Already a month into 2012 and many theatre owners and other movers and shakers in the industry are buzzing with excitement, whilst others have welcomed a year when London itself will take centre stage with trepidation. The Olympics and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations will undoubtedly bring thousands of new tourists and millions of pounds of income into the capital. So can the West End put on a show of its own that will impress, entertain and ultimately reap rewards during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Well some don’t believe it can. At the end of last year The Lord – that’s Lord Lloyd Webber by the way – warned that the Olympics would cause ‘a bloodbath of a summer’ with no one wanting to go to the theatre during the Games. Back then, bookings for July and August at his seven theatres was down 7% – meaning some will close for part of the summer.
Like Lloyd-Webber, there are many other pundits predicting this year will be a game of two halves. Many new productions are consciously holding back from opening until the sport-obsessed travellers due to descend upon the city head on their merry way. This, of course, should mean the second half of the year will be a corker, with a handful of long awaited big budget musicals waiting in the wings to open. So what is there to look forward to? American blockbusters The Bodyguard and Bridget Jones’ Diary will be adapted for stage, and the brainchild behind Mammia Mia!, Judy Craymer, has teamed up with Jennifer Saunders for her latest work. She’s hoping to repeat the success of her last phenomenal idea with a new musical using the songs by the Spice Girls and a story penned by Saunders. But it’s the book-come-movie, now soon to become musical The Commitments by Roddy Doyle that’s most highly anticipated by many.
But not everyone is nervous about opening pre-Olympics. There’s plenty going on this side of the Games, and it’s hoped big names and even bigger budgets will secure their future. Next month Michael Ball will become Sweeney Todd alongside Imelda Staunton who’ll play Mrs Lovett, following a sell-out season at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer. In April Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen will bring Top Hat to the Aldwych following a regional tour of the 1935 movie starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
Another success story from Chichester Festival Theatre is Jonathan Church’s Singin’ in the Rain which transfers to the Palace from 4 February. The Palace has been dark since Priscilla Queen of the Desert closed last year, meaning the end of one of the most energetic, popular and camp shows there’s been for years. This new production based on the 1952 MGM musical movie stars Adam Cooper as Don Lockwood, Daniel Crossley as Cosmo Brown and the other Strallen sister Scarlett as Kathy Seldon. Singin’ in the Rain is booking till September. For further information go to www.singinintherain.co.uk
If you’re looking for a little bit of fabulousness in February – and fancy being a part of theatre history then head to the Noel Coward on St Martin’s Lane for Hay Fever. This will be the first time a Noel Coward play will be staged in the Noel Coward Theatre since it was renamed in 2006. Howard Davies directs a star studded cast including Lindsay Duncan as Judith Bliss, Jeremy Northam as Richard Greatham, Kevin R McNally as David Bliss and fresh from her role as Carol Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Olivia Colman as Myra Arundel. Previews start on 10 February with more information at www.hayfeverlondon.com
A number of special stage performances are jumping on the bandwagon as part of LGBT History Month. Conway Hall on Red Lion Square is hosting Marlene Dietrich: An affectionate tribute. Don’t panic if the venue is unfamiliar – it’s only a stone’s throw from Soho on the edge of Covent Garden. Terry Sanderson takes up this fascinating story, which explores the complex person that was Dietrich, through clips from her movies, interviews, archive footage and then a showing of her performing in Stockholm back in 1963. This fundraiser is on 28 February and tickets can be bought at www.secularism.org.uk
The Royal Court Theatre on Sloane Square has been the breeding ground for some phenomenal new work in recent years, with a handful of productions rightfully transferring to the West End. Clybourne Park, ENRON and most recently Jerusalem have all made the leap – with many of them picking up multiple gongs along the way. With such pedigree going before, David Eldridge must be feeling hopeful his latest work In Basildon will do the same after its run at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. Directed by Dominic Cooke and starring Linda Bassett as Doreen, Debbie Chazen as Jackie, Max Bennett as Tom and Phil Cornwell as Len, this uncompromising play about family, greed, the past – and the future – all set in Essex, opens on 16 February. For tickets head to www.royalcourttheatre.com
But for something a lot lighter, Leicester Square Theatre is flinging its doors open to gay singer and comedian Ezra Axelrod for his auto-biographical show Songs from the American Motel, which will coincide with his debut album of the same name. He promises a fusion of rock-themed tracks blended with theatre classics mixed with a bit of stand-up. Axelrod was born in the American Wild West, and so how did he end up adopting London, and indeed Soho where he lives, as his home? The show explains all about his outrageous journey from there, through Latin America to the bars and clubs of Old Compton Street and beyond. He too launches as part of LGBT History Month on 9 February and tickets can be bought at www.leicestersquaretheatre.com
Many will know that the intimate space of the Kings Head Theatre in North London is dedicated to presenting new, difficult and classic operas, in a bid to bring the genre to diverse and new audiences. Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado opens there on 4 February. Under the direction of John Savournin, the show’s in collaboration with Park Lane Young Artists’ Eaton-Young Piano Duo, who arrange the orchestral scores so that’s it’s suitable for this smaller venue without compromising the music. Also on during part of February at The Kings Head is OperaUpClose’s new version of La Fanciulla del West, updating the piece to 21st century Soho. It’s directed by the award-winning opera and theatre director Robert Chevara, and will get its world premiere at the venue. For details on these and other productions at the theatre go to www.kingsheadtheatre.com