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How have West End musicals developed?

Wednesday, 13th May 2020

History of West End musicals

Since the first West End theatre, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was built in 1663, Theatreland has been filled with operas, revue shows, comedy, cabarets and plays. However, London’s glittering theatre district is packed with all-singing and all-dancing musicals, with over nine million audience members seeing a musical in 2019. Whether it’s a jukebox musical, an original story or a Broadway smash-hit in the UK, discover more about the history of West End musicals with us.

Did you know the first British musical production was staged in the 18th century? After Her Majesty’s Theatre and Theatre Royal Haymarket opened in the early 1700s, John Gays’ The Beggars Opera premiered in 1728 and quickly became a must-see attraction. With small-scale shows popping up across the capital, more theatres were built to accommodate the ever-growing demand, including the Sans Pareil Theatre (now the Adelphi), the Lyceum Theatre and the Vaudeville.

Broadway musicals opening up in London were the talk of the town in the 20th century. These include Anything Goes at the Palace Theatre in 1935, with a changed script to cater to English audiences. Oklahoma! ushered in a post-war wave of Broadway musicals making their mark in Theatreland, quickly followed by shows like Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me, Kate.

Notable 20th century homegrown shows include Lionel Bart’s Oliver! that ran for over 2,600 performances at the New Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre).

British musical juggernauts like Andrew Lloyd Webber continue to dominate the West End today. With a list of shows including The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and School of Rock, his songs have become a part of musical canon, known world over for their exemplary quality. There’s plenty of long-running shows that have become a part of theatre fabric too, including over 10,000 performances of Blood Brothers at the Noel Coward and Phoenix Theatre respectively. Les Miserables continues to wow audiences too, now with a brand new production at the Sondheim Theatre.

In the 21st century, there’s musical treats galore! If you’re wanting to see a “classic”, then join over 10 million theatregoers that have seen Elphaba in the skies at Wicked. Or, reminisce over your favourite artists and listen to ABBA songs at Mamma Mia! or party with Tina Turner at Tina the Musical.

Recent musicals to have taken over London include the multi-Olivier Award-winning Come From Away, Roald Dahl’s Matilda adapted for the stage at the Cambridge Theatre and Henry VIII’s wives taking to the mic in Six. There’s musicals for all ages, so what are you waiting for?

Find a West End musical for you today.

Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash


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