Critic’s Choice – Top 10 West End Musicals (31 March 15)

What Musical should you see first in London?

We have compiled this list to save you the trouble of working it out! It’s just our view – and everyone has one – based on our Reviewers’ thoughts. We will update the list regularly so new productions get on your radar and when original casts change that is factored in.

Plays which have been running for more than three years are not included – this is a list for new or relatively new productions running in London.

So go see them!

Katie Brayben plays carole King in Beautiful at London's Aldwych Theatre
Katie Brayben and Carole King in Beautiful. Photo: Brinkoff Mogenberg

1. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
The throbbing, majestic and luminous heart of this production comes from Katie Brayben’s faultless, radiant and absolutely triumphant turn as Carole King. Brayben recreates the feel, the sound, the look of Carole King in a completely authentic and resonant way – she feels like the natural woman.
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Charlie And The Chocolate Factory At The Theatre Royal Drury Lane

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Sam Mendes’ production of the musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in excellent shape. Nothing indicates that more clearly than the show not missing a beat despite the fact that three understudies were called upon to perform. The company didn’t hiccup. Routines are polished and well-drilled; Mark Thompson’s wonderfully colourful, and sometimes colourless, costumes and sets are in pristine shape and conjure up the requisite sense of magic effortlessly. The tunefulness and sprightly fun of Marc Shaiman’s music remains infectious and sweet.
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Siobhan McCarthy and Jeremy Secomb in Tooting Arts Club's Sweeney Todd.
Siobhan McCarthy and Jeremy Secomb in Tooting Arts Club’s Sweeney Todd. Photo: Bronwen Sharp

3. Sweeney Todd
Eschewing grandeur and wisely opting to follow that sensible motto, Less Is More, this transfer of the Tooting Arts Club production of late 2014 is a complete triumph in every way. It takes you by the throat and clasps you firmly in its thrall for its entire duration. It is shockingly powerful, brutally honest, raw and rich at the same time. A cast of eight, a band of three, clever but simple lighting, the potent power of blood and candles, economy in every department, a dedication to the text and the score: these are the ingredients of this absolute success.
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4. Cats
The very best aspect of this production is the power, energy and sheer musicality Graham Hurman brings to the score. The orchestra is sizzling, sparking musical energy through every bar of Lloyd-Webber’s rich and diverse score. There is discipline, sensuality, a real sense of tribal connection and acrobatic excellence in the dancing here; it all feels fresh, precise and vigorous.
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5. Made In Dagenham
When Made In Dagenham is focussed on the fairy tale, it is completely engaging, very funny, heart-warming and genuinely affecting. And intrinsically British. It runs the whole spectrum from cute giggle to silent, handkerchief-drenching tears; a musical roller-coaster with more highs than lows.
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6. Miss Saigon
It’s a palpable hit, a wonderful, searing and soaring revival of Miss Saigon borne aloft by three remarkable performances from Noblezada, Hong and Carroll.
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Killian Donnelly and Beverley Knight in Memphis. Photo: Johan Persson
Killian Donnelly and Beverley Knight in Memphis. Photo: Johan Persson

7. Memphis
More than anything else, Memphis is about change and acceptance, and the important way culture and art (music, in this case) can be transformative in important and tangible ways. But it is not worthy or earnest in any way; rather, it relies upon humour, heart and hockadoo, creating mini-tornadoes of singing and dancing joy to propel your spirit into the stratosphere.
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Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown at Playhouse Theatre

8. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Tamsin Greig is the lead performer here. She is perfect for the acting requirements. She has style, a sense of whimsical élan and a marvellous comic ability. She lands all the jokes and finds the true sense of despair which defines her character. But – Greig can’t give full measure and depth to the tunes she is asked to sing.
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book of mormon 2

9. Book of Mormon
For my part, it is as plain as a pike staff that the performers at hard work in this Parker, Lopez and Stone piece are, uniformly, at the top of their game and give more than 100% constantly. This production is far, far better than that original Broadway production.
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10. Sunny Afternoon
There is a lot to like in Sunny Afternoon and overall the experience is more than satisfactory. It is great fun. Well worth seeing and hard not to enjoy.
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