As the first place to host a ‘talkie’ movie and the capital’s largest theatre upon construction in 1928, The Piccadilly Theatre has always been a
noteworthy London venue. It has passed through numerous phases and incarnations, from the extravagant cabaret acts during its time as The London Casino, to
the critically acclaimed productions of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff? and A Streetcar Named Desire. However, in recent years it is
notable for hosting some huge seat-fillers – musicals with big names, big crowds and huge anticipation have seen the Piccadilly buzz with intrigue.
Michael Grandage, now artistic director of his own successful theatre company (producing Peter and Alice, The Cripple of Inishmaan and Henry V this year), brought Guys and Dolls to the Piccadilly in May 2005 with a unique realism that gleaned favourable reviews. If the
imagination and skill of Grandage was not enough to bring in the crowds, then the silver screen fame of Ewan McGregor certainly sealed the deal. A
well-reviewed and popular production, Guys and Dolls saw Nigel Harmen and Ben Freeman take over from McGregor in the lead role, Sky Masterson, until it
came to a close in April 2007.
Buoyed by a favourable critical response, Guys and Dolls enjoyed a successful two years, while its closure amounted to a clearing of the road for the
musical juggernaut, Grease. In this particular version of the legendary teen musical, the ITV show Grease Is the Word provided both the
casting and mainstream media exposure, ensuring a jumpstart for the show’s popularity. While critics bashed away at both the on stage production and its
televised manufacturing, droves of people flew in the face of the reviewer judgements, packing The Piccadilly with keen eagerness and a double bout of
nostalgia (for both the 50s setting and the 70s film/musical debut). The huge demand for Grease saw it run for four years and ensured that its West End
closure was more of a departure, as it went on to tour the UK.
As Grease continued to draw crowds around the country, The Piccadilly was hosting its third musical success on the bounce. Ghost the Musical came
fresh from its world premiere and trial run at The Manchester Opera House in March 2011 and hit the West End in July. After two very safe musical revivals,
the theatre was a little more daring in its hosting of Ghost’s early forays into a crowded genre. However, with academy award winner Bruce Joel Rubin
writing the book, and music veterans David A. Stewart (half of The Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard writing the music, it seemed unlikely that bringing the
hugely popular and multi-award-winning 1990 film to the stage would be anything other than a hit. A hit it was, and continues to be as it transferred from
London to Broadway and is now planning tours in both the US and UK.
While Ghost the film’s main contribution to our collective memory is the erotic pottery of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze’s main
contribution to our collective memory is Dirty Dancing, and now The Piccadilly Theatre is looking to reignite its Swayze affair with a stage
version. Dirty Dancing, like Grease, is phenomenally popular and spends time away from the West End and Broadway only to tour the county, or indeed, the
world. However, the ideal place to see a theatrical blockbuster like Dirty Dancing is its London home, and more specifically in the distinctive surrounds
of the Piccadilly. Dirty Dancing is likely to continue the huge popularity and buzz that surrounds this successful theatre. When the show opened at the
Aldwych in 2004, it quickly broke records, including the biggest advance for any West End production and fastest selling show in West End history.
The glittering decade that has been presented here glosses over the two relative flops at the theatre. Both seem to follow a similar strategy: Jailhouse Rock, reworked the Elvis film as a vehicle for his greatest hits to be performed on a West End stage, while Viva Forever used the
comedy heritage of Jennifer Saunders in order to deploy the Spice Girls’ back catalogue. While both garnered favourable audience responses from Spice Girls
and Presley fans, the footfall spoke volumes on their mutual transience. Clearly We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! show how this style of
musical can be a huge success but both the artist’s back catalogue and the book have to be strong.
These blips aside, the Piccadilly seems to be ploughing on with its recent success and Dirty Dancing stands as testament to the popularity of this famous