? Given the songs, a story just about solid enough to stay upright on its

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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Matilda the Musical review

Matilda the Musical review

'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. Opening to rave reviews in Stratford-upon Avon before transferring to the West End in 2011 and snatching up Olivier Awards with all the alacrity of a sticky-fingered child in a sweetshop, Matthew Warchus's RSC production remains a treat. With hindsight, Kelly and Minchin's musical, born of the 1988 novel by that master of the splendidly grotesque Roald Dahl, is a little too long and, dramatically, a tad wayward. But like the curly-haired little girl in the famous nursery rhyme, when it is good, it is very, very good. And it's even better when it's horrid. The past few months have seen some cast changes, including, alas, the departure of Bertie Carvel's tremendous Miss Trunchbull, headmistress of the dread Crunchem Hall School, former Olympic hammer-thrower and a gorgon of monumental nastiness, complete with scarily Thatcher-esque tics of purse-lipped gentility and faux concern. David Leonard doesn't quite match the squirm-inducing, hair-raising detail of Carvel in the role, but his more butch, granite-faced version is fantastically horrible nonetheless. And if Paul Kaye as Matilda's loat

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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School of Rock - The Musical

School of Rock - The Musical

It is the ultimate musical about male privilege, a show about an under-qualified,Andrew Lloyd Webber's unexpected Broadway hit moshes over to the West End over-entitled white guy who shambles his way to public adoration by blithely inflicting bankrupt baby boomer values upon a bunch of impressionable people who don’t know any better.  ‘School of Rock – The Musical’ is also quite good fun. I dunno if it’s the state of the world today, the fact I haven’t seen the Jack Black-starring film, the fact that so much has changed – musically and politically – since the film came out in 2003, or simply the knowledge that it’s written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes, a couple of Tory lords in their late ’60s, but I felt a bit politically uneasy about ‘School of Rock’, which follows schlubby charlatan Dewey (David Fynn) as he masquerades as a teacher and proves a hit by tearing up his sensitive young charges’ syllabus and making them play old person music.  Its big, catchy number is called ‘Stick It to the Man’. Yet there’s something both problematic and ironic about the fact that in Laurence Connor’s production The Man is represented by two women – Florence Andrews’s hard-working, professional  headmistress Rosalie and Preeya Kalidas’s Patty, a hard-working, professional wife-to-Dewey’s best friend Ned – while in the blue corner we have... Dewey, a self-absorbed bum who everything turns out brilliantly for. Despite apparently being somewhere in his thirties – so presumably born around 1980 – Dewey exclusively loves classic rock bands, and mocks

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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The Book of Mormon review
Theatre

The Book of Mormon review

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 most of it is deployed ironically; beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the sounds and spirit of Broadway’s golden age. 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. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’ His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aids. ‘The Book of Mormon’ is, above all, very funny, breath

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars

Our favourite plays

‘A Christmas Carol’ review

‘A Christmas Carol’ review

‘A Christmas Carol’ returns for its third run at the Old Vic in Christmas 2019. This review is for its second run, in Christmas 2018. This time Paterson Joseph will star as Scrooge. I didn’t see Rhys Ifans in Matthew Warchus’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ last year and I’m glad. He’s always a bit self-consciously ‘Rhys Ifans’, and you absolutely definitely must not doubt the sincerity of this Scrooge if this big, open-hearted test of theatrical nerve is going to come off. If you reckon Dickens paints in broad emotional strokes, hold on to your (top) hat: Jack Thorne’s version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ makes ‘EastEnders’ look like Ibsen.Stephen Tompkinson’s Scrooge starts off physically and emotionally cumbersome. He’s a kind of lumbering Anti-Santa: an un-jolly old man who goes round depriving people of stuff. It’s an interesting take on the part: as the ghosts show him the errors of his grasping, wasted life, he’s all Northern bluster and defensiveness. Around him, there’s carol-singing, there’s clog-dancing, there’s handbell-ringing (and plenty of hand-wringing). It’s like the blinking Olympic Opening Ceremony or something. There are also several stunning pieces of visual theatre: Marley’s ghost dragging a huge, Lady Di-wedding dress train of clanking chains; Scrooge alone beside a coffin on a wheeled carriage containing his future corpse.It’s sort of impossible not to read it all as a Brexit parable: Scrooge is cut off from the whirl of life around him by greed and fe

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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Witness for the Prosecution review

Witness for the Prosecution review

It wasn’t all about Poirot’s little grey cells or Miss Marple solving murders at the vicarage. In her lifetime, crime writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie wrote 16 plays and a massive 73 novels. Apart from the immortal ‘Mousetrap’, ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ – which Christie adapted in 1953 from an earlier short story – is one of the most famous. Like most of Christie’s work, you can’t say much for fear of ruining the ending. Leonard Vole (a butter-wouldn’t-melt Jack McMullen) is on trial for murdering an older woman who has left everything to him in her will. He insists he’s innocent, but it all rests on the testimony of his wife, Romaine. What will she say on the stand? When Christie adapted her original story, she shifted the focus almost exclusively to the Old Bailey courtroom. Here, Lucy Bailey’s production has the gift of being in the main chamber of London County Hall. Big, austere and grand, it’s the perfect setting for the legal theatrics of Christie’s forensically precise plotting. Some audience members are even addressed as the jury. If the courtroom is a stage, this play is all about performance. Few are as good as Christie at leading us down the garden path, expectations-wise. She constructs her plot like Vole’s barrister, Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC (a charismatic David Yelland), builds his case, before knocking over apparent ‘revelations’ like dominoes. Bailey plays up the melodrama beautifully, in some scenes lighting the judge’s bench like something fro

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

It's been decades since this skillful adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror story first started setting West End audience a-shiver. 'The Woman in Black' remains perennially popular – particularly, it seems, with generally hard-to-please teenagers – which is testament to its rough-theatre appeal and the extraordinary and enduring potency, not of guts, gore or special effects, but of simple suggestion. Ageing Arthur Kipps is haunted by sinister events that befell him 30 years earlier. In an effort to exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him tell his story for an invited audience. As they rehearse, though, their staging itself becomes prey to supernatural visitations from the titular hatchet-faced, whip-thin, funereally garbed woman. Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation and a deft production by Robin Herford exploit the peculiarly spooky atmosphere of an empty theatre, making us, as an audience, feel almost like spectral voyeurs. And the chills are irresistibly effective: swirling fog, a creaking rocking chair, a locked door, a pale visage looming out of the gloom. Only occasionally does the staging show its age. The projected image of the gaunt, sinister house of Kipps' tormented memory looks hopelessly cheap and crude, and a graveyard conjured with dust sheets struggles to convince, even within the low-tech aesthetic parameters of the piece. Yet the shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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Uncle Vanya
Theatre

Uncle Vanya

Hot on the heels of the return of his Bob Dyan musical ‘Girl from the North Country’, the great Irish playwright Conor McPherson returns with a new stage adaptation of Chekhov's classic. Whether McPherson applies his full magical realist personality to ‘Uncle Vanya’ or maintains a light touch, this production is a fairly mouthwatering prospect, with Ian Rickson directing Toby Jones as the eponymous loveable sadsack and Richard Armitage as his friend, local doctor Astrov. The tone of the play tends to vary immensely from production to production – but we’re guessing from the blub here that this is going to be a pretty dark take. Rae Smith designs. Tickets go on sale Monday September 30.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Theatre

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

For its first ever family Christmas show, the Bridge Theatre bags the London transfer of director Sally Cookson’s devised adaptation of CS Lewis’s beloved kids’ fantasy novel, which ran to great acclaim at Leeds Playhouse in 2017 undr the aegis of Elliott & Harper Productions. Design for the spectacular in-the-round take on the tale of snow witches and fauns is by the marvellous Rae Smith.

More great theatre tickets

Sister Act

Sister Act

Oh happy day! Whoopi Goldberg is jetting into London next summer to reprise her second-to-nun performance in ‘Sister Act’. She'll get back into the habit in ‘Sister Act - The Musical’, which'll be her first ever live performance as Deloris. This newly revised stage version of the 1992 hit movie will bring a horde of singing, dancing women of god to Eventim Apollo Hammersmith. Jennifer Saunders is lined up to play Mother Superior, who casts a beady eye on Deloris's efforts to get a convent full of nuns singing disco hits.  ‘Sister Act - The Musical‘ features songs by superstar composer Alan Menken (‘Aladdin’, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’), lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner. This production is directed by Bill Buckhurst, whose breakout hit was an award-winning revival of ‘Sweeney Todd’ set in a real pie shop. The only thing to put a damper on the rejoicing? The top ticket price is an ouch-inducing £249.50 – get in there early to save your pennies.

