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Top 50 Of 2023: My Favourite Shows This Year

by Daz Gale


We're at the end of the year and what a twelve months 2023 has been. There has been no shortage of amazing shows that has regularly had me exclaiming "This is one of the best shows of the year" - but did all of the ones I gave that accolade to make the cut in what was a very competitive year?


As I did last year, I'm going to split this into three different categories:


Top 20 Plays 2023


Top 10 Concerts 2023


Top 20 Musicals 2023


The criteria for each is the show had to open or take place this year. If a show made my top 20 last year but returned this year in a near-identical production I have excluded them from the list in the spirit of fairness (and to stop it getting samey - we already know I love these shows) - this means my number one musical last year Bonnie & Clyde, Crazy For You and Ride are all excluded this year, even though they were all even better this year.


This is all my personal taste which is questionable at best, so prepare to be wowed by some very unique choices.


Click the link underneath each title to read the corresponding review from this year:


TOP 20 PLAYS 2023


20. The Lehman Trilogy (GIllian Lynne Theatre)



One of the first plays I saw this year set the bar high as three outstanding actors led a fantastically epic story that had me gripped from start to finish.



19. Vardy V Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial (Ambassador's Theatre)



Bringing the trial of Collen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy to a West End stage felt like a strange choice but it worked remarkably well. Camp yet captivating, it's...... a hit.



18. I F*cked You In My Spaceship (Soho Theatre/VAULT Festival)



Definitely the best-titled show on the list, this new play debuted at VAULT festival proving once again why outlets like that for new theatre is always so vital.



17. Noises Off (Phoenix Theatre)



The hilarious farce returned to the West End twice this year alone in a 40th anniversary production starring Tracy Ann Oberman,Felicity Kendal and Matthew Kelly.



16. The Father and the Assassin (National Theatre)



A return run for this riveting story about Gandhi and the man who killed him took an inventive use of storytelling that simultaneously entertains and educates.



15. The Crucible (Gielgud Theatre)



Following a run at National Theatre last year, a West End transfer made this new adaptation of Arthur Miller's even better with a great cast, fantastic staging and brilliantly inventive curtain.



14. Bacon (Riverside Studios)



A two-hander which approved difficult subjects admirably in a disturbing but truly phenomenal watch. With the writing every bit as good as the performances, it definitely brought home the bacon.



13. Brokeback Mountain (@SohoPlace)



'Brokeback Mountain' got a stage adaptation at the newest West End theatre with Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges leading the show. Taking the story to new heights, it was fantastic on every level.



12. Pygmalion (Old Vic)



As part of a sensational year for The Old Vic, this new adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw classic starring Bertie Carvel and Patsy Ferran really was loverly.



11. ANIMAL (Park Theatre)



This warm, witty and wonderful new play challenged perceptions in a powerful way as this refreshingly accessible production penetrated my heart and made me explode with joy and love.



10. Rose (Ambassador's Theatre)



Starting as a streamed production in 2020, this revival went from strength to strength, culminating in a West End run. Starring Maureen Lipman, its ability to connect with the audience created a powerful experience.



9. The Motive and the Cue (Noel Coward Theatre)



Mark Gatiss and Johnny Flynn play Sir John Gielgud and Richard Burton in this brilliantly witty exploring power dynamics in what is ultimately a love letter to theatre.



8. Private Lives (Donmar Warehouse)



Two major productions of Noel Coward's classic opened in London this year but for me, it was the darker of the two which really appealed to me. A stunning cast and flawless direction led to a successful marriage… in the staging at least.


7. Stranger Things: The First Shadow (Phoenix Theatre)



A stage prequel to one of the biggest TV shows might not have worked in other hands, but theatre magic has truly been created in this magnificent production which turned the entire West End upside down.



6. For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy (Apollo Theatre)



Faultless in its execution, this powerful and thought-provoking show is the kind of show the West End had been crying out for and one that stayed in my mind long after I left the theatre, so it’s fantastic it will be returning for another run next year.



5. The Way Old Friends Do (Criterion Theatre)



This charming comedy was wickedly funny at times while proving sentimental throughout. Proof you can never have too many ABBA related shows, I had the time of my life watching this.



4. The Pillowman (Duke of York's Theatre)



Did anyone know I liked this show? Undoubtedly one of the best plays of the year… for me, at least – and I stand by that. It may have proved divisive and disturbing but if theatre at its best can stay with you long after you leave the theatre, this did the job.



3. Dear England (National Theatre/Prince Edward Theatre)



A play about football may not have been an obvious choice for my top 3 but this beautiful play about the beautiful game really hit the back of the net. Another goal for National Theatre this year.



2. Ulster American (Riverside Studios)



Two Hollywood A-listers star in this gritty, raw and unashamedly real dark comedy which is as shocking as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Uncomfortable to watch at times but consistently incredible throughout, this very nearly became my favourite play of the year.



