27 March 2019
27 March marks World Theatre Day, the one day a year when the world can celebrate the importance and significance of the theatre, highlighting the art form’s value to anyone who hasn’t realised or underestimated its potential for economic growth.
With around 40 theatres staging the biggest productions in the world, Broadway is unquestionably the global capital of theatre. It’s where many of the hottest new shows make themselves at home, often playing to sold-out crowds. There isn’t anywhere else on the planet that has so many theatres rammed into such a compact area, making it a thespian’s paradise.
If you want to see musical delights like Hamilton, The Book of Mormon and The Cher Show, as well as stage productions based on silver screen hits such as Frozen, Beetlejuice, Mean Girls, The Lion King, Pretty Woman and even King Kong, this is the place to be. New musicals incorporating the music of Tina Turner and Alanis Morrissette are due to tread Broadway boards for the first time in 2019, too.
Broadway might be the theatre capital of the world, but many of its biggest musicals were first performed in London’s West End. That include shows like Mamma Mia, War Horse, Amadeus, Miss Saigon, Starlight Express and the original English language version of Les Misérables, which will drop the curtain for the last time after almost 34 years in July 2019.
The Phantom of the Opera – Broadway’s longest-running show – even started out here with its first ever full performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1986, but more recent West End debuts include Matilda (2013) and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the latter of which only reached Broadway in March 2018 – two years after it previewed on the West End.
The West End pulled in record audiences (15.5 million) and box office revenue (£765 million) in 2018, and we could see all-time-highs yet again with a host of hot new shows are set to hit the West End in 2019.
The stage adaptation of Only Fools and Horses featuring songs from Chas Hodges from Chas n Dave fame started playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in February, while 9 to 5, starring Bonnie Langford and Louise Redknapp, with an original score from Dolly Parton, debuted at the Savoy Theatre the month before.
June will see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat return to the West End after 10 years away, with Sheridan Smith narrating and Jason Donovan as Pharoah, almost three decades since making a splash in the titular role. Kelsey Grammar and opera soprano Danielle de Niese star in Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum from later April, before making way for On Your Feet, which hits the stage in mid-June, recounting the love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.
Capital cities don’t always have the best theatre districts, as proven by Melbourne in Australia. The premier theatre district Down Under may be similar in name to London’s counterpart, but don’t expect nearly as many theatres here: it boasts just six right now. That said, Melbourne’s East End is a solid case of quality over quantity.
Currently, Her Majesty's Theatre is staging Muriel’s Wedding The Musical while the Princess Theatre has Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, making Melbourne the third location for the production after London and New York. Other shows put on at the Princess Theatre in recent years include The Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde and Once.
Jersey Boys and Billy Elliot are recent productions at the Regent Theatre, while the Comedy Theatre is staging 33 Variations, Moisés Kaufman’s play inspired by Beethoven's Diabelli Variations which earned Jane Fonda a best actress Tony nomination when it premiered on Broadway in 2009.
Time Out Australia’s arts and culture editor Ben Neutze believes everything is in place to warrant Melbourne’s place on the global theatre stage. Writing for the Daily Review in 2014, he noted how Melbourne boasts beautiful theatres, enthusiastic audiences, the talent and infrastructure, while Sydney lacks the venues and market to support many blockbusters at once.
South Africa is home to some truly remarkable theatres, staging some significant and powerful productions over the years.
In Johannesburg, the Joburg Theatre Complex is the hold-all name for the four theatres, enabling it to stage anything and everything, including Broadway musicals, ballet, pantomimes, comedy and homegrown productions. It remains one of the few theatres open in Johannesburg for independent production and boasts the only theatre in the world to be named after Nelson Mandela.
Elsewhere in South Africa's biggest city is The Market Theatre, which opened in 1976 as an independent, anti-racist theatre during the country’s apartheid regime. Today, it focuses on producing and presenting cutting-edge work with an authentic African artistic voice, inclusive of the rich tapestry of African diversity.
Almost 1,400 kilometres away in Cape Town, there’s Artscape Theatre Centre, which demonstrates its range with a diverse upcoming programme that lists Chicago, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Hamlet and the much-anticipated Buzani Ku Bawo - a family drama about traditional expectations clashing with changing values performed in the isiXhosa language in a bid to increase its profile and use.
Finally, the 720-seat Maynardville Open-Air Theatre deserves a mention for its annual Shakespeare in the Park plays. 2019’s season (6 February – 9 March) focused on Richard III, while previous years have featured Twelve Night, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice.
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