Big Night of Musicals 2023 by the National Lottery

Big Night of Musicals 2023 by the National Lottery (BBC1, 7.50pm)
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Forget those vintage Hollywood movies about plucky youngsters deciding to “do the show right here” – putting on a musical is actually a very difficult job.

It can be hugely expensive with no guarantees of returns. Although West End and Broadway have played host to plenty of hits that sounded unlikely on paper (before Hamilton, who would have guessed that a hip-hop musical about one of America’s founding fathers would become a phenomenon?) there have also been plenty of shows that must have seemed like sure-fire winners but were rejected by critics and audiences.

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Conditions got even tougher for the industry during Covid, when theatres were forced to shut their doors. Luckily, the National Lottery stepped in to support 2,000 theatres during the crisis, and last year the stars decided to say thank you with a Big Night of Musicals hosted by Jason Manford.

It was such a success that Manford and the BBC are doing it all over again at AO Arena in Manchester. It’s also a reminder that while audiences no longer have to stick to social distancing, there are still plenty of challenges facing the performing arts due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

However, the mood will still be celebratory, not least because of the host. Although he’s best known as a comedian, Manford can certainly belt out a showtune himself. He’s appeared in musicals such as Sweeney Todd, The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Guys and Dolls, and also came second on the first series of The Masked Singer.

He says: “I’m thrilled to be back hosting The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals for another year. It was incredible to see so many amazing shows under one roof last year, and with 13 completely different shows set to perform this year, it’s guaranteed to be another cracker of a night!”

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The extravaganza includes performances from some of the biggest West End and touring shows, including the aforementioned Hamilton.

That’s not the only show that puts a fresh twist on history as there’s also Six, the smash hit about the wives of Henry VIII that comes complete with a very catchy score.

There’s also Matilda, the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book which was recently turned into a film, Wicked, which will be heading to the big screen next year, and Newsies and The Bodyguard, which both started life as movies.

We get proof that audiences’ love of ‘jukebox musicals’ remains unabated with Mamma Mia, based on the music of Abba, We Will Rock You, which draws on the Queen back catalogue, and Ain’t Too Proud – The Life And Times Of The Temptations.

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For those who prefer their musicals to be a bit more traditional, there’s the all-conquering Les Miserables, and the much-loved The King and I.

If all that wasn’t enough, there’s also a performance from Aspects Of Love, featuring West End legend Michael Ball, which tees us up nicely for BBC2’s Andrew Lloyd Webber night from 9.25pm.