Confession: The very first West End Theatre Show In London I saw was years and years ago and I remember being very unenthusiastic prior to seeing it.
It was all Lloyd’s idea; mostly to escape the cold in London. We’d all popped round to celebrate New Year’s in London (we hadn’t moved to London back then) and on one of the free afternoons afterwards, walking around in freezing London, we found ourselves at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square and decided to go see a West End Show.
Thing is, because it was January, the ticket prices were so much cheaper (like half price for most of the main shows) and the seat availability was fantastic.
That being said, I still remember being shocked at the ticket prices (even with the discount) and wondering why we didn’t just go the cinema instead (there were at least 3 right next to us at that exact moment). I think I took a few minutes (like I literally left the queue) to decide on if it was worth it or not.
Eventually, I remember just thinking “What the heck? Might as well…” as with a shrug, we booked our tickets for Les Miserables for that very same evening.
FYI, if ever there was a show to get you into West End shows in London, Les Miserables is it! I remember being transfixed from beginning till the end, and even crying at one point in the show.
(*That last bit totally took me by surprise! I mean come on – I knew it was just a show after all and not real but that scene in particular, just seemed to wrangle out a series surprising tear from me. I remember seeing the guy with his family next to us crying too so in a rather silly way, I felt a tad reassured that it wasn’t just me. 😆).
Suffice to say, I left Les Miserables a total convert to West End shows and have no hesitation whatsoever when it comes to seeing musical, plays or anything else in the West End. They’re such an amazing part of living in London, chock-full of some of the most talented performers you’ve ever witnessed and an absolutely must-do when you’re in London!
More recently, I was going through a list of West End shows and it was only then I realised I’d been to a fair few! So much so that if you were looking for tips on which shows to see (with absolutely no spoilers), well I’ve got just the thing for you below.
Just a little word of caution. West End theatre shows in London, come and go…and come and go again and basically carry on in this pattern (except the good old reliables like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and probably Wicked since it came to London) so while I can’t guarantee that all of the shows below will be available when you’re in London, I can guarantee that if you’re up for a great West End show in London – these shows below are the ones you definitely have to watch!
* P.S.: If you want absolutely no spoilers, you might want to skip the sub-sections titled “PLOT“.
1.) Les Miserables
The only West End show that has ever made me cry (twice… and at exactly the same scene too! You’d think I would have been more emotionally prepared the second time but no, sobbing like a baby).
If you’ve seen the film, then the musical is pretty much like the film, the film stayed true to it. Only thing is the singing on stage is soooooo much better than the film. And I’m not particularly an elitist when it comes to things like this but no matter how talented the actors in the movies are, their singing by and large pales in comparison to the stage play.
This is reassuring as it’s one of the reasons I’d still recommend seeing the play in the West End (well, that and the fact that the production when you’re there in person totally sucks you in and is much more immersive than say watching it at home on Netflix).
PLOT: If you haven’t seen the film, well Les Miserables is broadly based on the French Revolution. It is however NOT about the French (so don’t worry, you won’t be going for a boring history lesson here). It’s a love story, a story of friendship, morality (I guess…)and so many other themes that you’d be forgiven for not remembering every single character’s name bar the main players. That being said though, it’s one epic story and comes as no surprise that this is the longest-running musical in London.
2.) The Phantom of the Opera
Okay so the first time I went to see The Phantom of the Opera, we had really poorly chosen seats (we got given the tickets for Christmas and didn’t think to check seats properly when making the booking). As a result, I could barely make sense of what the show was about when we were there. I knew the main theme song and there are bits of it I vaguely remember but I left feeling a bit “Meh!”.
Then I watched the movie with Lloyd and my friend Megan and it was then I fully got the story (and really got into the music). The movie I’m talking about stars Emmy Rossum, Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson (it’s from 2004). My gosh can Emmy Rossum sing! She’s incredible.
Anyway, armed with the fact, we went back to see it again (like a year later when we were in London and as another Christmas present, albeit this time just for me). This was when I realised that the seat choice makes all the difference. You should definitely make a fair bit of effort when deciding on where to seat. The show was incredible – absolutely fantastic and is easily the second my second most favourite West End show!
PLOT: Oh, by the way, the show is broadly about a Phantom (who’s a real person) who haunts a theatre in France and there’s a talented young singer who he’s obsessed with (he trained her but she doesn’t really know who he is). She might have a love interest on the horizon and essentially how this rather diabolical Phantom, manipulates things and deals with the young singer and the theatre he haunts.
Apart from having heard the song “Defying Gravity” sung by many people and the knowledge that Wicked in some part had something to do with the Wizard of Oz, I had no clue what Wicked was truly about before I booked tickets to go see it.
In fact, it was all the buzz the show was getting that made me finally decide to go see it for myself. FYI, the buzz was totally worth it! I loved how they managed to keep everything from the Wizard of Oz and explain their way around all of it. I thought it was not only amazing as a musical but a really fantastic effort on the storytelling front.
Only thing now though (and I don’t know if that’s because it’s not been made into a movie or because I just didn’t care enough), I don’t really remember any of the songs from this musical except for Defying Gravity (which is phenomenal, by the way). I’m gonna chalk it down to me just not having access to the music ergo why I’ve forgotten most of it.
PLOT: Wicked is a clever re-telling of the story of the Wizard of Oz which basically just turns the entire book/movie on its head and makes you have sympathy for the villains.
4.) The Lion King
Oh, I was really sceptical about this one. For starters, the Lion King is a cartoon! How in the world were they going to pull this off. Secondly, how would they attempt to create Pride Rock and all of that grand African setting in a theatre in London.
?”At least I’ll know the songs from the movie” I thought when I booked to see it. The Lion King is also my favourite Disney movie so I kinda knew as sceptical as I was, I figured I would find a way to enjoy it. (Plus the reviews were pretty great).
Turns out, I needn’t have worried – the ‘animation’ (so to speak) is done brilliantly and the Lion King ended up exceeding my expectations by a very (very) long stretch! It was incredible!!! I’d happily go and see it all over again tomorrow – it was that good!
PLOT: If you’ve seen this movie (and I’m sure you probably have), then you already know the plot. If you haven’t, it’s about a young Lion who’s set to be King and the tumultuous journey he takes to becoming King.
5.) The Book of Mormon
This one I expected to enjoy in the same way I enjoy Family Guy (I should say “South Park“, which was created by the same people who created this show but I’ve never really watched South Park…). The humour in this show is risque, almost certain to cause offence and definitely not the kind of show you’d take kids to.
If you’re easily offended this is probably not the show for you, however, if you’re game for some very politically incorrect laughs, the Book of Mormon is the show you should see.
PLOT: Mormon missionaries go to Africa and… er, funny stuff happens. 🤣
6.) Mamma Mia
Mamma Mia is another one of those shows I’d no idea what it was about and never really cared about seeing until I found out about the movie! Like I would always see posters all around London and just never really think much of it. In retrospect, I have no idea why this was the case. I guess with musicals unless you watch little clips of them on YouTube or perhaps see a performance of one of their songs on TV, it’s a lot harder to ‘stumble on’ information about them (at least on information that would make you instantly decide you wanted to see it).
Of course, I absolutely loved the movie (I grew up with my parents always listening to ABBA so it was a fairly easy win for me) and from that point onwards knew I would have to see the musical. I finally saw it with my Mum many years later and at certain stages, I’m pretty sure my Mum was belting out the songs even louder than the performers themselves. 😃
It was such an amazing experience and it’s got to be said, even if you’ve seen the movie, you should definitely go and see the West End show. I absolutely loved the movie (like I said before 😄T) but the show is so much funnier than the movie! This totally took me by surprise. I just expected pretty much the same stuff but I found myself in fits of laughter in-between singing along to the music.
Mamma Mia in the West End is such an easy win when it comes to deciding which shows to watch and it’s definitely one of the top ones to go see.
PLOT: A girl’s getting married and doesn’t know who her father is (there are 3 possible choices). She invites all 3 to her Greek wedding and hilarity ensues! 😀
7.) Blood Brothers
This was one I optimistically chose without both knowing or even finding out from reviews if people loved it. It was great fun in the end but if I’m being totally honest, it wasn’t necessarily my favourite.
It was one that entertained me throughout and was a very solid performance but unlike many of the others on here, I just don’t think I would necessarily be queuing to see it again. That being said, if you haven’t seen it at least once and have seen some of the others on here, it’s definitely worth checking out when you’re in the West End.
