Take a Break and Escape to London Theater Land

From the Adelphi to the Victoria Palace, central London has over forty theatres. For countless visitors, ‘taking in a show’ is one of the key attractions – but with so much choice on offer, where do they start?

London’s biggest concentration of theaters lies at the heart of the bustling West End, traditionally bordered by The Strand, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Kingsway. Some people also include the complex on the South Bank in this definition of Theatreland. The Strand itself is one of the prominent streets for theatres, together with Drury Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue.

The majority of the theaters are from the late Victorian or Edwardian period, with fascinating histories attached. Most of them retain great character and, for many visitors, entering a theater’s grand facade and taking in its detailed, luxurious interior all enhances their enjoyment of the show itself.

Musicals are the firmest favorite with theater-goers and so tend to run longer than stage plays, many of them for thousands of performances. In fact, Les Miserables, currently at the Queen’s Theatre, has been running for a phenomenal 24 years. It has even earned its own colloquial name of ‘Les Miz.’ Based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel bearing the same name, the musical follows the intertwining haytheatre.com lives of a cast of poor, unfortunate characters struggling for redemption.

Heart strings are also tugged in Willy Russell’s long-running musical Blood Brothers, currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre. Now in its twentieth year, it tells the contemporary story of twins who were separated at birth, tragically both falling for the same girl.

There is certainly no shortage of musicals to choose from. Content can range from sad and thought-provoking, right through the fun of Mamma Mia! at the Prince of Wales Theater and on up to futuristic, such as We Will Rock You, with its bumper stock of Queen songs and now in its eighth year at The Dominion.

Meanwhile, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s productions continue to prove incredibly popular. His musical Cats ran for almost 9,000 performances and his equally successful Phantom of the Opera, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, is at Her Majesty’s Theater enjoying its 23rd year. Lloyd Webber’s new musical, Love Never Dies, opens in March 2010 at The Adelphi and picks up the story of ‘Phantom.’

Also popular are stage plays, many of which enjoy lengthy runs, although none have yet caught The Mousetrap, currently showing at St Martins Theatre, which has now been playing for a staggering 56 years. As this murder mystery play by Agatha Christie has a twist at the end, which audiences are asked to keep to themselves, there must be thousands of people longing to tell someone the ending!

The Woman in Black, adapted from Susan Hill’s horror novel, still has the audience shaking in their seats at the Fortune Theatre. This stage play about a sinister specter haunting a small English town is now in its 21st year.

Other, less-menacing shows also appear to be set for long runs. The Lion King, for instance, is still drawing in strong audiences at The Lyceum ten years after its opening, as is Billy Elliott at the Victoria Palace Theatre, currently dancing into its fourth year.

Musicals performing songs that are already well-known, such as Grease (Piccadilly Theatre) and the more recent Thriller (Lyric) continue to be popular with those looking for a ‘sing-along’ element. Also enjoying open-ended runs are Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre, Dirty Dancing at the Aldwych and the more recent Sister Act at the London Palladium,

Some shows lend themselves to much shorter, seasonal runs for smaller audiences, such as A Christmas Carol at the two-tier auditorium of the Arts Theater in Westminster.

One thing is for sure, seasonal or long-running, the productions playing in London’s West End Theaters seem set to draw in audiences for many thousands of performances to come.

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