GB: West End musicals hog the limelight

Eight ultra-successful British musicals take centre stage on Royal Mail’s next set of stamps, to be released on February 24.
The illustrations used are based mostly on promotional posters for the shows, along with some photographs of performances.

All of them have enjoyed long runs in London’s West End theatre district, where several of them are still playing. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, the most popular of all, are conspicuous by their absence, no doubt for licensing reasons.
Philip Parker of Royal Mail Stamps said: ‘It was in the second half of the 20th century that the British musical really came into its own.

We have tried to offer a balance of different musicals covering this period, and made a conscious effort to represent the evolving nature of our wonderful, and world famous, musical theatre.’


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1st class Oliver!
With music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, Oliver! was the first modern British stage musical, after a wave of big American cinematic musicals, and its success paved the way for other home-grown shows.

It first appeared in the West End in 1960 at the New Theatre (now the Noel Coward Theatre), and enjoyed a long run of 2,618 performances that launched the careers of several child actors.

1st class Blood Brothers
This 1983 musical by Willy Russell, about twin brothers separated at birth, is one of the longest-running of all time. The West End production that was first performed in 1988 is still running at the Phoenix Theatre.

1st class We Will Rock You
Based on the songs of Queen, this is one of the most successful examples of a ‘jukebox musical’, one based on previously-written songs. Written by Ben Elton in collaboration with Queen band-members Brian May and Roger Taylor, it open in the West End in 2002 and is now the longest running show ever at the Dominion Theatre.

1st class Monty Python’s Spamalot
Based on the film Monty Python & The Holy Grail, with lyrics by Eric Idle and John du Prez, this musical tells the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Their quest for the Holy Grail features a chorus line of dancing divas (and serfs), flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits and a limbless knight.

97p The Rocky Horror Show
Written by Richard O’Brien, this musical opened at The Theatre Upstairs in 1973, before running at the Comedy Theatre until 1980. It’s best known for its song Time Warp, and the way in which the audience are encouraged to dress up and participate.

97p Me & My Girl
Set in the late 1930s, this musical, with lyrics by Douglas Furber and L Arthur Rose and music by Noel Gay, tells the story of a Cockney street trader who inherits an earldom. It enjoyed a successful original run on the West End in 1937, and a revival in the 1980s, its most famous song being The Lambeth Walk.

97p Return to the Forbidden Planet
This jukebox musical by Bob Carlton was based on the 1950s science fiction film Forbidden Planet, which in turn took its inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It started life with open-air performances at the Bubble Theatre Company, and the most recent of several revisions opened at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End in 1989.

97p Billy Elliot
Based on the hit film of the same name, this musical features music by Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall and opened in London in 2005. Set in north-east England during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, it concerns a young boy pursuing his passion for dance in secret, to avoid the disapproval of his family.

The presentation pack was written by The Guardian’s arts and heritage correspondent Maev Kennedy. As ever, a first day cover and stamp cards are available.