The West End has a long history of spectacular musicals, and ranks alongside New York’s Broadway as home to the biggest theatrical productions and the most loyal crowds. The past thirty years or so in particular have seen productions get larger and more elaborate and many of the West End’s top shows have been adapted into successful movies, as well as being toured around the world. It’s difficult, therefore, to pick only five to represent the West End’s considerable strengths as a home for musical theatre, and its equally confusing for visitors to London to work out which ones to see. We’ve put together a list that we think represents the best that the West End stage has to offer to help you make your choice:
The Lion King
Currently playing at the Lyceum, having opened in 1999, The Lion King is one of the most successful musicals in West End history. Adapted from a 1994 Disney film, the musical built from the film’s lyrics and score by Elton John and Tim Rice through Hans Zimmer, Julie Taymor and Lebo M.
The musical version of The Lion King notably sees actors in elaborate animal costumes telling the story of Simba, a lion cub who is wrongfully exiled after his Uncle Scar murders his father and King Mufasa. The rest of the musical follows Simba’s return to his home and the defeat of rival Scar. One of the most technically advanced musicals in the world, The Lion King is still one of the hottest theatre
tickets in the West End.
The Phantom of the Opera
Now running at Her Majesty’s Theatre, The Phantom of the Opera is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest successes. First launched in 1986 in the West End, the musical focuses on a Paris Opera House where young singer Christine is drawn into the world of the mysterious ‘Phantom,’ who lives in the catacombs beneath the building. Featuring songs such as ‘The Music of the Night’ and ‘All I Ask of You,’ Phantom has been successfully adapted into a feature film, and has been a staple of the West End for many years.
A long running hit, Les Miserables plays at the Queen’s Theatre. It opened in 1985, and sets itself against the epic scope of wartorn 19th century France The musical follows a diverse cast of characters as they negotiate political change and romance, and includes songs such as ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’. Having gone through multiple international versions, Les Miserables is still one of the best selling musicals in the West End. It’s also worth noting that the musical is currently getting its own movie adaptation – filming was taking place in Greenwich a few weeks ago.
One of the best ‘jukebox’ musicals adapted from a single band’s back catalogue, the Abba inspired Mamma Mia! follows a girl as she tries to discover which of a series of suitors is her father. Set on a small Greek island, Mamma Mia! is hard to beat for the quality of its songs, and has expanded to even greater fame since its recent film adaptation – some might disagree about the quality of the story, but if you’re an Abba fan there’s nowhere else you’d rather be in the West End. The musical currently plays at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
Housed at the Apollo over in Victoria, Wicked is a West End show outside the West End, but as it’s one of the best productions in London and still draws in huge crowds every night we’ll include it here (for the architecture fans, it’s also housed in one of London’s most magnificent art deco buildings). Putting a new spin on The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West as a misunderstood, rather than villainous, character struggling to find her place in a corrupt Oz. Perhaps the most inventive musical of the past ten years, Wicked has one multiple awards since its 2003 launch, and has played in the West End since 2006.