It's been a brilliant year for shows. I have come out of multiple ones this year exclaiming "That is the best thing I've ever seen" - so collating my favourites of the year in some sort of coherent order has been no easy task, but I have tried anyway.
I haven'y included any streams in the list this year and am only including shows that opened in 2021 so existing shows I still love won't be included.
I should point out of course this is my own opinion and speaks more for my own (sometimes questionable) taste than fact. What I will say is the quality this year has been exceptionally high so limiting to just 10 was pretty impossible. With that in mind, here are the amazing shows who missed out on top 10 but still made my top 20.
Click each one to read my original review:
So, here is my top 10 of the year:
A late addition to the list, Curve Leicester have staged a fantastic revival of this classic featuring a star turn from Carly Mercedes Dyer. Iconic numbers like 'One', 'What I Did For Love' and 'The Music and the Mirror' are staged flawlessly, making this fabulous to witness. It finishes its run this week but I'd expect further life for this production.
A show I've always loved, the timing for this revival was perfect (even if it did arrive much later than planned) bringing us some much needed joy after what had been an incredibly tough year. I found myself overwhelmed and emotional the first time I saw it, with Marisha Wallace bringing new depth to 'I Know Where I've Been'. A brilliant cast and great staging, it was a big show on a big stage and just what we all needed.
Having had two runs at Southwark Playhouse interrupted due to multiple lockdowns, the pandemic finally did something positive for Aria Ents incredible production of The Last Five Years, allowing it to enjoy a short West End run. An already impressive show was taken to new heights with Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson better than ever in the roles. Let's hope there is more life for what I consider to be the definitive production of this amazing show. *cough* Give us a cast recording!
The Rodgers & Hammerstein classic was revived in this jawdropping production that blew me away from its opening minute. With an incredible cast including Julian Ovenden, Rob Houchen and Gina Beck plus a standout performance from Joanna Ampil as Bloody Mary, this will thankfully enjoy further life in 2022 with a UK tour including a month run at Sadlers Wells in London.
I was lucky enough to see the musical version of this classic film in its short run in Manchester last year. The visual effects were out of this world, so I made sure I was at the first preview when it finally hit the West End this year. As good as I found it in Manchester, it was even better this time around. Utterly joyous and full of nostalgia, whether you're a fan of the films or not, there's something for everyone in this great production. Olly Dobson and Roger Bart are mesmerising as the much loved characters Marty and Doc while Hugh Coles is scene-stealing as Marty's dad George.
The Broadway sensation arrived in the West End a year later than planned with Jamie Bogyo and Liisi LaFontaine leading an awe-inspiring cast. Visually, this is the best thing you will see in the theatre. Immersive in feel, it is a feast for the eyes both on the stage and around the theatre where no expense has been spared. Full of amazing songs you know and love performed beautifully, I loved this more than I ever expected to.
Covid put a stop to the shows official press night earlier this month so I've not been able to properly review the show yet. As long as nothing else changes, look out for my review in the second week of January.
Just when you thought it was safe to escape the earworm that is 'Let It Go', Frozen returned - this time as a West End musical. I saw this on Broadway several years ago and definitely liked it but wouldn't have called it a favourite. The West End version changed all that - improving on the original including a new song, new dialogue and new staging, it upped the ante and turned this into an amazing show. I felt like a little kid on the first night and kept coming back for more - it was my joint most seen show of the year with 5 visits to Arendelle.
It actually improves on the movie with fantastic new songs such as 'Monster' while Act 2 opener 'Hygge' remains as the funniest theatre moment of the year (apologies if that song is now in your head, but it has spent most of the year in mine). Samantha Barks and Steph McKeon are the perfect leads as sisters Elsa and Anna, making this one of the finest shows in the West End at the moment.
Perhaps an unexpected inclusion in the list - As excited as I was for the Almeida's revival of Spring Awakening, I didn't expect it to be THIS good. One of the shows that made me fall in love with musical theatre when it was last in the West End (Showing my age now) and one of my most listened to cast recordings, this production amazingly improved on the original with inventive staging and a stunning cast.
Its standout moment sees it ripping up the rulebook for an urgent and rebellious 'Totally F***ed' which seemed to sum up the feelings of so many of us today - it is up there for me as one of the three single greatest performances of the year as well as two numbers from the two shows that just edged it out this year.
The top 2 were incredibly close. At different points this year, I called both of them my favourite show of the year so it took a lot of thought - a lot more than it probably needed. But I have finally decided...
Much was said about this new production of Cabaret which converted the Playhouse Theatre into the Kit Kat Club. With a cast led by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne joined by the incredible Jessie Buckley, it became the hottest ticket in town - and rightly so. Unique and immersive staging that makes you feel a part of the show with the action starting the moment you walk in the door led to an intimate experience like Secret Cinema.
The performances are of such a high quality though so the intimate nature only heightens this, with Eddie Redmayne proving why he is such a well regarded actor and Jessie Buckley giving a performance that future historians will study for "How to win an Olivier". There are many standout moments in this show but the way Jessie tackles the title number has to be my favourite three minutes I have experienced in a theatre this year.
Ultimately the decision came down to what brought me the most joy this year and for that, there could only be one winner:
Where do I begin? Having never seen the show or even the movie before, I had only booked tickets to see a star who pulled out to be replaced by someone called Sutton Foster. I kept my tickets, not expecting much and sat in the front row on the very first night with tears rolling down my face. In the interval, I exclaimed "This is the best thing I have ever seen" much to the amusement of my friends. While other shows blew me away through the year (Admittedly, it's a very strong top 10) Anything Goes was THE show of the year for me.
I was already hooked from the opening scene at the bar but when the stage revealed itself, I was obsessed. Suttons performance was like nothing I had ever seen before, and left me sure she would win the Olivier (until Jessie Buckley came along, that is). Robert Lindsay was equally impressive, especially with his ad libs that changed nightly. And for the second time in this list, Carly Mercedes Dyer stole the show with her small but memorable role as Erma.
The 'Anything Goes' sequence that closes act one is singlr handedly the greatest thing I have ever seen and had the audience leaping to their feet every night. Lightning struck twice though as Act 2's 'Blow, Gabriel, Blow' was every bit as magical, with 'Friendship' another highlight of the show. This show was the harmless fun we all needed after a tough year. I would never have expected it to be my favourite show of 2021 but in a year full of incredible shows, Anything Goes really was the top.
MY 2021 STATS:
Theatre trips: 125
Different shows seen: 96
Most Seen: Anything Goes & Frozen (5 times each)
That's not including all the amazing streams that also came out, mainly in the first half of the year.
So many fantastic shows this year, I could have done a top 40 full of shows I truly loved. Thank you to everyone who put on theatre this year - the good, the bad and the plain weird. I appreciated every single trip I took to the theatre and never took any of it for granted.
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my unique taste? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.com/ATDazzles
See you all in 2022!