London’s West End

London’s West End

The area of London known as the West End is actually about as central as it is possible to be in the capital. It is wedged between three major parks, the Thames and the City of London, and is the commercial heartbeat of the city, with Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street being its most famous shopping areas. Embassies, government, media and top hotels are based here. But when people refer in common parlance the the West End, they are usually talking about the theaters and playhouses – and the shows that make them famous – in much the same way as Broadway is used as a general term for the New York equivalent. The district’s theatres are numerous, and are well known for hosting the grandest, most lavish and best loved shows as well as putting on plays that feature A-list names from not just the UK but also Hollywood and beyond.

World famous names

You do not have to be a Londoner to have heard of the names that typify the West End experience: Oxford Street, Strand, Shaftesbury Avenue, Drury Lane, Kingsway and the South Bank are synonymous with performance. Names like Dominion, Palladium, Coliseum, Adelphi, Lyceum and the Royal Opera House have obvious connotations, and because such venues represent the ultimate goal of every ambitious and talented performer, the shows and productions are among the most critically acclaimed in the world. Some West End shows have made themselves the most thrilling, memorable and commercially successful works of art in history, and countless examples have toured, wowing fans the world over. The shows of Andrew Lloyd Webber alone represent a sparkling endorsement of both the West End and the medium of the musical: The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Jesus Christ, Superstar, Joseph, Aspects of Love, Cats and Starlight Express is a small sample of household name shows. Even seemingly unlikely candidates such as Ben Elton have proved to be talented writers of musicals for the West End, and luminaries such as Stephen Sondheim and Rogers & Hammerstein regularly have had their work performed here.

Notable adaptations

In skilful hands, a book, film, play or biography can be adapted to be a musical – and vice versa. The Sound of Music was a successful stage musical long before it became the Christmas perennial we all know and love, and its songs have become iconic. Indeed, My Favourite Things has become a jazz standard, and a recent BBC talent show was based around finding the perfect Maria for a stage production.

The music of Abba was made into the 1999 hit musical Mamma Mia! And is one of the world’s top grossing musicals, no doubt partly due to the enduringly popular songs, and a film version is set to continue this success.

A musical made from a book that is a prequel of an adaptation of another book can also succeed! This is demonstrated by Wicked, a musical based on the early life of the Wicked Witch of the West, a character in The Wizard of Oz, the 1939 movie of a 1900 book …

If a musical is creative, imaginative and features evocative songs, success at the West End could well leave its cultural mark on generations to come.

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