1. Shirley Valentine (Duke of York's Theatre)



Sheridan Smith returned to the stage to take on the iconic role in Willy Russell’s one-woman show. Commanding the stage throughout, Sheridan gave a performance for the ages, breathing new life into an already well-loved story in what was, for me, the best play of the year.



TOP 10 CONCERTS 2023


10. Love Never Dies In Concert (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)



The Phantom sequel was a big surprise for me. Minimise the questionable book to let the glorious music shine and this production with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra was pretty stunning with Norm Lewis and Celinde Schoenmaker on fine form.



9. Barricade Boys – West End Party (Adelphi Theatre)



The musical theatre supergroup took over the Adelphi theatre for a huge party along with some very special guests. This was one show you couldn't help but smile all the way through.



8. Lucie Jones & The Fulltone Orchestra (UK Tour)



Lucie showed us why she is one of the best she is in an unforgettable concert full of songs she is known for, some surprises and a brilliantly chaotic duet with David Hunter.




7. Bat Boy The Musical In Concert (London Palladium)



Halloween saw the cult musical play in London with a cast including Jordan Luke Gage and a scene-stealing turn from Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, it left me longing to see more from this show.



6. Ariana DeBose – Authenticity (London Palladium)



Shortly after breaking the Internet with her thoughts on Angela Bassett, Ariana DeBose also did the thing with a mesmerising headline performance at the Palladium alongside the genius musical direction of Ben Rauhala.



5. Rachel Tucker In Concert (Cadogan Hall)



To launch her latest album, Rachel delivered an incredible concert, giving us a bit of Norma Desmond, nods to her career so far and a diverse setlist in a magnificent evening of performances.



4. Tosh Wanogho-Maud – Songs + Stories (Piano Smithfield)



For his first solo concerts, the West End star showed why he is one of the best in the business with his phenomenal vocals tackling a mix of musical theatre and some surprising choices, all displaying Tosh's unstoppable talents.



3. Carrie Hope Fletcher – An Open Book (UK Tour)



Carrie’s first UK tour saw the audience choose the setlist each night with her unrivaled ability for storytelling, brutal honesty and incredible vocals creating the most unique show of the year and one of the very best.



2. My Favorite Things – The Rodgers & Hammerstein 80th Anniversary Concert (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)



Rodgers & Hammerstein were celebrated in an enchanted evening featuring some of the finest from the West End and Broadway. The classic songbook was beautifully realised in a wonderful concert.



1. Death Note The Musical In Concert (London Palladium)



The English language and European premiere pushed the capabilities of what a concert could achieve in this semi-staged masterpiece. With Joaquin Pedro Valdes and Dean John Wilson killing everyone with their vocals, let's hope it comes back for more in 2024.



TOP 20 MUSICALS 2023


20. Great British Bake Off Musical (Noel Coward Theatre)



The iconic TV show was the unlikely source for this surprisingly showstopping musical which easily rose to the occasion. Pure joy in the bottle, this sweet show now has added poignancy given the tragic loss of star Haydn Gwynne earlier this year.



19. The Secret Life of Bees (Almeida Theatre)



The UK premiere of this new musical created a real buzz with a stunning cast and great material leading to moments of brilliance in an utterly beeautiful show.



18. In Dreams (Leeds Playhouse)



A jukebox musical based on the songs of Roy Orbinson made its world premiere in Leeds this year, with Lena Hall giving a jawdropping performance. Managing to be joyful and life-affirming, let’s hope we see more of this in 2024.



17. Flowers For Mrs Harris (Riverside Studios)



The London premiere of this loved story came at the right time – with its message of hope the remedy we need in a dark and scary world. A complete joy to watch, this deserved all the flowers it received.



16. The Book Thief (Curve Leicester)



Based on the best-selling novel, this beautiful and poignant musical truly stole my heart earlier this year and left me longing to see what the next chapter has in store for it.



15. The Witches (National Theatre)



National Theatre’s big Christmas musical was this premiere of the classic Roald Dahl story. Getting the tone just right, its impressive production value and sensational cast made me feel I had witnessed the birth of a new classic. The West End is waiting…



14. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Apollo Theatre)



The much-loved story got a musical adaptation with some innovative staging and a phenomenal cast to boot. It may have divided some but I couldn’t help but fall in love with the story which is close to being a masterpiece in itself.



13. Allegiance (Charing Cross Theatre)



George Takei brought his Broadway show to the West End in a show full of heart. Gorgeous songs and brilliant writing, this beautifully life-affirming show started the year on a high.



12. La Cage aux Folles (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)


Harvey Fierstein’s classic was given new life in this beautiful and heartwarming story, featuring one of the most showstopping numbers of the year in a truly faultless ‘I Am What I Am’.



11. 42nd Street (Sadler’s Wells & UK Tour)



A visual spectacular, this new production was markedly different from the 2017 West End production but still distinctively 42nd Street. Incredible dancing and a fantastic cast, this classic may have been better than ever before.