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Wicked review

Wicked review

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. After its 2006 opening at 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 current leading lady Rachel Tucker, as the intense green-skinned undergrad who goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West. 'Wicked' is a spectacle that rises or falls around its central performance. In the midst of a gigantic production full of bangs, bells and whistles Tucker, with her small frame and searing vocal ability, simply flies off with the show. She's closely followed by Gina Beck, who plays good girl, Glinda. Glinda and Elphaba's relationship forms the heart of this story and, as the Good Witch, Beck is a consummate clown, playing up the silliness of her character at every turn. But she can raise a tear, too, and her final duet with Tucker, 'For Good', is genuinely heart-rending. The Tim Burton-inspired ensemble oscillate between the hypnotic and grotesque and a sweet but thin voiced Matt Willis charms as the rather superfluous Prince. As in classical ballet, this is all about the women and, even by previous lead Idina Menzel's standards, they are in soaring form here. T

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
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The Prince of Egypt

The Prince of Egypt

Stephen Schwartz has a pretty permanent hold over West End crowds with 'Wicked', his long-running blockbuster fantasy musical. Now, he's dusting the Egyptian sands from his 1998 Dreamworks movie, an old testament epic centring on Moses, and boasting some memorable songs and epic, chariot-racing special effects. It's a film that's got a special place in the hearts of animated movie aficionados, even if its ambitious, slightly sombre approach didn't get quite as much of a rapturous reception in the UK as it did in the US's Bible Belt.  'The Prince of Egypt' is moving into the suitably gigantic setting of Tottenham Court Road's Dominion Theatre. Schwartz has dreamt up 10 new numbers for this musical version, which will sit alongside the movie's songs including charttopper 'When You Believe', originally sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. It'll have a book by Philip LaZebnik, who penned Disney flicks 'Mulan' and 'Pocahontas', and is choreographed by 'So You Think You Can Dance' judge Sean Cheesman.  Tickets go on sale at 10am on Monday 3rd June 2019.

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‘Groan Ups’ review

‘Groan Ups’ review

The members of Mischief Theatre could presumably have all retired at 30 on the proceeds of their sleeper smash ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’, the sparky backstage farce that’s been ensconced in the West End for five years.In fact, the core company – who’ve been together for 11 years, since they met at drama school – have noticeably failed to rest on their laurels. When they’ve not been busy breaking America with their first hit, they’ve found the time to produce seasonal variant ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ and stand-alone smash ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’, while Penn & Teller collab ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ will be with us in the new year.They’re a genuinely heartening success story with an impressive work ethic and it’s a real shame that their new play ‘Groan Ups’ is fairly dreadful.The group have absolutely nailed the whole posh-people-getting-flustered-at-stuff-breaking thing, but ‘Groan Ups’ – which follows a group of five friends from primary school to adulthood – feels like their attempt to do a ‘proper’ play, and fairly brutally exposes their weaknesses.In the first half of Kirsty Patrick Ward’s production, the adult performers play children, first aged around six, then around 13 (weirdly they seem to be at the same school for all of this). Now I can confirm that children can be pretty funny, but the dialogue here suggest Mischief are aware what children are but have never met any. An opening sequence in which the class make an inadvertently smutty presentation about their wee

Time Out says
2 out of 5 stars
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Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

Brolly-clutching supernanny Mary Poppins is floating back into the West End in late 2019, with the return of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's musical after an international tour, and capitalising on the recent success of the film sequel. 'Mary Poppins' will replace another Disney show, 'Aladdin', in the West End's Prince Edward Theatre. The refreshed cast is led by Zizi Strallen ('Strictly Ballroom') and Charlie Stemp ('Half a Sixpence'), plus the legendary Petula Clark (Bird Lady) and actor Joseph Millson (George Banks).

Users say
3 out of 5 stars
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