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Top 5 Shows of 2018 – (the hype is real)

Top 5 shows of 2018 by Carl Woodward

All these shows are 10/10s.

It has been quite a year for theatre.

But first I thought it would only be polite to look back at some brilliantly shit moments.

Chicago returned with Cuba Gooding Jr as Billy Flynn, which was not ideal. Crumbling shows do these things, of course, in the hope of charming the audience into thinking the show still has legs. Love Island’s Caroline Flack was eventually parachuted in as Roxie Hart – reportedly pipping Cheryl Cole to the part. I know.

Elsewhere, the show most likely to drive business into the assisted suicide sector of Switzerland’s economy: Foxfinder. The West End production of Dawn King’s dystopian play – last seen at the tiny Finborough in 2005 – was a crushing disappointment. A starry affair, though, featuring Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) and Heida Reed (Poldark).

 FoxFinder

FoxFinder

However, it closed 2 months early after reportedly playing to an average audience of 40 people. Oh dear. I was enraged at the stupidity of the production.

It wasn’t the only fiasco of the year, though, ‘cos I was also pretty distressed by Eugenius! Ben Adams and Chris Wilkin’s joyless 80’s musical returned to the Other Palace and looked all set to transfer to the Ambassador’s Theatre.

Sadly, for them, a key investor pulled out. I don’t think a show has ever made me want to eat my own teeth with despair, either. The less said about it the better.

Oh, and cult off-Broadway show Heathers transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket. A horror of a show featuring Carrie Hope Fletcher. ‘The hype is real’ set a new low for witless PR. Note: Heathers was, in fact, beyond criticism.

Off-stage oddity was abundant, The Tricycle in Kilburn rebranded as Kiln Theatre. In one of the most pointless protests of all time. You want to know the location of this outrage, though, simply take a closer look at the people branding placards; they had the Brexit look about them.

But what a terrific year it has been for great theatre.

So, my Top 5 shows of 2018.

  1. Fun Home at the Young Vic, was a radical triumph. The Tony-Award winning musical based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 striking graphic novel memoir was all about growing up gay. But, if anything, it was all about the poignantly beautiful inspired lesbian protagonist and the complicated relationship with her closeted gay father. This was an unconventional 100-minute show set in a funeral home but full of life and bristling with ambition. Enchanting stuff.

A sensational Jenna Russell added majestic authority to an all-too-relatable, everyday drama. Russell invoked absolute magic. I sobbed. As did most around me.

Caroline, or Change

Caroline, Or Change

  1. Caroline, Or Change was exhilarating and distinct. Sharon D Clarke made mincemeat as Caroline, a black maid in Tony Kushner’s sprawling civil rights musical. Clarke’s vocals conveyed wilful submissiveness with tenderness, giving the production an incredible, stark atmosphere. Everything about it had a cohesiveness that only the greatest shows possess. Michael Longhust directed everything with exhilarating originality.

The glorious show stared life in Chichester – enjoyed a sell-out acclaimed run at Hampstead Theatre and is running at Playhouse Theatre until April 2019.

Go. See. It.

  1. Company is stylish, charismatic and an unselfconsciously incisive gender-switch Sondheim for the 21st Century. Elliott & Harper riotously rode the zeitgeist with this one. Bobby became Bobbie – a singleton facing her 35th birthday alone and Rosalie Craig embodied the role to classy perfection, which was a relief.

This slick and stylish amazingness also includes two of the best musical theatre performances of 2018 in the shape of Patti LuPone and Jonathan Bailey belting out 5-star, show-stopping excellence every night. Marianne Elliott’s excellent production reinvented Stephen Sondheim for today. A thrilling interrogation of a half-century old musical that deserves all the awards. Bunny Christie’s luminescent set is certainly the best thing on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Company was 2018’s most thrilling and sophisticated musical comedy.

  1. The Producers at the Royal Exchange was very, very funny and beautifully executed. I.e. unmissable theatre. Performed in the round, drawing the audience in, Raz Shaw’s brilliant revival of Mel Brooks’ musical felt horribly pertinent to the present. Timing, chemistry, acting and singing: all note-perfect.

Not for the first time, Manchester set the standard for world class theatre. Alistair David’s choreography was seriously good, too. A side-splitting and hilarious piece of work. Truly.

Anyway, at this point you’re probably wondering what the best show of 2018 is going to be.

Well:

  1. The Inheritance is probably the funniest play you’ll see about AIDS. Matthew Lopez’s two-part masterpiece manages to make you weep with laughter one moment and move you to tears the next. A brilliant rare theatre trick indeed.
The Inheritance

The Inheritance

 This is the play of the year, by the writer of the year, from the producer of the decade (Sonia Friedman), and if the beauty of The Inheritance doesn’t hit you round the head when you see it you might as well pack up and go home because it’s over. Don’t talk to me.

You can be hard pressed to find performances rarely so inspired, defined and compatible with the dozen exceptionally gifted performers. Stephen Daldry’s life-affirming production takes an unflinching look at what makes us tick, success, failure, love and heartbreak.

