Tens of thousands of theatre fans filled Trafalgar Square in central London over the weekend (18 – 19 Sept), to enjoy West End LIVE – marking the triumphant return of London’s theatreland after 18 months of shutdown.
The weekend-long, free musical theatre festival has been going for over 15 years, and this year saw its best ever line-up, with nearly 50 shows and acts and 830 performers and creatives involved, and a further 250 people employed to deliver the event.
Enthusiastic crowds queued from the early hours both days to enjoy a plethora of new shows including Disney’s Frozen, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, The Prince Of Egypt, Dear Evan Hansen, Pretty Woman: The Musical and more. There were debuts from mega hits Hamilton and The Book Of Mormon, alongside beloved West End LIVE regulars Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked, The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables, Six, Mamma Mia! and Matilda.
Highlights of the weekend ranged from a cameo from Les Dennis in the English National Opera’s HMS Pinafore, appearances from household names Petula Clark (Mary Poppins), Kevin Clifton (Rock Of Ages) and Amber Davies (Bring It On: The Musical), to emotional performances from young Olivier Award winners Sam Tutty (Dear Evan Hansen) Miriam-Teak Lee (& Juliet), and comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan making a surprise appearance to introduce Magic Mike Live.
The event was rounded off in style by a barnstorming performance from fan favourite Heathers The Musical, culminating in cast member Jodie Steele thanking the audience for their dedication, and urging them ‘please, please, please buy your tickets, support theatre – it is back!’
West End LIVE is co-organised by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Westminster City Council and was part of Westminster’s Inside Out festival this year.
Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said: ‘It was really moving to be at West End LIVE – after nearly two years of theatres having their curtains down, it was fantastic to see so many people gathered in Trafalgar Square watching performers delighted to be entertaining a big audience again. I spoke to people who had come from all over the country to see a sneak preview of new shows and some established old favourites.
‘This is the West End we know and love – delighting visitors and offering them talent and attractions you won’t find anywhere else. I am proud Westminster City Council was able to lead and fund this event in partnership with the Society of London Theatre and our sponsors, and together deliver the biggest range of shows ever seen at West End LIVE.’
The return of West End LIVE signals that London’s world-leading theatre industry is finally on the road to recovery, after the pandemic devastated the sector with mass shutdowns and unprecedented challenges. This is also reflected in the recent reopening of SOLT’s famous TKTS ticket booth in the heart of Leicester Square, offering last-minute discounted tickets for West End shows in person. Positive signs indicate that audience confidence is returning, with current West End ticket sales nearly back up to 2019 levels.
Julian Bird, Chief Executive of SOLT, said: ‘Our industry has weathered quite the storm over the past year and a half, and there are still many obstacles to overcome. But to be able to bring all of our biggest London shows together to mount such a large-scale, unique event has been absolutely incredible – I think everyone involved will remember West End LIVE 2021 for a long time. We want to extend a huge thanks to all the shows and acts who participated and made the weekend so extraordinary – and of course to the thousands of loyal theatre lovers who came along to support the event. We hope to see you all in 2022!’