The best of the West End: the four most recommended London theatre shows

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What do you think of when you’re in the West End? Perhaps many things, given you’re surrounded by so many pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants. But one thing you can’t escape from is the venues of ‘Theatreland’ – and here’s a quartet of their best offerings…

Les Misérables

(Queen’s Theatre, 51 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 6BA)

Hugely popular things often get sniffed at and, in its time, ‘Les Mis’ has certainly suffered from that. Does it deserve it? Well, many may suggest that this decades-in-residence musical with all its choral complexity and histrionic bombast is effectively ‘opera-lite’. That may be true, but it’s also rollicking good entertainment; full of energy, colour, terrific set design and staging and, yes, some triumphant, stirring tunes.

Wicked

(Apollo Victoria theatre, 17 Wilton Road SW1V 1LG)

Deserving of being lumped into that bracket of West End theatre shows that are often referred to as ‘long-running’ (it’s now in its sixth year at its enormous venue), Wicked shows few signs of losing its magical touch with the punters (even if forking out for a glass of champagne and a chocolate at a performance will set you back £16).

That particular expensive oversight’s offset by the entertainment on display, though; stylish, colourful and sweepingly magical and emotional, it’s great fun. Don’t be green (er, skinned) with envy of all those who’ve seen it; on your next trip to London – especially if you’re staying relatively nearby at, say, The Piccadilly London West End hotel – make sure you make the time to see it. Yes, you may well be busy during your time in the capital, but there’s no rest for the wicked wanting to catch Wicked!

The Phantom of the Opera

(Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket SW1Y 4QL)

So, just as West-End-establishment as Les Mis and just operatic in its influences, why is that Phantom’s been running so long? Why haven’t the public tired of it yet on the London stage?Perhaps the major reason – after all, everyone’s heard the music, right? – is its high production values; none of which have sagged since it opened all of 30 years ago. All the ravishing costumes and lavishsets seem to complement the OTT but very memorable melodies and somewhat dubious plot.Indeed, nowadays it may even come off as a more tasteful concoction than many of the here-today-gone-tomorrow jukebox musicals.

Show Boat

(New London Theatre,166 Drury Lane WC2B 5PW)

The first great American musical, Show Boat’s arrival in this (yet another) revival production’s to be cheered. It’s brimming with a profound story, quiet power, spot-on voices, beautiful, swelling orchestral interpretations of the score and, best of all, the wonderful melody that embodies all of it – the magnificent, mournful show-stopper that’s ‘Ol’ Man River’. Show Boat is booking through to next January, but it’s such traditional, nay old-fashioned West End fare, it may not last that long; make sure you see it sooner or later then – before it’s gone from the London stage once more.

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