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  • Writer's pictureNeill Kovacic-Clarke

REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2023 - MUSICALS

Unsurprisingly the category in which I have seen most productions this year is musicals. I have loved musicals since I was 8 years old and it is always this genre which I am drawn to. 2023 has seen some sensational musicals both in the West End and touring the UK. I was surprised how easy I found it to get my top 5 productions here, giving how many different musicals I’ve seen this year!


Again, my rule for a production to make the list is that I must have seen the show for the first time in 2023. This means that some of my favourite shows such as Jersey Boys and The Drifters Girl will not make an appearance here, although individual artistes from these shows can make the performers lists.


Because I have seen so many incredible performances in musicals this year I have decided to do a top 5 list for both a male identifying role and a female identifying role.


So here we go - my top 5 musicals and musical performers of the year are listed below.



MUSICAL SHOW OF THE YEAR 2023



1) 42ND STREET

Theatre Royal Plymouth


The fact that 42nd Street is my number 1 may surprise people because when I reviewed the show it didn’t receive 5 stars! Maybe I was being harsh that day but there were a couple of minor reasons why I felt I couldn’t give the maximum stars, but there is no denying just how incredible this show was. In fact I loved it so much on the press night that I returned for a second viewing 2 days later! 


The show was a dazzling theatrical spectacle and the dance routines were enthralling, and really were the star of the show! The supreme choreography was danced with utter precision by a stellar cast who were real masters of their craft. The athleticism and sheer talent of the cast, especially the brilliant ensemble, was a wonder to witness.


I would love to see a West End transfer for this production when the tour ends in 2024, although I’m sure my bank manager would disagree!




2) BACK TO THE FUTURE

Adelphi Theatre, London


For me Back To The Future is the absolute best screen to stage adaptation that I have ever seen. It manages to capture the wonder and excitement of the film perfectly and stays very true to the storyline. Of course there are some changes, but the way this musical has been constructed is phenomenal.


The cast bring the characters to life with an uncanny likeness to the originals with great attention to detail which fills my heart with warm nostalgia. There is great comedy timing throughout and the soundtrack is sensational.


The star of the show is undoubtedly the special effects which are incredible and have to be seen to be believed. Having seen this show 6 times this year, I think that Back To The Future is going to become my new comfort show after Jersey Boys closes next week!




3) CRAZY FOR YOU

Gillian Lynne Theatre, London


This show completely won my heart this year and I have seen it 4 times and have booked to see the final performance on New Year’s Eve!


This American classic has everything you could want in a production of this scale. An endearing story and dance routines that are evocative of musicals much older than it actually is. It feels like a return to traditional theatre making which has been truly embraced by its creative team.


The closing of act 1 is an absolute masterpiece and is probably my favourite piece performed on any West End stage this year. I am gutted that this show is closing in London, but am keeping everything crossed for a tour announcement.




4) THE BODYGUARD

Theatre Royal Plymouth


I do love a good jukebox musical and The Bodyguard was no exception! Such a sexy and powerful production which featured superstar vocals and phenomenal dance routines. The choreography was bold and exciting and fit wonderfully in the production.


The male ensemble displayed real athleticism in their performance and certainly set a fewpulskes racing in the audience! They were sublime dancers and had some of the best synchronicity and skill I have witnessed for a long time.




5) THE WITCHES

National Theatre, London


It’s safe to say that The Witches was a surprise hit for me! Not that I don’t love the book and movie, but I’m not always the biggest fan of children in musicals! However the youngsters in this were nothing short of sensational. The way they competently led scenes and told the story was fantastic.


Add to this a strong adult cast and great songs, The Witches is a must-see show! 


I was overwhelmed with almost childlike wonder as one of my favourite stories from my childhood was brought to life before my eyes. I have never been disappointed by a National Theatre production before, and once again they’ve created another wondrous theatrical experience.




MUSICAL PERFORMER OF THE YEAR 2023

(in a male identifying role)



1) LUKE SURI 

Frankie Valli

Jersey Boys


It’s no secret how much I love Jersey Boys and over the years I have seen numerous actors in the role of Frankie Valli, but for me non compare to the incredible talent that is Luke Suri. After watching him this year he has solidified himself as my favourite Frankie ever.


He is a wonderfully expressive performer and doesn’t even need to be speaking for you to know exactly what he is thinking! He gives a flawless performance with wonderful acting skills and a voice which is out of this world. He effortlessly sings in a falsetto voice and the audience watches and listens in admiration when he performs.


He has a unique power to make you cry out of sadness as well as out of utter respect for his talent. When he performs Can’t Take My Eyes Off You the audience listens in silent awe and then explodes into a frenzy of well deserved applause at the climax.


Jersey Boys closes in the West End next week (I’ve got my ticket for the last show!) and as sad as I am to see this show close I’m genuinely excited to see what’s next for this sensational performer.



2) TOSH WANOGHO-MAUD 

David Ruffin

Ain’t Too Proud


Tosh Wanogho-Maud excels in every role he is cast in and him as David Ruffin in Ain’t Too Proud was no exception. The best way to describe his vocals is with the word INSANE


He always draws you into the heart of his character and has the unique ability to make even the biggest of auditoriums feel intimate. He is one of those performers that excites me and I would book any show that he is cast in because he is simply divine to watch. 


