London theatre: 10 of the most enduring musical theatre icons

Zoe Paskett

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Some admire athletes or artists, for others it's Nobel Peace Prize winners or life-saving scientists.

I look up to fictional people who break into song for no particular reason and pour their souls out to a room full of strangers (which obviously says nothing about me as a person).

Generally, musical theatre as a genre is heartwarming and therefore full of characters who exist to inspire and uplift.

As Stephen Sondheim's Company is due its long-awaited opening in the West End with legendary protagonist Bobby becoming Bobbie, it's time to look back at the musical theatre favourites.

Look no further for just a few of the fictional legends who we hold up as heroes.

Lola, Kinky Boots

(Darren Bell)

This drag queen knows how to handle herself - she’s had to learn, given the way she’s been treated. Lola is enlisted by Charlie Price to design shoes in his rapidly tanking family shoe business. Some of the workers are less than kind, often downright homophobic. But when she’s presented with the opportunity to humiliate one of the men who has been abusing her, she doesn’t take it, instead offering him the chance to redeem himself by learning how to appreciate people for who they are. On top of that, she’s hard-working, ambitious and supportive, even to people who might not entirely deserve it. A true queen.

Until January 12, Adelphi Theatre

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Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton

(Matthew Murphy)

Yes, we all know what Alexander did, but he’s not the only Hamilton in this story. If this musical has one failing (and this is the only one) it's that it crams all of Eliza Schuyler’s achievements into the last few seconds but, believe, this woman was incredible. The musical tells us how she kept everything together while Hamilton was off with the army and had the strength to forgive him after his affair, but we also learn how much she did after he died. She outlived him by fifty years, dying at the age of 97 having spoken out against slavery, published her husband’s biography and founded an orphanage. Alexander who?

Victoria Palace Theatre, find out how to get tickets here

Donna Sheridan, Mamma Mia!

Oh, Donna. What an absolute legend. Since giving birth to Sophie, she’s done everything on her own: started a business and raised her daughter, not to mention rocking dungarees. Her mother disowned her and she felt no need to ask the (potential) father of her child for help. When her (fairly selfish) daughter invites all three of Donna’s summer flings from twenty years ago to her house without telling her, she handles matters surprisingly well considering just how stressful that situation sounds.

Novello Theatre

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Bobby/Bobbie, Company

(Daniel Hambury)

When Sondheim’s Company was first staged in the early 1970s, Bobby’s views on marriage were very much out of the ordinary. Marriage was the done thing, whether you wanted it or not, and to see a person so vehemently stand against it must have been a shock. In Marianne Elliott’s highly anticipated production, Bobby becomes Bobbie, played by Rosalie Craig, which places an even more subversive take on the musical, given that, even nearly 50 years later, a women expressing a desire to be single still isn’t properly socially accepted.

September 26-December 22, Gielgud Theatre

Buy tickets for Company with GO London

Jean Valjean, Les Miserables

(Getty Images)

Guys, he stole a loaf of bread. Just one loaf to feed his starving niece. He serves his time and more – 19 years of it to be exact, becomes mayor of a small town, stops a cart from crushing a man to death, hands himself in to save another man from the gallows and adopts an orphaned child, eventually saving the life of the man she grows up to love. That’s a lot to pack into two Acts.

Queen's Theatre

Buy tickets for Les Miserables with GO London

Maria Rainer/Von Trapp, The Sound of Music

How do you solve a problem like Maria? The answer is: you don’t, because her only problem is being an independent woman at a time when that wasn’t a valued trait. She starts a new job with absolutely no experience and does it better than her predecessors. She doesn’t take any nonsense, whether it’s the kids being little terrors, or the rudeness of her boss. When the Nazis assume command over Austria, it’s essentially her reintroduction of music into the household that allows the whole family to escape into Switzerland.

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

(1939 Warner Home Video)

If there’s anyone who shows us the virtues of kindness and acceptance of people’s differences, it’s Dorothy. Having been hurled across America by a tornado, many might be more than a little peeved, but Dorothy takes it in her stride and sets off immediately to make things right. She gives each of her new comrades the same warm welcome and vows to help them after approximately five minutes of conversation, even if it means taking longer to get home.

Seymour Krelborn, Little Shop of Horrors

(Johan Persson)

Seymour’s a lovely and well-intentioned fella, if a little naive at first. He’s completely besotted with Audrey, his colleague in Mr Mushnik’s florist, whose sadistic dentist boyfriend is a nasty piece of work and physically abusive. Everything he does, he does out of love for Audrey. Alright, so Seymour does get a little bit more murdery than you might want but, remember, this is a world with flesh-eating plants so normal morals go out of the window ever so slightly.

Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady

(Getty Images)

She’s got heart, dedication and mettle. Going to Professor Higgins for elocution lessons so she can work in the florist, Eliza finds herself the subject of a bet. Higgins, thinking himself above her because he is upper class and a man, treats her like garbage, and is surprised when she doesn’t perform how he wants her to. It’s all “poor professor Higgins” until she helps him to win his bet and he gives her absolutely no credit. She's not afraid to stand up for herself. It really does take a hero to put up with that kind of nonsense.

The Artful Dodger, Oliver!

(Getty Images)

Another morally questionable young lad, but another that has stood the test of time as one of the best loved. The Artful Dodger is a scamp and a pickpocket, and a good one at that. But he’s an impoverished orphan and not everyone can rely on a rich grandfather to appear out of nowhere. He’s been raised by a criminal and knows no other life, but takes Oliver in when he has nowhere else to go, and is always one to make the best of a bad situation.