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4 Reasons Why London is Perfect for Theater Lovers

by Julie Masterson
Les Miserables billboard in London's West End theater district

As long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid theater geek — a musical theater geek at that. I embrace this fun, quirky hobby of seeing as many musicals as I can to the fullest. Whether it’s a show preformed at my local community theater or on the biggest, most prestigious stage on Broadway in New York City, it doesn’t matter: count me in.

To this day, I’ve seen over 35 different musicals and I have countless others on my wish list. It’s a passion of mine that started young and that I know will continue throughout the rest of my life. I love them because of the magic and fun they bring. To escape reality for 1 ½ to 2 hours and be transported into another world full of catchy songs and extravagant dance numbers is, in my opinion, the perfect way to spend the day.

While I’ve been studying abroad in London, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing seven different shows: Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Mamma Mia, Les Miserables, Beautiful: The Carol King Story, Kinky Boots, and Aladdin. Two of the shows were through AIFS with discounted tickets and the others were through tickets I found myself.

While some may say this is too many and I spent too much money seeing them, I do not regret it one bit. Seeing these shows and the experience they provided are some of my favorite memories I have during my 9 short weeks in London.

So, with all of that being said, this blog post is to encourage others who aren’t sure about musical theater to give it a chance, and to show everyone why you should see as many as you can when staying or visiting London.

Reason 1: The tickets are cheaper.

As much as I love NYC and their shows — NOTHING beats it — even I can admit Broadway tickets are way too expensive. Newcomer shows such as Hamilton or Dear Evan Hanson have seen ticket prices go up into the $1,000 (yes, I said $1,000) range on certain key weekends. While tickets there aren’t always that steep, they are more expensive than London’s West End. London’s shows lack nothing in quality and ~pizzazz~, its just a known fact the tickets are far less expensive.

The best seats usually go between $150-$200, and then it goes down from there. Even as the tickets get cheaper, the seats and views are just as good, so it’s a great deal. The most I’ve spent on all of my shows while I’ve been here has been $70 (and that was for second row seats to Aladdin), but most shows have been in the $30 range.

There are lots of options when it comes to finding cheap tickets. There is the TKTS booth in Leicester Square that sells tickets to many shows for the day of, at as much as 40% off. There are booths and theater partner shops in London that sell unsold seats for the day or two before, and then there’s my favorite—going to the theater’s ticket box office an hour before the show starts and buying the unsold tickets at a fraction of the cost. My $70 second-row Aladdin ticket was originally $200, but because it was unsold and so close to show time, I basically stole it.

Just be strategic in your planning. There are so many great shows to see and, if you play your cards right, you can do it for a fraction of the money you’d spend somewhere else.

Reason 2: It’s a great way to feel connected to the city.

Many of the classic and beloved musicals we have today started out on the London West End stage and expanded out. London’s “Theatreland” (London’s main theater’s district, located in the heart of the West End) has many shows that are still running from their original release date. Les Miserables is the West End’s longest running musical ever, and one of the most popular to come out of European theatre. It has inspired countless reproductions across the world and even became of the most successful big-screen musical movies to date (I love you High Jackman.)

Phantom of the Opera is another long time staple in West End theaters, running for over 30 years and becoming another blockbuster hit. By seeing these famous musicals in the very city they hold so much presence in, you will feel as though you’ve gained a little London-insider knowledge or have a “local edge” about you.

Musicals like Kinky Boots originally started in London, being written for the specific London audience. As it moved to different areas, some of the dialogue had to be changed so other audiences could understand it. Seeing Kinky Boots in its original entirety and being able to understand the London references about the city, the culture, and inside jokes will give you a more special, connected feeling than one you would receive in the United States — take it from personal experience!

Her Majesty's Theatre, London, England
The stage at the beautiful Her Majesty’s Theatre, which houses Phantom of the Opera.

Reason 3: They are thought provoking.

Musicals, as silly and lighthearted as they can be, often have very meaningful lessons and values whittled within them. They often tackle very deep issues and expose cultural problems through their dialogue, musical numbers, and dance. All of Disney’s musical theater productions are excellent examples of how a simple story, expressed through music, can have such an impactful message. That is why The Lion King Musical is one of the longest running productions, not just in London, but worldwide.

Kinky Boots takes on the challenge of cross-dressing, expressing your true self, and accepting others for who they want to be. It is a moving production about open-mindedness and loving others expressed in beautiful, soulful ballads and up beat, colorful numbers. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater the night I saw it.

A plethora of other musicals (specifically London productions) that aim to open your mind to new areas include Les Miserables, Phantom of The Opera, Wicked, Beautiful, 42nd Street, Dreamgirls, An American in Paris, The Book of Mormon, and countless others. The education you can receive from live musical theater is one you cannot under estimate — especially in London.

In response to seeing some of these shows, my world has opened up to new topics, thoughts, and opinions, etc. just because these shows presented them to me. I feel as a young woman of the 21st century, this is so important.

AIFS Abroad students at the theater in London
My friends and I during intermission of Phantom of the Opera.

Reason 4: They are just plain fun.

Okay Millennials, you can’t tell me you didn’t jam to the High School Musical, Camp Rock, The Cheetah Girls, and just plain classic Disney movie soundtracks when you were little (and now, if we’re being honest). It is a proven fact that show-tunes are catchy and enjoyable. They’re meant to be! They are written for the sole intent to stay in our heads, even days after we’ve seen the production. This strategy works! Because of the very music in most productions, audiences keep coming back to see them multiple, multiple times. I’m looking at you, Mamma Mia.

Along with the catchy music, the plot (most of the time) leaves you with a happy, heartwarming feeling.  The characters resolve their problems with flashy song-and-dance numbers and everything is left on a fun, pleasurable high that has you leaving the theater wanting to become a “Broadway star” yourself, just so you can relive it every night.

The actors and accompaniment are so talented and present their material in such an amazing way that it blows my mind how anyone could not fall in love with theater immediately. I believe seeing a London West End show, even if it is just one, will leave such an impact on your study abroad experience and you as a person.

Take advantage of your location! When will it ever be so convenient to see quality, big budget shows again? When will you ever again live in the heart of London and be able to run across town last minute to catch the 7:30 show with (cheap) tickets you bought the day of? The answer is never, you won’t… (probably).

Even if you’re skeptical and think musical theater isn’t “your thing,” challenge yourself. Push yourself to try something new with the amazing experience you’ve been given to study abroad in London. I promise you won’t regret it!

This post was contributed by Julie Masterson, who studied and interned abroad with AIFS in London, England.

4 Reasons Why London is Perfect for Theater Lovers | AIFS Study Abroad

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Olivia E Norton August 22, 2017 - 10:53 am

Any recommendations on best theater?

AIFS Study Abroad August 22, 2017 - 2:31 pm

Hi Olivia! This just in from the author: “For a fun and upbeat musical, my favorites are Kinky Boots, Mamma Mia, Hairspray (not on in London, but maybe a traveling or local show?) and of course any Disney production. For a more dramatic story, Phantom of the Opera is beautiful and gives me chills every time. My all time favorite is Les Miserables. You really can’t go wrong with any of them!”

As for a specific establishment: “I thought all of the West End show theatres were pretty, but my favorite was Her Majesty’s Theatre where Phantom of the Opera was held.”

Hope this helps!
AIFS Study Abroad

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