Queen's Theatre Archive

Current show: The legendary musical Les Miserables

Opening here at the Queen's Theatre in February 2002 was was a transfer from Wilton's Music Hall of The Mysteries (Yiimimangaliso). Performed by a large cast South African singers, dancers and storytellers, the show was a South African interpretation of the Chester Mystery Plays, performed in Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans and English, with music, mostly vocal, by a mixed-race, mostly black cast. The production enjoyed a three month West End season. In June 2002 it was replaced by another South African show, Umoja. This song-and-dance show had actually been forced to close down after earlier in the year when it had been staged at the Shaftesbury Theatre due to the noise it made (!). The show transferred here in June 2002 and played for 11 weeks.

In October 2002 the dance/musical Contact opened here at the Queen's Theatre having already been successfully staged on Broadway where it won four Tony Awards include for 'Best Musical' and 'Best Choreography'. Choreographed by Susan Stroman, the show was based around the concept of people's struggle to connect with each other in the big city. She was devising the show while her husband, theatre director Mike Ockrent, was terminally ill with Leukaemia. "He was the perfect person," she said. "That cliché, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, applies to me. I have to be thankful for that. Contact became for me a great place of solace. I was creating it in the basement of the Lincoln Centre while Mike was ill. I would spend the days in the hospital and evenings doing Contact, going back and forth from one institution to the other. Immersing myself in art saved me, and has saved me since. I don't know how widows cope with the grieving if they don't have art in their life. For a while after Mike's death it was quite difficult to watch the show. One time I went back and explained that to the company because I didn't want them to think I was abandoning them. But it was difficult." Her inspiration for the show came when somebody suggested she and Mike visit a bar in Manhattan which had a 'swing-dance' evening, once-a-week. "Mike and I went there and it was interesting; They were office workers in their thirties and forties, doing contact dancing, touching. That hasn't happened since the twist came in. They were not dancing to big band sounds but contemporary songs. Then a girl in a yellow dress came in. She sat on the bar stool, danced with different men, and vanished. I later based Contact on that idea. It is about taking chances. The main character has to take a chance and, even though he doesn't know how to - the idea of dancing is frightening to him - he has to hold out his arms and ask, 'Will you dance with me?'" Part of the problem she thought was being single in a big city: "We all live on top of each other but we don't seem able to meet anybody. I wanted to create something that would appeal to contemporary audiences, to people who have moved to New York because they want to be best at whatever it is they have chosen to do. Then they find themselves alone. I knew that idea would appeal to New Yorkers but I am surprised at the way audiences in other cities have responded. Obviously it is a more widespread phenomenon than I realised. Of all the shows I have ever done, I have received most letters about this one. Not fan mail. One letter, for instance, was from a man who had always wanted to ask out a woman with whom he worked but did not have the courage. The message he took away from Contact was that you have to try something new, open your eyes and your heart. Take a chance. "And a woman wrote to tell me that after seeing Did You Move? she left an abusive husband she had been married to for 14 years. Musicals can make you laugh or cry but they don't usually make you change the way you live. We all need to lead a balanced life but we don't. I did. Hopefully I will again one day. In the meantime I work seven days a week. It is my escape route but I am aware of that, so it is OK." The show enjoyed a run of just over six months before closing in May 2003.

Richard O'Brien's cult musical The Rocky Horror Show played for a strictly limited two week season here at the end of June 2003 as part of a UK regional tour. This was then followed in September 2003 by Cyberjam, and American jazz-pop pageant style show. "This US enterprise is precise, but little else," wrote The Independent about the show. "Nearly all of the 36 cast members play instruments, as well as dance or bounce on trampolines, and are depersonalised into parts of a dance machine, the choreography of which is derived from TV variety shows and cheerleaders' routines. The music is similarly undistinguished: 'Rhapsody', with a few bars of 'Glow-worm' added, Dave Brubeck, and Chuck Mangione et al are processed into Latiny, jazzy, workout music." The show played for an extended season up to early January 2004. Later that same month the Royal Shakespeare Company transferred two of their productions here from Stratford: Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher's 'sequel' The Tamer Tamed which played together for a seven week repertory season up to March 2004.

After playing at the 1,400-seater Palace Theatre for a record-breaking 19 years, Cameron Mackintosh's production of Les Miserables downsized by moving to the 990-seater Queen's Theatre from April 2004. Moving into the smaller theatre also meant that the orchestra pit was smaller so, somewhat controversially, the orchestra was halved in size from 22 players, down to 11 players, with a Sinfonia machine added - also known as a virtual orchestra - capable of mimicking the sound of 300 different instruments. Although this was opposed by the Musicians' Union, the arrangement went through with Cameron Mackintosh saying that any savings made would be outweighed by the costs of moving the production and by the theatre being smaller, with 30% less seats to sell. When the production was updated in 2011 to incorporate changes from the 25th anniversary UK tour that had taken place the previous year, the orchestra was enlarged to 14 players. Managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Limited, Nicholas Allott, explained that the new orchestrations are "more acoustic in nature and rely less on electronic sounds". The changes to the orchestrations also meant that the Sinfonia is no longer being used.