There’s something almost adventurous about setting out on a snowy, crisp evening, coat buttoned to the top and boots making a print across the London roads. Nearly every year I set out with family and friends on such an evening, with one destination in mind; the theatre.
Us Brits really do love a good West End production. The recent success of the film adaptation of Les Misérables shows that we have a soft spot for stories told through the medium of music (and Hugh Jackman, of course). London is at the heart of this passion, with West End musicals thriving despite the current economic climate. And it’s easy to see why – with so much choice and so many different varieties of musical, there is a musical to suit every mood. As Christmas approaches, tickets to musicals offer a great present for those who like the theatre, or in my case, a reliable birthday gift for an otherwise fussy person.
It wouldn’t be proper to talk about musicals and not mention the two giants of the West End; The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. Phantom has been running for 27 years now and has box office revenues higher than any other stage musical or film in history. That includes Titanic… Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece is based on the novella by Gaston Leroux which tells the eerie tale of a ‘phantom’ who plagues the Paris Opera House.
Audiences are repeatedly captivated by the gripping story, the haunting songs (‘Masquerade’ is a particular favourite of mine) and the dazzling beauty of the 230 costumes and 250kg of dry ice which make up each performance. The scale of each performance and the attention to detail in the costumes and set is simply phenomenal. If I was forced to choose one musical as my favourite, it would have to be The Phantom of the Opera.
Les Misérables is the world’s longest running musical, now celebrating its 28th year in the West End. Following Victor Hugo’s narrative of the French Revolution, it is renowned for its moving songs and emotive scenes. At the centre of the story is the portrayal of a young couple in love who are torn apart by the political unrest. Winning over 100 major theatre awards, I can’t help but wonder if it is the love story, set against a turbulent historical backdrop, which makes this musical a British favourite.
However, it is not just these long standing and more ‘serious’ musicals which are achieving success in London. Newer musicals such as Wicked, Matilda and Billy Elliot are set to become classics. There has also been a rise in musicals which use the story of a musician, or the music of a particular band to create a narrative, such as We Will Rock You and the rather surprisingly fantastic Jersey Boys.
All these musicals offer audiences a magical, and often, unforgettable experience. They offer beautiful songs, moments of comic genius, suspense, colour, excitement and vitality. That’s why we Brits love a good West End show and why audiences will continue to flock to theatres.