West End Reviews part 1

For those of you who don’t know, the West End is London’s equivalent to Broadway. Boasting just one less theater than Broadway and starting nearly three hundred years earlier, the West End draws millions of people from all over the world to their historic playhouses each year. In fact, according to today tix, the West End attracts about a million more viewers each year than Broadway. And I can see why since the average ticket price in London is nearly half of what it is in Broadway!

Since we arrived nine months ago, we’ve fully taken advantage of going to the theater while we live so close to London. In this blog I’ve reviewed the first five West End musicals we’ve seen.


Aladdin

Theater: Prince Edward Theatre
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)
West End Premier: 2016
Ending West End shows: October 2019
Closest underground station: Located about halfway between Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square Stations

I went to see Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre earlier this month with a group of fellow expat ladies for our Galentine’s day celebration. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a former Disneyland passholder, I absolutely LOVED the 45 minute Aladdin production in California Adventure. Not long before we moved, the stage play of Aladdin opened in Los Angeles and I heard mixed reviews. What stuck out most to me was that fellow passholders said they liked the Disneyland version better than the one in Hollywood. So, when my friend suggested we see Aladdin after our Snow White Tea at the Waldorf, I was hesitant, but decided to go along with the group’s consensus. I am so glad I did!

The stage play is 2.5 hours long, including an interval (as they call it in England), which is an hour longer than if you were to watch the 1992 movie. But it definitely doesn’t feel like 2.5 hours. With over double the amount of entertaining songs and three new awesome characters in the form of Babkak, Omar and Kassim (Aladdin’s three BFFs), I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was disappointed about the lack of the carpet and animals in the musical (no Abu or Raja and Iago is a person… weird), but the dance numbers and very talented cast more than made up for anything I felt I was missing. I absolutely adored Babkak, Omar and Kassim were probably my favorite characters in the musical but the best part of the whole play for me was the Trevor Dion Nichols’ portrayal of the Genie.

If you want to catch this play before it flies from the West End on a magic carpet, make sure you book tickets before the fall. Aladdin and his pals will leave the Prince Edwards Theatre to make way for Mary Poppins and her magical carpet bag in October of this year.

Wicked

Theater: Apollo Victoria Theater
Running Time: 2 hours 50 minutes (including interval)
West End Premier: 2006
Closest underground station: Victoria Station

Wicked may be my favorite musical I’ve seen on the West End. While I was never a huge fan of the Wizard of Oz, the origin the story of the “Wicked Witch of the West” has fascinated me since I first heard of the musical my senior year in high school. As California is quite a trek from Broadway and tickets in Hollywood were often sold out or quite expensive, I never got the chance to experience it for myself. When the ITT (tickets and trips on the military base here in England) trip of the month was to see Wicked last summer, I jumped at the chance.

From the toe-tapping musical score, to the absolutely breath-taking sets you’ll be smiling from the moment you sit down at Wicked. While I am used to the musical stylings of the original Broadway cast (the unmatchable Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth), the West End leads were strong and very talented and no less moving. Many tears were shed when “For Good” was sung.

Unlike Aladdin, I didn’t have a frame of reference for Wicked and I think that helped me love it all the more. I didn’t know the end of the story, I knew the songs but I didn’t know how they fit together or what was going to happen next. It all unfolded brilliantly before me and I will definitely return before we go back to the states because it was just that amazing.

Hamilton

Theater: Victoria Palace Theatre
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including interval)
West End Premier: 2017
Closest underground station: Victoria Station

I’ve wanted to see Hamilton since the first time I heard a “My Shot” song on my broadway Pandora station I was hooked. When Hamilton came to LA I was DETERMINED to go. It would be a big anniversary present or birthday present. And then… I looked at ticket prices. The CHEAPEST tickets available to the LA show were about $500 EACH! What?! $1000 for a night at the theater? No way. I’m sorry. I couldn’t justify that. That’s more than a plane ticket to Italy! I love the theater but that was just too pricey for me. This is where the vast difference in West End ticket prices comes in handy! Last September, we saw Hamilton for less than half the price of an LA ticket and it was AMAZING.

