The West End is home to some of the oldest and well-known theaters in the world. Running shows since the 15th century, London’s Theatreland is rich with character and theatre history. Straight from London Town, I’m going to take you through time with some of the theaters you should know about.
The London Palladium is widely regarded as one of the most famous theaters in the world. It’s been home to performances by legends such as Julie Andrews, Judy Garland, Gypsy Rose Lee, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and yes, even The Beatles! Today, we’re going to take a look at The Palladium’s star-studded past.
First, the building itself. The facade of the theater was built in the 19th century as the entrance to a Bazaar. In 1910, the property was bought and turned into a circus house. After the circus’s time was up, it became a roller rink. It wasn’t until 1915 that it began operating as the theater we see today.
The Palladium’s roots are in pantomime. From 1915 until the 1930′s, many classic pantomime acts such as Cinderella and Aladdin were presented to rave reviews. In 1931, a group of British entertainers known as The Crazy Gang took up residence, performing acts including their famed Crazy Week until 1940.
In 1945, manager Val Parnell took over the theater and began the era of big-name American acts. Some of the notable performers include Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Liza Minelli, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. Needless to say, the British performers left jobless by these imported acts were less than pleased.
In 1955, the British TV series Sunday Night at the London Palladium aired and met with incredible success. The variety show aired every Sunday night and was always the talk of the town Monday morning. Each week featured a different performer, some of whom include Bill Haley, Chubby Checker, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, and The Rolling Stones. The show is also widely regarded as the launching point of Beatlemania. Previously unknown, when the Beatles performed a set on October 13, 1963 including “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout”, the crowd went wild. Their superstar status began.
It wasn’t until 1968 when the Sunday Night show was canceled that an actual book musical played the venue. Golden Boy starring Sammy Davis Jr. was the first.
Fun fact time! In 1973, the rock band Slade played a 2 show gig at The Palladium. The fans were so overzealous that by the time the weekend was over, seats had been uprooted, the balcony was near collapse, and there were cracks in the theater’s foundation. Talk about a wild show!
Hans Anderson was the next musical to hit the venue. It played from 1974-1975 and again in 1977.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I, starring Yul Brynner reprising his role as the King of Siam, took residence in 1979. It was followed by Barnum, starring Michael Crawford, in 1981. The first staging of Singin’ in the Rain played from 1983-1985.
Jerry Heman’s La Cage Aux Folles played the venue in 1986, followed by productions of Ziegfeld the musical, ‘Allo ‘Allo, The Pirates of Penzance, and Showboat. The variety acts continued to perform in between shows.
In 1991, a major reworking of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was staged at the Palladium. The famous run lasted until 1994, when it was followed by a 3 month run of Fiddler on the Roof.
In 1994, a production of the English classic Oliver! was brought to the Palladium.
1998 – London is hit with Saturday Night Fever.
2002 – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
2005/2012 – Scrooge
2006 – The Sound of Music
2009 – Sister Act
2011 – The Wizard of Oz
Today – A Chorus Line is playing at the Palladium. The theater is presently owned and operated by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Really Useful Theatres Group.
Check back next Thursday when we look into the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane!