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What are the attractions you first think of when London is mentioned? Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye are probably some of the first. The truth is that London is simply massive, and there are thousands of things to do, many of which are too often overlooked. The musicals in the West End were like that for me.
I’ve been to London a dozen times and walked through Covent Gardens, noticing how The Lion King, Chicago, Aladdin and Les Miserables were all playing at some of the best theaters. In fact, one of the first landmarks I saw as I entered London on my first day of travel was the Apollo Victoria Theater with Wicked performing.
I spent years working in Hollywood, and the theater was a big part of my life. Not only were many of my friends performers, directors and other positions within the industry, I saw my share of musicals, including Cats, The Lion King and Stomp at the Pantages. I’m not sure why continuing that tradition didn’t occur to me right away in London.
My current visit to London has been for the World Travel Market (WTM), where thousands of exhibitors in the travel industry from all over the world have converged at the convention center. I had some time at night on the first day (after walking nearly a dozen miles between the stalls), so I decided to relax and watch a show. Which one? Wicked, of course!
First of all, I need to get out of the way how silly I feel not knowing more about the musical. I had no idea that Idina Menzel, who played Elsa in Frozen and sings Let it Go (one of my favorite songs), originated the lead role of Elphaba in Wicked, or that the song Fighting Gravity (another of my favorites) was sung by her in this musical. Heck, I didn’t even really know what Wicked was about at all before watching it. Perhaps that made it even more enjoyable. What an idea to have an alternate story behind a classic tale.
The musical, as many do, lasted two and a half hours with a 20-minute intermission. And…that’s about all I’m going to say about it. I certainly don’t want to spoil the show for you if you haven’t seen it yet. I’ll just add that I absolutely loved it (many who know me have seen me get emotional in shows like this). It was a great way to forget about all the toils and troubles of life and de-stress for a few hours.
The musical was showing at the Apollo Victoria Theater, just outside Victoria Train Station and not far from Buckingham Palace. The theater was built in 1930, and started showing musicals in 1981, starting with the Sound of Music. Wicked has been performing there since 2006, which is readily apparent in the sophistication of the set design. Many theaters in London have long-running shows. The Lyceum Theater in Covent Gardens has been playing The Lion King since 1999!
Visiting the Apollo Victoria Theater was a lot of fun. Although they had a bag check out front, they allowed outside food to be brought in, and I had my dinner while watching the show. Of course, they also had drinks and snacks available for purchase, but at usual theater prices. It’s definitely a family theater. While I didn’t hear any babies crying during the show, there were some kids running down to the bathroom now and then.
As to the musical itself, tickets start at £29 ($38) and go up to £256. Other musicals are as little as £10 for the cheapest tickets, and several hundred for the top seats. As far as I can tell, all the musicals in London perform at 7:30 p.m. Mon-Sat, and at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I got my tickets through Encore, an easy booking platform.
My conclusion is that the theater district of London’s West End should be on everyone’s itinerary for London. The shows are wonderful. If you’re feeling stressed, depressed or just a bit down, they’re a great way to make your day.
I’ll be in London a couple more days at WTM, and then I’ll enjoy a food tour to learn more about the British cuisine (yes, there is one) before heading down to Morocco for a couple weeks. Country #47, here I come!