This is sublime 7-hour play that uniquely explores the lives of gay New Yorkers a generation on from the AIDS crisis, whilst also being a striking love letter to EM Forster and Howards End.

To call The Inheritance a once-in-a-lifetime piece of theatre perfection would be 100% accurate. Hey, even retired critic Michael Coveney liked it and he hates everything and everyone. *thumbs up emoji*

Broadway beckons, no doubt.

And that brings our list to a close. Not great news for Bananaman: The Musical, but pretty good news for theatre’s best people.

Shows that have made it to Carl’s  list of  top 10:

 

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London Theatre is a flickering tealight of hope: Allelujah! Bat out of Hell, Fun Home & King Lear

There is a special furnace in theatre hell reserved for rubbish state-of-the-nation plays, so I’ll keep it brief. You thought Young Marx was dull? Try staying awake through Alan Bennett’s new play, where the substance is so lacking that it prompted me to leave at the interval. Since the NHS is never out of the headlines and affects nearly all of us, we have long been crying out for a new play on the subject.

Unfortunately, Nick Hytner’s Allelujah! is not it. Generously described by Michael Billington as a “hospital drama”, rather than virtue signalling mediocrity. Not Bennett or Hytner’s finest hour, if we are honest.

Allelujah

Allelujah Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Old people singing and dancing sweetly– check.

Two original ‘History Boys’ – check.

A sub-plot involving immigration and Brexit – check.

I attempted to discover, once and for all whether Bat out of Hell was good. I can now announce my findings: no, it is nowhere near as dreadful as The Band.

This is exactly what, I think, consumers of Jukebox musicals – shows created out of the existing back catalogue of popular hits – want to see.

From musical to album to musical again, the mind-blowing scale of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell; robot bats, motorbikes and a Cadillac is quite something to behold. I loved the nonsense of it all. The main source of fascination, though, is how cunningly constructed and gloriously sung it is.

BAT OUT OF HELL

BAT OUT OF HELL

This Jukebox musical is so meticulously crafted, with entertainment in mind, that it becomes disorientating to watch.  

Sometimes you see a show and you can’t quite pin it down. I loved Fun Home at the Young Vic, the Tony-Award winning musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 striking graphic novel memoir about growing up gay. I know what you’re thinking, another Broadway musical making a long-awaited debut in London. But, if anything, the accolades attached to this show understate the level of theatre sorcery going on here: kids tap-dancing on a coffin, a lesbian protagonist and a closeted gay father. Absolutely ideal.

An intelligent book and an inventive score combine with  often unbearable-to watch emotional performances that are so neatly done. Part of a fine ensemble, Jenna Russell is a cut above the rest. I haven’t seen as concise and uplifting a musical all year. Bit special.

FUN HOME

FUN HOME

Just when you thought you’d had enough Shakespeare, along comes Ian McKellen’s victory lap as King Lear at Duke of York’s Theatre. Jonathan Munby’s monumental production began life at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2017. McKellen is, of course, sublime at least in terms of unassuming lucidness: you will not see such another dignified Lear this year. A brilliant Sinead Cusack add further class to an evening that combines with something more mystic and mythical.

KING LEAR

KING LEAR

79 year-old superstar McKellen shines solidly for 3 hours 40 minutes, in what may be his last major Shakespearean role on stage. We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Unmissable. Truly.

Allelujah! is at Bridge theatre, London, until 29 September

Bat out of Hell is at Dominion Theatre, London until January 2019 (link https://batoutofhellmusical.com/)

Fun Home is at the Young Vic, London, until 1 September.

King Lear is at Duke of York’s until 3 November and will be broadcast live on 27 September via National Theatre Live.

Young Vic announces casting for Fun Home

fun home
fun home

fun home

Director Sam Gold makes his Young Vic debut with the five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home. Casting includes: Kaisa Hammarlund as Alison; Eleanor Kane as Medium Alison; Jenna Russell as Helen; Ashley Samuels as Roy, Mark and Jeremy; Cherrelle Skeete as Joan and Zubin Varla as Bruce, Alison’s father.

The production is produced in association with Sonia Friedman Productions, Fox Theatricals and Barbara Whitman.

Casting for Small Alison, John and Christian will be confirmed at a later date.

Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s celebrated 2006 graphic novel, made a sensational debut at The Public Theater in New York in October 2013, followed by a triumphant Broadway run and a successful US National tour.

Fun Home explores the memories of Alison’s uniquely complicated family at three different stages in her life – her volatile, brilliant, enigmatic father, mother and brothers – that connect with her in surprising new ways. Fun Home is a refreshingly honest, wholly original musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes.

Choreography is by Danny Mefford, set and costume design by David Zinn, light by Ben Stanton, sound by Kai Harada, music supervision by Chris Fenwick, music direction by Nigel Lilley and casting by Julia Horan CDG. The Associate Director is Portia Krieger. The Jerwood Assistant Director is Leo J Skilbeck. This role is supported through the Jerwood Assistant Director Program at the Young Vic.

This is the final show in David Lan’s last season as Artistic Director of the Young Vic.

Fun Home runs from 18 June – 1 September 2018 in the Young Vic’s Main House.