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North East's big theatres announce dazzling new seasons

The region's two biggest theatres have taken the wraps off their autumn/spring season programmes

A scene from Wicked
A scene from Wicked

The two biggest commercial theatres in the North East have announced their new season programmes which means good news for fans of the musicals.

When a new musical crashes and burns in the West End and investors’ money goes up in smoke, you wonder why they take the risk.

Look to the big regional theatres and you’ll see the reason – actually several of them. The most successful musicals can be money-spinners for years and years.

Rodgers & Hammerstein classic Oklahoma! opened on Broadway during the Second World War and broke box office records.

It has been a favourite ever since and comes to the Theatre Royal in a new production in June next year.

Another old favourite, Barnum, returns in February with Brian Conley – Fagin in Oliver! last year – starring as America’s Greatest Showman.

Like Oliver! it comes from the successful Cameron Mackintosh stable but Michael Harrison, North East-born producer and the man behind the Theatre Royal panto, is also involved.

Michael is also one of the producers of The Bodyguard which is based on the 1992 film. Following a successful West End run, it is embarking on a tour which will bring it to Newcastle next April.

The Lion King is coming to Sunderland Empire Theatre
The Lion King is coming to Sunderland Empire Theatre
 

The Bodyguard is an unknown quantity on tour but seems certain to play to big houses in the North East. The same can be said of Shrek The Musical which precedes it in March.

Sunderland Empire are expecting to do good business with Jersey Boys, on stage from November 25 to December 6.

The Oliver- and Grammy-winning musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has been a success in the West End for the past six years.

Before then, and with tickets selling like hot cakes, is The Lion King which is to take up residence for seven weeks from September 18.

The show, based on the Disney film and telling of Simba the lion cub, has been a big showbusiness story for years and this is the first chance to see it in the North East.

Next year they welcome The Full Monty in February and the smash hit Wicked which will take up residence through most of April.

It isn’t all about the musicals, though. The Theatre Royal has some good drama to boast about with the Royal Shakespeare Company in residence in September and early October.

I saw Henry IV Pt I and Pt II in Stratford the other day and can tell you that both plays are fresh, funny and full of vim and vigour. Sir Antony Sher makes a wonderfully roguish Falstaff while Alex Hassell is a dynamic Prince Hal.

They are followed by Two Gentlemen of Verona which is still in rehearsal in Stratford at present.

Looking further ahead, a production of To Kill a Mockingbird is coming to Newcastle direct from the West End next April. Harper Lee’s classic tale has been produced for the stage by the Regent’s Park Theatre.

Sunderland Empire
Sunderland Empire
 

A thriller called Dead Simple, based on a bestseller by Peter James, will be on stage in May. It has been adapted by Shaun McKenna and is directed by Olivier Award-winning Ian Talbot.

Meanwhile David Suchet is to don a frock as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest which is also heading our way next June.

Sunderland Empire finds a berth in January for the National Theatre’s hilarious hit, One Man, Two Guvnors, by which time Theatre Royal regulars might have seen it twice. It returns to Newcastle at the end of July and will again generate much laughter.

Another National Theatre hit, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is due at the Theatre Royal in January. Based on the bestselling novel by Mark Haddon, it won no fewer than seven Olivier Awards last year including Best New Play.

On the dance front, Matthew Bourne brings The Car Man back to Newcastle in April next year and Scottish Ballet visit in February with The Nutcracker.

In November, Sunderland welcome Birmingham Royal Ballet with Beauty and the Beast and also Riverdance on its 20th anniversary tour.

It’s probably worth mentioning that Dirty Dancing is also coming back at the end of January for a couple of weeks. People just can’t seem to get enough of that show.

At the Theatre Royal it will be interesting to see David Baddiel, appearing on December 1 in his first full show for 15 years. An erudite chap, you tend to forget he’s a comedian but this show has been acclaimed in London.

Dave Gorman (November 9) and Al Murray (February 8, 2015) are also coming our way.

For details and to book tickets for the Theatre Royal shows, visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk or tel. 08448 112121. For Sunderland Empire go to www.atgtickets.com/sunderland

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