He made my list of top performers last year for his role in The Drifters Girl and I cannot wait to see what he does next. I have booked to see him perform an intimate gig in January next year which I cannot wait for. This man is a superstar.



3) CHARLIE STEMP

Bobby Child 

Crazy For You


Charlie Stemp is the very definition of a triple threat and it has really been a treat to witness his talent this year. He delivers beautiful vocals alongside superb acting skills and phenomenal dancing. I love the elegantly understated way he performs They Can’t Take That Away From Me which is simply sublime.


He also delivers a masterclass in comedy timing as he performs some laugh-out-loud scenes in a hilariously farcical way. I’m sure that Stemp will be back leading a show in the West End again very soon.



4) BEN JOYCE 

Marty McFly

Back To The Future


Ben Joyce is absolutely smashing it night after night as he leads the fantastic Back To The Future cast.. He is nothing short of incredible as the accidental time traveller Marty McFly. His wide-eyed innocence along with his unwavering cool factor bring the character to life in an amazing likeness to the original, while still managing to make him his own.


He is just a joyous performer and has a great energy which emits from the stage and is intoxicating. I’ll be returning to see his sensational performance in this role again very soon.



5) ASHFORD CAMPBELL 

Ben E King / Rudy Lewis 

The Drifters Girl


Ashford Campbell is victorious as he takes on the main roles of Ben E King and Rudy Lewis in the touring production of The Drifters Girl. He is a truly mesmerising performer and it is an honour to watch him shine in this production after previously covering the role in the West End. In fact he made my list of top covers last year for his portrayal of this role!


When he sings Stand By Me you can hear a pin drop in the auditorium as the audience bathes in the beauty of his vocals. He is an accomplished actor and has an impressive vocal range which is a real treat for the ears and he deserves to have a huge career in musical theatre. 



I have been overjoyed to witness so many incredible musical theatre performances this year and there have genuinely been so many wonderful performers that I have seen so would like to give notable mentions (in alphabetical order) to:

Miles Anthony Daley - George Treadwell - The Drifters Girl

Tom Edden - Bela Zangler - Crazy For You

Michael Mather - Various - No Limits

Jay Perry - Winston Churchill - Sylvia




MUSICAL PERFORMER OF THE YEAR 2023

(in a female identifying role)



1) SHARON ROSE 

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia


Sharon Rose gave an absolutely mesmerising performance as the title character in Sylvia at the Old Vic this year. She completely embodied every aspect of her real-life character and showed real emotion and determination throughout. 


She has an exceptional singing voice and managed to stand out in a production which had a plethora of huge soulful voices which is no mean feat. She also has that rare quality of being able to draw you into the very soul of her character which was extremely powerful to witness.



2) NICOLE-LILY BAISDEN 

Peggy Sawyer

42nd Street


Nicole-Lily Baisden is enchanting as Peggy Sawyer in the national tour of 42nd Street. Her character is described in the show as a golden talent and I would describe Baisden herself as a platinum talent. She shines beautifully as a leading lady and portrays the innocence of her young character with sublime purity. It is a pleasure to witness such talent on the stage.


The very definition of a triple threat - her acting, singing and dancing skills are all triumphant - Nicole-Lily Baisden is on track to becoming a huge star of musical theatre.



3) ANNALENE BEECHEY 

Anna Leonowens

The King & I


In a gloriously inspired bit of casting, Annalene Beechey was triumphant as she portrayed Anna Leonowens in this years tour of The King & I. She has a wonderful stage presence and emits a tenderness and warmth across the auditorium in an almost motherly manner. Her divine singing voice is rich and full and is reminiscent of classic musical theatre stars such as Julie Andrews.



4) NATALIE KASSANGA

Irene Roth 

Crazy For You


The entire company of Crazy For You are absolutely flawless but my standout vocal performance comes from Natalie Kassanga as Irene Roth. Her performance of Naughty Baby was divine and her glorious acting skills perfectly depicted her character arc in a wonderfully elegant way.


The only person on this list who is in a supporting role rather than a leading role, I am excited to see what is next for this incredibly talented performer. When I talk to people about this show, I always mention her performance as she really is incredible.



5) CARLY MERCEDES DYER 

Faye Treadwell 

The Drifters Girl


Carly Mercedes Dyer’s unique vocals sit wonderfully into The Drifters Girl as she competently belts out big numbers whilst also having a sublime softness to her voice. Her rendition of Harlem Child brings the house down as she gives everything she’s got to deliver a flawless show-stopping performance.


Dyer also showcases great acting skills as she shows ever-changing emotions and the real strength of the character with utter believability, striking just the right balance between vulnerability and assertiveness. 



My notable mentions (in alphabetical order) in this category go to:

Carly Anderson - Polly Baker - Crazy For You

Sarah Goggin - Lorraine Baines - Back To The Future

Sophie Naglik - Jennifer Parker - Back To The Future

Samantha Womack - Dorothy Brock - 42nd Street



So there we have it! My round-up of all things musical theatre in 2023. Let me know what your favourites were of this year. I can’t wait to see what 2024 holds. I plan to see many more musicals next year and am excited by some of the recent announcements of upcoming shows. The first new musical for me in 2024 will be the touring production of Aladdin.


Neill Kovacic-Clarke


Disclaimer: All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence. Some of the shows and people mentioned above were from productions which I had received invites to see, meaning my ticket was gifted, but this has not played a part in their inclusions here.

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