While nothing can match the original broadway cast (if I could see Lin Manual Miranda as Hamilton and Leslie Odom Jr as Burr I think I would just pass out), the West End cast was wonderful. I wasn’t quite as impressed with the London Burr, but that being said, I don’t think that anyone can live up to Leslie Odom Jr. I absolutely adore that man.

The Hamilton soundtrack has been on heavy rotation since I first heard it and I know the songs backwards and forwards. Finally seeing the movements, the dancing and the stage effects of the play really brought it all together.

Like I said, the only negative for me was the lack of strength in the actor who played Aaron Burr. I know many liked him but for me, he just didn’t measure up to the extremely high bar set by Leslie Odem Jr. That being said, in December they shuffled around and brought on some new actors including recasting the Burr role and now I really want to see it again.

If you, like me couldn’t fork over the $1000 + to get to Hamilton in the states and you didn’t win the $10 lottery, try to see it on the West End when you come to England. You won’t be disappointed!

Lion King

Theater: Lyceum Theatre
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)
West End Premier: 1999
Closest underground station: Covent Garden

The Lion King was probably the musical Tim wanted to see the most but have always been on the fence about seeing it. It’s not really my favorite Disney movie and a longer version of the story didn’t really appeal to me. But happy spouse, happy house, right? So when ITT hosted the Lion King trip last fall, I decided we should go.

The idea of taking an entirely animal cast and portraying them on stage with humans would sound like an insurmountable feat to me, but they did an amazing job with the costumes for this musical. I had heard that the costumes were true awe-inspiring and my sources weren’t lying. Watching dancers parade across the stage as giant giraffes was probably my favorite costume. The cheetahs were also phenomenal. My favorite part of the entire show was watching the ensemble dancers in their various animal costumes. Absolutely mind-bending.

The story was still just okay to me and I wouldn’t go see the Lion King again, personally, but that being said, it’s still something to see if given the opportunity. But choosing between Aladdin and Lion King, I’d see Aladdin.

Mamma Mia

Theater: Novello Theatre
Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes (including interval)
West End Premier: 1999
Closest underground station: Covent Garden

Now, I don’t know about you all, but I’m a HUGE Mamma Mia fan. I grew up listening to ABBA and I absolutely fell in love with the movie when it came out a decade ago. Last August when my parents came to England to see our new home, we celebrated my mom’s birthday by taking them to see Mamma Mia on the West End. ITT came through for us (again) with seats in the second row! We were so close we could see the sweat glistening off the abs of the dancers. Tim wasn’t a huge fan of being so close… but I wasn’t complaining.

If you’re an avid lover of the film, you’ll notice that the sequence of songs and events are a little different in the stage production, but in general, it’s still the same wonderful, up-beat story. As with every time I view the movie, I wanted to dance in the aisles when they sang “Dancing Queen,” yearned for my best friends while they sang “Chiquitita” and cried my eyes out while they sang “Slipping through my fingers.” My emotions were all over the place but the underlying current was always pure joy. Like my ability to watch the movie repeatedly, I’d go see this musical again in a heart beat.


I don’t want to say that the West End has spoiled me and that it’ll be hard for me to ever go to a Broadway play and appreciate it as much as I have here… but the West End has won my heart. The quality of productions are phenomenal. I can’t personally compare it to the quality of a Broadway show, but I doubt it’s any less. If you’re in London, even for a short time, check out a play and you won’t leave disappointed. I promise.


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One Comment Add yours

  1. mphtheatregirl says:

    My musical theatre world is in the United States, but on tour. When you live in Charlotte, NC- tours are the way to go. The tours have been incredible with these just incredible actors/actresses. Charlotte is my main place to see musicals- I have also seen tours in Greenville and St. Louis. In Charlotte, Miss Saigon, Rent, Newsies, Mamma Mia, Wicked, Pippin, Sound of Music, and Lion King have been seen. In Greenville, it has been Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis and in St. Louis, it has been Fiddler on the Roof and Annie. I have seen Wicked on Broadway.

    I have seen one musical in the West End- Les Mis. Seeing Les Mis in London was a dream come true.

    Like

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