But the difference this time is that The Color Purple only played a summer season at the Menier, and it never subsequently transferred to the West End.
By the same token, the current West End run of Close to You — a re-titled version of What's It All About? that the Menier imported from New York Theatre Workshop to London in the summer — has never played Broadway, but is now playing at the Criterion with its original star and co-creator Kyle Riabko leading the cast.
It was recently announced that the Menier's revival of Funny Girl is to transfer to the West End's Savoy Theatre, even before it has begun performances at its home base. I'm sure Broadway is already in the cards, assuming it is well received.
It's been amazing to watch this South London powerhouse of a theatre, created in a former 19th-century industrial building, punch so far above its weight. Run entirely without subsidy — but attracting lots of enhancement money from commercial producers — it is now a major force in the world of musical theatre revivals and/or British premieres for Off-Broadway shows like The Last Five Years and Tick Tick… Boom, the latter in a production that starred Neil Patrick Harris.
The London awards season begins
Because London has no formal season like Broadway does, marked out by the presentation of the Tony Awards around which all the other major Broadway awards also revolve, the British awards season is a lot more ad hoc. First off the starting block is the oldest of the ceremonies, the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, now in its 61st year and will be presented at the Old Vic Nov. 22. But the awards have increasingly skewed themselves towards celebrity and public endorsements at the expense of a more rigorously honest celebration of the best in theatre. This reached its nadir a couple of years ago when three independent judges resigned after the award went for Best Actress went to Helen Mirren for The Audience, whom none of them had voted for and had been barely discussed in the awards judging panel.
It was a blow to the credibility of the awards that it has still not recovered from. And, this year, they've compounded it by throwing open the award for the important Best Musical category to a public vote — solicited in partnership with a BBC radio station — instead of letting its own judges decide. Another of the award judges resigned in turn.
Earlier this week the Standard announced the shortlist for this year's awards, and controversy has been ignited again, with numerous exclusions of major names that include Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mark Rylance, Benedict Cumberbatch, Damian Lewis and Bradley Cooper. But at least that might represent some integrity. Though there are, of course, a couple of film star names in the Best Actor category in Ralph Fiennes and James McAvoy, they're joined by theatre names Simon Russell Beale and Kenneth Cranham.
On the other hand, a new category that has been created for Newcomer in a Musical neatly allows Natalie Dew and Ellie Bamber to be recognized for their work in Bend it Like Beckham and High Society, respectively — but also Gemma Arterton, already a star name, who made her musical debut in Made in Dagenham.
Still to come are the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards in January and the Laurence Olivier Awards in April.
Opening this week
- Elf, which has played two separate holiday Broadway runs, plays its first London season this year, opening at the Dominion Theatre Nov. 5 after debuting in Plymouth and Dubli in 2014. But it has also set a new top price for the West End of £240 a ticket, so a (presumably wealthy) family of four would be shelling out nearly £1,000 just for the tickets. The production stars Ben Forster (winner of TV's "Superstar" contest, who will go straight from this show to take over the title role in The Phantom of the Opera in the new year) and former pop star Kimberley Walsh (from Girls Aloud).
- The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company launches a year-long West End residency at the Garrick Theatre with the Nov. 7 triple openings of The Winter's Tale (with Branagh and Judi Dench) and a Rattigan double bill of All on Her Own (performed by Zoe Wanamaker) and Harlequinade. Rob Ashford co-directs with Branagh.
- The RSC return to the Barbican, bringing Gregory Doran's production of Henry V, the concluding part of the first tetralogy of histories, to open Nov. 11 with Alex Hassell in the title role. It will be joined in January by Doran's three earlier productions of Richard II (starring David Tennant in the title role) and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (with Antony Sher and Jasper Britton).
- La Soiree, seen at New York's Union Square Theatre, return to London to play in an original Spiegeltent on the South Bank, opening Nov. 6. It won the 2015 Olivier for Best Entertainment.
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