A new exhibition at the V&A has opened that’s should lure people up to their theatre galleries, as it tells the story of the musicals.

This free display showcases 100 objects, the majority of which are being displayed for the first time, bringing together brand-new acquisitions and unseen classics in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries.

There’s a look at crossovers when musicals become films, or more often these days, films become stage musicals and the challenges that presents in showing familiar material in a new way that attracts new fans without alienating the often very vocal fans of the original.

However, as the exhibition explores, there are also opportunities to revamp shows in line with modern sensibilities. Maybe female characters in the past relegated to generic fainting women could be a more interesting role, or black, or gay, or other minorities who were overlooked can get a look in.

That can be controversial at times, but the theatre has, quite correctly, always tried to push boundaries.

There are a few surprises in there, which I am sure devoted fans will know, but they’re eye-opening for the rest. It turns out that there was an ABBA musical before the long-running Mamma Mia, and even more so that ABBAcadabra was created in 1983 by the co-creator of Les Miserables, Alain Boublil.

The shimmering green costume for Wicked’s Elpbaba is inspired by coal and mica and designed to look like layers of rock.

The record cover for the original cast recording of Singin’ in the rain is marvellous, whereas the costume design for a 1981 production of The Rocky Horror Show in Ipswich really puts the horror back into costume design sketches. More interesting is the original programme from the premiere of the Rocky Horror Show, which took place in Sloane Square’s Royal Court Theatre in June 1973. Yes, it’s 50 years old next year.

There’s a large screen showing extracts from musicals, but have a look in the corner of the room for a small desk, where you can listen to the background stage manager controlling the operation and follow the play on stage — look for the circled words which are to be spoken with emphasis.

As an exhibition, it’s a good look at musical theatre as a genre and how they’ve reused material from other sources to put on their spectacles.

There’s also a bit of an Easter Egg in the exhibition, and if you look around, usually above your head you might see little models of people. Well, they’re 3D scans of people who work in the West End and shrunk down to model-sized.

There’s a rigger, a scenic artist, a follow spot operator, a wig designer, a costume maker, a musical director, a photographer, an usher, a lighting technician and a collector. See if you can spot them all. At the end of the exhibition in the credits, you can look up the names of the theatre staff who have been recreated in miniature.

There’s also a trail for children to follow – pick up a leaflet by the entrance.

The exhibition, Re:Imagining Musicals is open now until the end of November 2023 and is free to visit. It can be found in the V&A Museum up on the first floor.

Exhibition Rating


Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum
Cromwell Road, London


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