Shaftesbury Theatre Archive

Current show: Motown the Musical

The late 1990s at the Shaftesbury Theatre saw the West End transfer of Jonathan Larson's eagerly anticipated Tony Award and Pulitzer Prizing winning musical Rent arrive in May 1999 starring Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal and Wilson Jermaine Heredia reprising their roles of the critically acclaimed Broadway production. But unfortunately, while the Broadway production run for some 12 years - the West End production closed after only 17 months. It was replaced in December 1999 by a family friendly stage musical adaptation of the film Casper the Musical which had been originally specially written to be performed at Butlins Holiday Camps and which featured a cast mostly made up of former Redcoats who used to work at Butlins. It played for a strictly limited two month season before going on tour.

The next two shows at the Shaftesbury Theatre both had a French influence - the first new show of 2000 was Charles Aznavour's new musical Lautrec about the painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec which closed early after just 10 weeks and was followed later in the year in October 2000 by a new musical about the life of Napoleon and his love for Josephine, directed by Francesca Zambello he show managed a slightly longer run of some 16 weeks.

Having enjoyed success on television with the same format, comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner brought their show Baddiel and Skinner: Unplanned to the Shaftesbury in April 2001 for a strictly limited run of 31 shows of 'completely spontaneous comic tittle-tattle and persiflage inspired by questions from you, the audience.' With literally just two blokes, one sofa and no script, all tickets were sold for just 10.00. In the summer of 2001 Ruthie Henshall starred in the title role of the new musical Peggy Sue Got Married, based on the hit film which starred Kathleen Turner. Written for the stage by the original film writers, Jerry Leichting and Arlene Sarner and featuring a brand new score by Four Seasons' member Bob Gaudio, the musical received mixed notices and closed after eight weeks. Seeing 2001 out was the South African song and dance show Umoja which opened in November 2001. Devised and created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni - who were behind the 1970s hit Ipi Ntombi - the show got great reviews from the critics but not so good reviews from neighbours living adjacent to the Shaftesbury Theatre complained about the noise. Although the producers, neighbours and local council endeavoured to reach a compromise, a Noise Abatement Notice was served by the local authority which forced the show to close on Wednesday 6 February 2002. The show finally managed to find a new home at the Queens Theatre four months later. In September 2002 the creators of Buddy, Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, brought their new musical 125th Street to the Shaftesbury which run for 17 weeks. Based around a live TV broadcast of the famous talent night at the Apollo Theatre in New York in 1969, the show featured a special section when a real-life amateur, picked from open auditions, sung a song as part of the story.

In June 2003 Toyah Willcox headlined the musical Calamity Jane which featured choreography by Craig Revel Horwood. Based on the Doris Day film, this was the first time ever that the musical has been staged in London's West End. The production came in to the West End for a strictly limited season up to September 2003, following a major national tour. In October the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie transferred from Broadway in a re-cast production which starred Amanda Holden in the title role along with Sheila Ferguson and Maureen Lipman. Based on the 1967 Oscar winning film about Millie, a young girl from Kansas who comes to New York in search of a new life for herself in the 'Roaring 20's', the show enjoyed an eight month run before it closed in June 2004

Next up in September 2004 was another transfer from New York of the new musical comedy, Bat Boy The Musical which featured Deven May in the title role of 'Bat Boy', the role that he originally created in New York. The musical inspired by the capture of a live bat-child in the hills of West Virginia as reported in The Weekly World News which skyrocketed the publication's circulation making tabloid history, though the stage production didn't break any 'long-running' records at the Shaftesbury Theatre, closing after just over four months. A new stage musical version of MM Kaye's The Far Pavilions was next to open at the Shaftesbury in April 2005 and run for five months. Written by Philip Henderson and Stephen Clark the show was set in the India of the British Raj at the end of the 19th century two star-crossed lovers are caught up in a passionate and haunting love story.

Following a critically acclaimed season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park in the summer of 2003, Ian Talbot's production of Cole Porter's musical High Society finally managed to find a West End home with a roof over it when it opened here in a re-cast staging in October 2005 'starring' Jerry Hall in the minor role of 'Mrs Lord', Tracy Lord's mother. Unfortunately less than two weeks after opening, Jerry Hall had to withdraw from the production due to illness - she said: "It is with great sadness that I have to leave the cast of High Society as I am suffering from Epstein Bar Virus (glandular fever) which I first fell ill with last year. My doctor has said that I must have a period of complete rest," adding that "I have had such a wonderful experience with a great cast and I wish them all the very best."

The Boney M Musical Daddy Cool was the next to open here in September 2006. Based on the music of Boney M and songs from the Frank Farian catalogue, the musical was set in multicultural London and told the story of Sunny, a young man who lives for his music. Caught up in local rivalry between East and West London crews, he meets and falls in love with Rose, daughter of the East End's notorious club owner Ma Baker. This was followed in May 2007 by the transfer from the Aldwych Theatre of the long running show Fame the Musical. Having originally opened in London's West End in June 1995 this production had already played a number of different theatres before coming to the Shaftesbury Theatre and finally closing in September 2007. The London production of Broadway's hit musical comedy Hairspray opened at the Shaftesbury in October 2007 starring Michael Ball as 'Edna Turnblad'. The production went on to run for over 1,000 performances over some two and a half years - becoming the theatre's second longest running production after the 1968 musical Hair.

Next up in July 2010 was a limited six week season of Burn the Floor. Blending Latin and Ballroom dance together, the show was first conceived as a special performance at Sir Elton John's 50th birthday celebration in 1997. Two years later it made its world premiere in Bournemouth, and it finally made it into London's West End following a season in New York. This was then followed in October 2010 by another dance heavy show - Flashdance the Musical. Set in Pittsburgh, the musical tells the story of 18 year old Alex, a welder by day and 'flashdancer' by night, whose dream is to obtain a place at the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy. Based on the Paramount Pictures film, this new stage production was choreographed by Arlene Phillips. In June 2011 Derren Brown brought his new show Derren Brown: Svengali to the Shaftesbury Theatre for a limited five week season. This was then quickly followed in September 2011 by the London production of the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages which enjoyed a 15 month run before transferring to the smaller Garrick Theatre.

Having already played a six week season here at the Shaftesbury Theatre in summer 2010, the ballroom dance show Burn the Floor returned in March 2013 for a four month season, this time starring Robin Windsor and Kristina Rihanoff along with special guest Karen Hauer. This will them be followed by the World Premiere of the new musical From Here to Eternity, adapted from the novel by James Jones, and featuring lyrics by Sir Tim Rice's new musical which opened in October 2013 and run for five months before closing in March 2014, but not before the production was filmed for an initial limited cinema release and subsequent DVD release. Next was a transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre of the classic musical The Pajama Game which played for a summer season of just under five months from May to September 2014. This was followed by another transfer, this time from New York's Broadway, of Memphis the Musical from October 2014. The magic show The Illusionists - Witness the Impossible played for a Chrismas holiday season from November 2015, while the jukebox musical Motown the Musical opened here in March 2016.