20 albums that should be West End shows

In honour of Standing At The Sky’s Edge opening this week, here are 20 other albums we believe deserve their own West End moment

Singer-songwriter Richard Hawley’s seventh studio album is now on the West End, in the form of a much-lauded new musical. Standing At The Sky’s Edge follows three families in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate and takes place over the course of 60 years, their stories woven around Hawley’s songs. The show’s National Theatre run earned it an Olivier for Best New Musical – now it comes to the Gillian Lynne Theatre for its inauguration as an official West End show.

In honour of the musical’s opening this week, we’ve compiled a list of 20 other albums we believe would make fantastic West End shows in their own right.

Sign O’ The Times – Prince

Prince - Sign O' The Times (Official Music Video)

Rumour has it that there is a Purple Rain musical headed to Broadway, but we’d still like to make a case for Sign O’ The Times. For one thing, opener and title track ‘Sign O’ The Times’ already sounds like we’re warming up for a full stage production. For another, the record is considered by many to be Prince’s best, combining his imaginative lyricism with a sometimes joyful, sometimes urgent ‘end times’ philosophy that invites the listener simultaneously to repent, experience, act and listen. It would make for a fantastically dystopian show.

Horses – Patti Smith

True that there’s not an excess of material to work from here – Patti Smith’s debut album is only eight songs long. But out of those eight tracks emerges a protagonist so robust and three-dimensional that it seems right to give her a stage. The combination of autobiographical material and songs pulled from Smith’s imagination gives the album a scope large enough to support a wider narrative and John Cale’s production invites a chorus in on many occasions. The length of some of the tracks also gives the album a pre-made rock opera feel – both ‘Birdland’ and ‘Land: Horse/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(de)’ clock in at over nine minutes long.

Melodrama – Lorde

Lorde’s sophomore album is a brooding, dreamy piece of pop that has everything from big dance tracks to melancholy piano-driven solos. It’s beyond easy to imagine Melodrama as an intimate show about love and loss, in the vein of The Last Five Years or Once. We’d need still need a chorus and a choreographer, though, or ‘Supercut’ would be a completely missed opportunity.

Born To Run Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run (Official Video)

Springsteen has had brushes with Broadway before, but never his own dedicated musical. Born To Run is the perfect vehicle to bring the Boss to the West End. Springsteen himself envisioned the songs taking place over one long summer day and night, and the musician weaves a deliberate story of a restless cast yearning for open roads and better situations. Setting the Born To Run musical in the 70s, just like the album, would ground these feelings even further as the young cast push back against the political issues of the day.

Hold The Girl – Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama - Frankenstein (Official Video)

Rina Sawayama makes gloriously dramatic pop. She’s only two albums in, but there surely must be a jukebox musical in her future somewhere. Hold The Girl is largely about her relationship with her inner child – lots of story potential there – and narrative-driven tracks like ‘Send My Love To John’ offer great material for side characters. But the main thing that makes this album such adaptable material is how incredibly infectious so many of its tracks are, from the dark electropop of ‘Frankenstein’ to the free-wheeling bubblegum energy of ‘Catch Me In The Air’. No danger of walking out of the theatre and not being able to recall a single distinct song. These will be burned into your brain.

Use Your Illusion I and II – Guns N’ Roses

Guns N' Roses - November Rain

Guns N’ Roses’ double album comprises of 30 tracks in total – some up to and over 10 minutes long – so the main problem in adapting these two records might be finding any time for dialogue. Then again, the band have never been coy lyricists, so a rock opera might be the way to go. There’s no clear narrative throughline throughout the two records, but themes of anger, resentment, drug abuse and failed relationships perpetuate across each – the makings of the darkest musical the theatre world has seen since Carrie.

Midnights Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift - Anti-Hero (Official Music Video)

We all know that a Taylor Swift musical is only a matter of time. But if we had to select an album to send to the West End, her 10th and latest record would be our top contender. Swift has always been a great storyteller, but Midnights combines her ability to set a great scene with her very best synth pop efforts. The resulting show would be a sparkly, feel-good, heart-warming extravaganza to rival Mamma Mia!.

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar - HUMBLE.

A stage version of DAMN. might give Lamar a shot at holding the Pulitzer Prize for Music and Drama with the same body of work. Either way, Lamar’s fourth studio album is a richly evocative piece of conscious hip-hop that displays his gifts as a lyricist and a storyteller to great effect, perhaps greater than any of his previous work. Any musical adaptation would be a confronting look at what both survival and success demand, and the costs to soul and spirit.

Lemonade – Beyoncé

Beyoncé - Sorry (Video)

No writer will have a hard time fitting a story around Lemonade – Beyoncé guides us by the hand through the narrative, leading us through the five stages of grief to a place of relative peace. It’s catharsis, and a stage version would deliver this in three dimensions, sending us back out onto Tottenham Court Road with a renewed hope in what love can achieve. One piece of advice to any potential producers: don’t you dare mess with that track listing.