10. Operation Mincemeat (Fortune Theatre)



After tweaking the show for years, the definitive version of this musical hit the West End where it has taken on a life of its own. Cleverly written and flawlessly executed, is this show brilliant? Does a newt have a penis?


9. Ain’t Too Proud (Prince Edward Theatre)



The jukebox musical based on the legendary Motown group crossed the pond for an all too short run. With timeless songs, slick choreography and a truly exceptional cast, it ticked all the boxes for me.



8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Southwark Playhouse Elephant)



Returning to London after 4 years, this musical got better with age in what was an incredibly special show. With a cast as brilliant as the writing, this show had no shortage of heart and I hope has a long life ahead of it.



7. Police Cops The Musical (Southwark Playhouse Borough)



The funniest show of the year, Police Cops are on to a winner in what was one of the best damn musicals ever (this year). With a transfer to a bigger venue next year already announced, this hilarious show could become the next Operation Mincemeat.



6. Standing At The Sky’s Edge (Olivier Theatre)



The love letter to Sheffield finally made it to London ahead of a West End run from February. Well thought out, ingeniously written and expertly performed, the heart and emotion elevated it to an exceptional level. It just got edged out of a position in the top 5.



5. Guys & Dolls (Bridge Theatre)



Turning this classic musical into an immersive experience was a gamble but one that paid off completely. Ripping up the rulebook, this is a production like no other, astounding at every turn with the way it transports you into their world. A stunning cast including Marisha Wallace, Cedric Neal, Daniel Mays and Celinde Schoenmaker were just one of the flawless elements that made this one of the best musicals of the year – not to mention the greatest finale you will ever experience in theatre.



4. The Little Big Things (@SohoPlace)



The world was waiting for a musical like this. Adapting the story of Henry Fraser based on his memoir, inventive staging, an expert cast and much needed representation and accessibility in the West End made this the best new musical of the year. With the effortless way it can strike you right in your heart and make you cry tears of joy, this was the perfect example of theatre being able to make you feel. A truly special show, it may be wrapping up its West End run in March but I hope it’s not too long before we see this masterpiece again.



3. Next To Normal (Donmar Warehouse)



The cult favourite finally made it to London in a sensitive and sensational story full of phenomenal writing and the best cast you will have seen in the West End this year, all of whom deserve awards for their incredible performances though notably Caissie Levy and Jack Wolfe who both delivered two of the three singular best performances of the year for me. It thankfully will be back in 2024 for a limited run in the West End and I would encourage everybody to see this if they can.



2. Groundhog Day (Old Vic)



Am I getting déjà vu? One of my favourite shows of 2016 returned to repeat their acclaimed season again, and it was possibly even better this time around. With Andy Karl reprising his Olivier Award winning performance as Phil Connors, joined by Tanisha Spring, it reaffirmed why I have always considered this one of my personal favourite shows. For all its strengths – mostly down to Tim Minchin’s impressively layered writing, it is one particular sequence that makes it stand apart from the rest and that is the pure magic that is ‘Hope’ – a sequence I widely consider to be one of the single greatest in any musical ever. This is one show I’d happily see again and again – let’s hope we can get it back in the UK before too long.



I expected Groundhog Day to end the year as my number one show, thinking it was unbeatable but then I wasn’t prepared for my favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to come back. Well, not so much a comeback but a return…


1. Sunset Boulevard (Savoy Theatre)



The news that Jamie Lloyd was directing a new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic starring Nicole Scherzinger raised a few eyebrows. This was theatre at its boldest and bravest, completely ripping up what Sunset Boulevard is known for and bringing something new and unexpected to the table, while still miraculously retaining the very essence of the story. Any doubts about Nicole Scherzinger’s abilities were quashed the moment she opened her mouth, delivering a performance for the ages with her rousing take on the iconic character and one I’m sure will be bagging her an Olivier award next year. The production may have been divisive to some, but that is the beauty in the theatre and surely better than a show being boring? For me, it was like nothing I had ever seen before and I loved every minute of it. A show I had considered to be my favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, I didn’t think it could get better than seeing Glenn Close perform it at the Coliseum. I was wrong. This production was everything I love about theatre condensed into one show while adding in elements I never expected to see – the cinematography aspect and THAT act 2 opening, for example.


2023 may have been a very strong year with musicals with all of the top 5 easily being able to claim number one in a normal year, but this is 2023 and the honour of my favourite musical of the year goes to this absolute triumph which came home at last. It really is the greatest show of all.



What an incredible year for theatre. It was tough to fit in all the shows I wanted to in a fantastic year. 2024 is looking equally impressive – if you haven’t already, have a look at my 60 top picks for new shows opening next year.


What were your favourites of the year? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Are there any you think I’m crazy for including? Let me know in the comments, on X, Instagram or Facebook.


See you in the theatre!

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