Ah, the West End. The home of London theatre. There’s nowhere else like it in the world. People travel from all over to see a London show – and with good reason. London musicals are the best.
From Les Misérables to Kinky Boots, Disney’s The Lion King to Wicked, and many more, London’s West End has some of the biggest and most diverse shows in history. But it takes more than a Shaftesbury Avenue address and some glitzy lights to create a great production. Memorable music, a heartfelt plot, relatable characters and sensational performances – it all adds up to an incredible experience. But there’s even more to spectacular live theatre than that. Here are our top 10 reasons to love London musicals… in no particular order.
1. London musicals start conversations
We’re not just talking water cooler chit-chat about the great show you saw last night. Musical theatre has long brought important cultural and political issues to the foreground. From the likes of Hair to Rent, and The Book Of Mormon to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, musicals have always had a way of making people think outside the box and consider other points of view.
For decades, stage shows have made difﬁcult and sometimes contentious topics approachable for people of all ages – often aiding understanding and acceptance. And it doesn’t stop at current issues. Musicals can also make history fun and interesting to younger generations. Don’t believe us? Try talking to your 13-year-old niece about Alexander Hamilton – she’ll teach you things about the American revolution you never learned at school.
2. West End shows have the best dance numbers
Spotify will have you believe that soundtracks are the be-all and end-all of a great musical. But they’re wrong. London shows have some of the best choreography you’ll ever see and you can ﬁnd all genres of dance on London stages. Discover the forgotten art of tap dancing with 42nd Street, embrace all that jazz with Chicago, or have a ball with Strictly Ballroom – it’s all there and it’s all breathtaking.
3. Nothing beats the energy of London musicals
As well as the exercise-inducing excitement, live theatre offers an atmosphere you won’t ﬁnd anywhere else. Those brilliant performers we mentioned? Yeah, they’re great because of you. Raw talent and years of training can only get them so far.
The contagious electricity of the audience, that’s what makes them so good. And because of that, no two performances of London musicals are the same. Of course, the score will be the same and the story won’t differ, but every time you see a show, you’ll experience it differently. That’s the gift of live performance. Not to mention the fact that you can see multiple actors play the same role during a run…
4. West End theatres are beautiful and full of history
Many of the London theatres date back hundreds of years. Theatre Royal Drury Lane has been entertaining audiences since 1663 and the Theatre Royal Haymarket has been open since 1720. Though not all London theatres date back 300 years, almost all of them have been open for over a century.
Now, don’t get us wrong, the shows are the main draw but before that curtain goes up and you’re whisked away on an epic journey, have a good look at the building around you. Many West End theatres have original or replica features. From gold gilding to painted ceilings, these playhouses are majestic and unlike any theatres you can ﬁnd elsewhere in the world.
5. Live theatre is a hearty affair
Did you know that seeing a show really gets your heart pumping? It’s not just a saying, it’s actually true! According to a study by University College London and the University of Lancaster, audience members watching Dreamgirls experienced an elevated heart rate for 28 minutes of the show. The increase recorded is actually considered the optimal heart rate to stimulate cardio ﬁtness and stamina according to the British Heart Foundation, meaning the audience members were working out while sitting in the theatre.
Not only that, another study from University College London suggests that your heartbeat can synchronise with your surrounding audience members when you’re watching a live performance.
6. London musicals give you that warm fuzzy feeling
It’s an absolute phenomenon. No matter the subject, no matter the number of deaths you witness during the two-hour show, you’ll leave the theatre feeling upbeat and alive! Even if you do end up crying your eyes out, experiencing the lives of those characters and taking part in a standing ovation will have you feeling on top of the world when you exit the theatre.
And that’s just the tragedies. Jukebox musicals will leave you nostalgic and dancing in the streets. Comedies will have you belly laughing so hard it’ll give your abs a workout. But no matter what you see, you’ll have your spirits lifted and your adrenaline rushing through your veins.
7. London musicals are a great way to introduce children to theatre
Plays are great but for young children, they can sometimes be a little hard to follow. That’s why musicals are ideal for under 10s. With bright colours, joyful songs, and endearing characters, London musicals are magical. They’re the perfect way to entertain the kids while keeping yourself amused, too.
Shows such as The King And I, School Of Rock – The Musical and Wicked will grab your young’un’s attention and make them want to go back to the theatre time and again. Plus, with initiatives like Kids Week, treating your little ones to an experience of a lifetime is affordable as children tickets are free when they’re accompanied by a full-paying adult.
8. London musicals have the best performers
“Triple threats”. That’s what they call performers who can sing, dance and act. And these talented souls are often treated like industry “unicorns” – rare, beautiful, mystical creatures that are hard to ﬁnd. But we know their natural habitat – the West End. Each and every London musical has a full cast of brilliant actors capable of making you laugh, cry and even hate them. Moving monologues, breathtaking solos, huge ensemble numbers performed by the entire cast – you can ﬁnd them all in a single London show.
That’s even before we broach the topic of A-list celebs taking to the stage. The likes of Hugh Jackman, Emma Thompson, Glenn Close, Imelda Staunton and Idina Menzel have all starred in shows in the West End in the past. And this year alone will see Cuba Gooding Jr and Will Young treading the boards in London musicals.
9. London theatre is incredible value for money
How much was your last cinema trip? It was probably a lot more expensive than you thought it would be. Especially when you consider the fact that you will probably be able to stream the same ﬁlm on Netﬂix in six months time… what a bummer.
Now, imagine going to the theatre for your next date night. Sounds kinda special, right? It sounds like it could be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. Many London musicals offer tickets for £10-£15, plus with sales like the Ofﬁcial London Theatre’s New Year Sale and last minute theatre tickets at TKTS Booth, you can see a live show for a lot less than you think.
Still not sure about which show to shell out on? You can get a taste of almost all of London’s musicals at West End LIVE – a weekend-long showcase of the top shows in London in Trafalgar Square every June. The best part? It’s completely free. Just be ready to want to buy tickets to every single show you get a sneak peek at.
10. There’s something for everyone
Guilty pleasure or die-hard fan. Everyone loves a musical. Whatever the occasion. Whomever the person. There’s a London show for everyone and London theatre tickets are a great gift.
Just name the scenario and we’ll match it to the ideal show. 10 year old’s birthday party? A trip to Matilda The Musical. A hip dad’s Father’s Day present? Tickets to Motown The Musical. A group of hens that love a dance? A fun night out at Mamma Mia!. And there’s so many other choices. Educational, jukebox, stage adaptations of much-loved movie… the West End has it all.
And even if you don’t know what show to choose, you can always get someone Theatre Tokens. Theatre Tokens are Gift Cards and eGifts that can be used at more than 240 venues nationwide – including all of London’s West End – so they can choose the right show for them.
First published 22 January 2018; Updated 27 June 2018