Disintegration – The Cure

The Cure - Lullaby

It’s frankly surprising that we haven’t seen more gothic rock on the West End, theatrical and imaginative as the genre can be. With the recent success of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell, the door seems to be open for The Cure, and Disintergration is a perfect pick – lyrically rich, brimming with dynamic orchestrals, and incredibly introspective (as musical theatre characters are required to be). The album’s largely sombre material does include moments of levity in tracks such as ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Pictures of You’, allowing just enough light and shade to give the audience something to hold onto.

I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin - Respect (Official Lyric Video)

The difficulty in adapting Aretha is, of course, that it’s hard to imagine anyone else singing the songs. But provided the right vocalist can be found (and it’s possible – just look at Karis Anderson and Elesha Paul Moses in TINA: The Tina Turner Musical) there’s so much stage potential across this record. ‘Respect’, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and the title track have all found themselves in other projects over the years, but deeper cuts such as ‘Soul Serenade’ have been neglected up until now, and deserve to find themselves in a theatrical tale of lost love and self-discovery.

Ready To Die – The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G. - One More Chance (Official Music Video) [HD]

Considered one of the greatest records of all time, Biggie’s debut album displays his ability to write and deliver accessible rap without compromising on skill. His tracks play out like scenes, a clear sense of story, setting and character in each. It would be a particular pleasure to see ‘One More Chance’ adapted for stage, each girl delivering her exasperated voicemail before Biggie launches into his braggadocio.

Blue – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell - Blue

You can’t get much more intimate than Blue, and any musical would have to adjust its staging accordingly. Still, Joni Mitchell’s story-driven songwriting is worth mining. The singer touches on every raw nerve, producing solos as revealing and unfiltered in thought as any musical theatre lead might require.

Stripped – Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera - Dirrty (Official HD Video) ft. Redman

Aguilera’s 2002 album sees her reintroducing herself to the world as an adult pop star – quite literally. “Allow me to introduce myself,” she says on the album’s intro. “I want you to come a little closer. I’d like to get you to know me a little better. The real me.” Stripped is crying out for a meta book about the rebirth of a fictional teen pop star and the pitfalls of fame.

Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey - A&W (Audio)

Del Rey’s triumphant ninth studio album goes in a hundred different directions, from a scathing indictment of the way society treats female sexuality (‘A&W’) to an interlude in which she sits and giggles at a megachurch pastor. If the right writer were able to gather up all the different threads and braid them into some kind of story, however, then it would be a great one. There’s an excess of fantastic material here.

What’s Going On ­– Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)

Shows like Motown: The Musical and The Temptations showed us just how well Motown can work on Broadway and the West End – the first even included several Marvin Gaye tracks, including What’s Going On’s title track. But Gaye’s 11th studio album deserves a show of its own. Essentially a song cycle, the album tells the story of a veteran returning home to be faced with the myriad problems of his neighbourhood and country at large. Listening through the album already feels like listening to a stirring, politically charged West End show.

Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves - Rainbow (Official Music Video)

Musgraves has been telling immersive stories since Same Trailer Different Park, but her fourth studio album showcases what country music can be at its best – open-hearted, joyfully vulnerable and musically uplifting. The Golden Hour musical would be a love story à la Waitress, one that acknowledges life’s harder moments but ultimately delivers a sun-soaked sucker punch of a happy ending.

The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill

Hill’s first and only solo album brought a much-needed woman’s perspective to mainstream hip-hop, discussing her personal story with candour and eloquence and reflecting on her journey to motherhood. Hill’s storytelling is incredibly accomplished and the record allows each track to stand alone – ‘To Zion’ and ‘Lost Ones’ are worlds apart sonically and yet both distinctly Lauryn. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’s path to the West End seems ridiculously straightforward.

Hounds Of Love – Kate Bush

Kate Bush - Hounds of Love - Official Music Video

Bush is another artist whose sound is inherently theatrical. Hounds Of Love marks one of her most colourful, joyful and accessible records, making it the perfect candidate for adaptation. ‘Running Up That Hill’ has proven its popularity with audiences in the last couple of years, but listen to ‘Cloudbusting’ and the title track and tell us you can’t see each playing out on the stage of the Gillian Lynne.

Rumours – Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way (Official Music Video) [HD Remaster]

A Fleetwood Mac Go Your Own Way concert show does exist, but Rumours deserves a full narrative behind it, Daisy Jones & The Six style. Whether biographical or fictional, a West End show about a feuding band making an immortal album would undoubtedly be a winner. However, we urge the producers to cheat in one aspect – stealing ‘Landslide’ from the band’s self-titled debut and sneaking it into this show is a must.  

Standing At The Sky’s Edge is now playing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Find tickets here.