PLOT: It’s about twins separated at birth. One goes to a rich home, the other grows up poor. They eventually meet as adults and stuff happens (I can’t tell you what without spoiling the show for you).
Chicago is one of those movies that took some time to grow on me (I think I watched it without even knowing it was a West End show when it first came out). I think it was only by the time I watch it the 3rd time (which is unusual for me – there are very few films I’d watch more than once) that I finally appreciated it for the masterpiece that it was.
Years after, I decided to see it in the West End (one of the girls in the Phantom of the Opera film was in the starring role in it) and it was absolutely amazing. For the most part, the movie follows the musical (which is great) and it’s definitely one of those shows you have to see in person in the West End of London, even if you’ve watched the movie a bajillion times.
PLOT: The story follows the lives and trial of two women who are on death row in a Chicago jail and are looking to be set free.
Till this very date, I have no idea what Cats is about. I had a great time watching it, I remember one song from it “Memory” which I used to think was a totally different song till I heard it sung (turns out I did also know that version) and I generally thought it was great fun. Still, I haven’t the foggiest idea what was happening the entire time (…except perhaps that it is about Cats? Some of whom were on roller skates…)
Funny thing is, if you’d asked me to name West End shows, even back when I hadn’t seen any, I think the first one I would have shouted would have been “Cats”. It’s just so synonymous with the West End and is probably the only context in which I truly know of Cats (and yes, there’s a book about the Cats that the play is based on but I’ve never read it so…🤷🏾♂️)
PLOT: I still have no clue. It’s about Jellicle Cats (I have no idea what ‘Jellicle‘ is supposed to be) and generally what the cats tend to do at night… or at least, I think it’s at night. I might need to pick up a copy of this book to find out…
10.) Miss Saigon
This was one dramatic, beautifully produced, tear-jerker of a show! (I didn’t actually end up crying in this one like I did in Les Miserables but I could certainly feel those tears welling up).
It’s such a fantastically produced show and is just one of those shows (if it’s still on), that’s worth seeing when you’re in London.
PLOT: Miss Saigon is essentially the story of Madame Butterfly except it’s set during the Vietnamese war and it’s a love story between an American military man and a Vietnamese bar girl.
The remaining shows below are shows I haven’t seen yet but are shows whose reputations are pretty solid that they’re worth checking out when you’re in London Town.
All I know is that this is about an American President and that it’s had so much hype on Broadway that tickets pretty much sold out as soon as it launched in London. I’m still very much on the lookout for tickets as the reviews are absolutely spectacular and it’s a definite must-see in London.
12.) The Woman in Black
Never really thought about seeing this till I saw the movie with Daniel Radcliffe. It’s a terrifying movie and I’m intrigued about how they carry it all out in the West End. Enough that I’d happily go see it. (Just checking tickets now and they’re available at pretty good prices- will keep you posted on Instagram on what it’s like).
Based on the music of Michael Jackson (of which I’m pretty sure I know every single song of his), this will be a easy win in a similar vein to Mamma Mia, except from the sound of it, it’s about the lives of Michael Jackson and other members of the Jackson 5 so it’s less fictional and more ‘autobiographical’.
Yup! Same one as the Disney movie. I enjoyed the movie (it’s not my favourite Disney move – that honour goes to Lion King and then Mulan) so I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy this too. The reviews for it are great and so if you’re stuck for choice it’s worth seeing.
Loved the movie, loved the book and the reviews were absolutely spectacular – so much so that getting a ticket was so hard! I think tickets are a lot easier to get now so if you are lucky enough to get a ticket when you’re in London, go see it.
I enjoyed this as a movie (I know the show preceeds the movie but I can only refer to what I’ve actually seen) and the movie is pretty much a great representation of the stage show from what I’ve heard so I’d happily go and see this. The reviews have been positive too so if you enjoyed the movie chances are that you’ll like this too.
17.) Harry Potter And The Cursed Child
It’s Harry Potter and is written by J.K. Rowling (and a couple of others) so you know it’s gonna be good! If I could get decent tickets for this, I’d go straight away!
When you’re in London, if you’d like some help on things to see, do and eat – check out these posts below: