NEW YORK – London’s West End has been entertaining theatergoers for more than 100 years, and 2009 will be no different. London’s arts will be getting even finer in the coming months with new show openings and plenty of star wattage. To help visitors decide how to be dazzled, VisitBritain, the national tourist office for England, Scotland and Wales, has put together a rundown of upcoming showstoppers.
Musical lovers will have plenty to sing along to with the openings of some big blockbusters. The new production of “Oliver!” is set to be the most successful West End show ever, and has become the fastest-selling show in West End history, already heavily booked through July. Starring Rowan Atkinson as Fagin, “Oliver!” features songs “Food, Glorious Food” and “It’s a Fine Life.” The show runs through September at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Whoopi Goldberg is crossing the pond to produce the stage version of her hit movie “Sister Act.” Based on the 1992 film, the show follows singing diva Deloris Van Cartier as she hides out in a convent and transforms the tone-deaf choir into a melody machine. Featuring a score by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, “Sister Act” starts previews at the London Palladium from May 7.
Another showstopper joining the West End lineup is “Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical.” Based on the Oscar-winning film, the show follows three friends who ride a battered old bus to perform a drag show in the Australian desert. Sure to be one of the most visually dazzling shows on the West End, “Priscilla” features nearly 500 costumes, with more than 100 wigs and 150 pairs of shoes, set against a soundtrack of dance favorites including “I Will Survive” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The show starts previews on March 10 and opens March 23 at the Palace Theatre.
Big shows aren’t the only thing coming to the West End; there are big names as well. Stars are flocking to the stage, and one venue in particular has attracted some superstars. The Donmar West End has shows starring two of Britain’s biggest celebrities. From March 13 to May 23, Judi Dench will be starring in the theatre’s production of “Madame De Sade,” a play highlighting the life of Marquis De Sade, a notorious Parisian aristocrat imprisoned by the Bastille for lurid behavior. Then, previewing from May 29, Jude Law takes on the title role in the Donmar’s production of “Hamlet.”
In April, two big names play side by side in the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s production of “Waiting for Godot.” Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart play Vladimir and Estragon, two tramps waiting expectantly for the mysterious Godot. The two experienced actors return to the London stage starting with previews April 30 and running through June 28.
There is plenty more star power to go around throughout the year. Oscar winner Helen Mirren is set to return to the London stage to star in the National Theatre’s production of “Phaedra,” opening in June. Scottish star James McAvoy will appear in “Three Days of Rain” at the Apollo Theatre, previewing from January 30 and closing on May 2.
American stars are making the trip to London as well, and stopping by the Old Vic theatre. Directed by Kevin Spacey, Richard Dreyfuss stars in the theatre’s production of “Complicit” until February 21. And Ethan Hawke joins London stage veteran Simon Russell Beale in the theater’s production of “The Cherry Orchard”, starting previews May 23 and running through August 15.