BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (Victoria Palace Theatre, London SW1)
Set during the miners’ strike, young Billy Elliot is in mourning for his mother, and seeks solace, not in the boxing ring like his mates, but in ballet class. Written by Lee Hall and with music by Elton John. The Telegraph’s theatre critic, Charles Spencer, described it as “the greatest British musical I have ever seen”.
THE BOOK OF MORMON (Prince of Wales Theate, London W1D)
The Book of Mormon arrived in London from New York on a tidal wave of acclaim and has become an unstoppable hit on this side of the Atlantic, too. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (they of South Park infamy), it has gained a reputation as one of the most offensive pieces of work out there.
MATILDA: THE MUSICAL (Cambridge Theatre, London WC2)
There is something miraculous about “the best new British musical since Billy Elliot”, which has been adapted by Dennis Kelly from Roald Dahl’s novel about a schoolgirl with extraordinary powers. Aussie comedian Tim Minchin has come up with a smashing score that combines take-home melodies with delicious lyrical wit in songs that consistently develop both the plot and our understanding of the characters.
THE PAJAMA GAME (Shaftesbury Theatre, London WC2; until September 13)
Richard Eyre’s production of The Pajama Game comes thrillingly close to his famous Guys and Dolls.
THE COMMITMENTS (Palace Theatre, London W1)
This “thrillingly brash and raucous” musical concerns a band who believe that the Irish are the “niggers of Europe” and gradually learn to belt out terrific covers of Tamla Motown, Stax and Atlantic soul classics. It’s memorably gritty at times (the swear-word count is exceptionally high) and also proves wonderfully funny and touching.
I CAN’T SING (London Palladium, W1)
I Can’t Sing, written by Harry Hill, is wildly eccentric and often wonderfully funny – as well as splendidly rude about Simon Cowell.
JERSEY BOYS (Prince Edward Theatre, London W1D)
Jersey Boys is “a blue-collar, straight-up-no-chaser kind of show”. Built on the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it tells the story of a group that hailed from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey.
THE LION KING (Lyceum Theatre, London WC2)
The Lion King has grossed more than £289m and been seen by more than eight million people. Assisted at every point by the lithe, energetic contributions of 46 performers, The Lion King’s broad brushstrokes deliver nothing less than a sweeping panorama of a continent in dignified motion and a deeply felt celebration of life.
MAMMA MIA! (Novello Theatre, London WC2)
Well before Pierce Brosnan, Meryl Streep et al took this to the big screen, Catherine Johnson’s Mamma Mia! had become an enduring hit in the West End. The superbly performed ABBA tracks and whimsical story line set on a Greek island add up to a thoroughly feel-good evening.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Her Majesty’s Theatre, London SW1)
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical about a disfigured man lurking beneath the Paris Opera House who falls for his stunningly beautiful protégée is both the most financially successful and the second longest-running West End musical of all time.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS (Young Vic, London SE1)
This production, which deals with an infamous episode in American legal history, when in 1931 nine black American teenagers riding on a train heading South were arrested in Scottsboro, Alabama, and accused of raping two white women on board is uncomfortable, edgy and more than a little self-righteous. But is also passionate, original, and at times deeply moving.
SPAMALOT (Playhouse Theatre, London WC2)
This should be prescribed to all on the NHS. It’s not just a singalong bout of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” that sends an essential fillip of happiness coursing through you – it’s every ruddy scene.