The expression “West End” is synonymous with the professional theater scene in London. In fact, it is the United Kingdom’s equivalent to Broadway in New York City. Yet, we felt our focus tends to sway a great deal toward Broadway successes so we would like to take some time to introduce you to some great West End theatres to catch a show.
1. Apollo Theatre
That’s right, there is another Apollo Theatre besides the one that sits in New York. It is considered a Grade II listed West End theatre, which means it is of great historical significance to the United Kingdom. Lewin Sharp is the architect who designed the building when owner Henry Lowenfeld hired him. The official opening day was in February of 1901, which was celebrated with a production of The Belle of Bohemia.
Musical theater performances were the full intention of this building since day one, and the designer decided to maintain the style seen throughout Europe of a separate foyer and promenade. In 2013 the ceiling collapsed while the company was performing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It caused great injury to quite a few people.
The Apollo reopened on March 26, 2014 after extensive repair was done on the building.
2. Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Also a historical significant location, this Grade I listed buildingis located in the Covent Garden of London. The face of the building is along Catherine Street, and the back faces the legendary Drury Lane. This is the fourth theatre to be built at this location, three others succumbing to fire, age, and decay. The one that sits there today was officially opened in 1812.
Some musicals that have had long runs at the Theatre Royal are Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, 42nd Street, and Miss Saigon. It has been dubbed one of the most haunted theaters in the world by writer Tom Ogden and has a rather famous specter called the “Man in Grey” who was supposedly stabbed in the theatre and his remains hidden for years.
3. Trafalgar Studios
This West End theater is located in Whitehall in the City of Westminster, London. It has two theaters on site and was designed that way by Tim Foster and John Muir. The first, Studio 1, opened in June of 2004 with a production of Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company, while Studio 2 opened a year later in October with a performance of Cyprus.
The Whitehall Theatre was the first at this location, which is why this theatre is also known as Trafalgar Studios at the Whitehall Theatre. The Whitehall was built by Edward A. Stone and opened its doors in September of 1930 with a staging of the Walter Hackett work The Way to Treat a Woman.
In the late 20th century the building was transformed into a radio station for the BBC and it didn’t house live performances until it became Trafalgar Studios in 2004. Since then they have staged Sweeney Todd, Losing Louis, Jane Eyre, Dealer’s Choice, and Entertaining Mr. Sloan.
4. Her Majesty’s Theatre
Currently showing the Andrew Lloyd Webber hit The Phantom of the Opera, this West End theatre sits on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London. The first theater was built at the end of the 17th century to appease a rivalry amongst the actors of London’s United Company, who held a monopoly of dramatic performances.
Herbert Beerbohm Tree was the founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for the theatre. Works by the likes of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Noël Coward, and J.M. Synge have graced the stage of this theater since it first opened.
Musicals that have found success here include its current resident and Chu Chin Chow, a comedic musical by Oscar Asche and Frederic Norton.
5. London Palladium
106 years old, this West End, Grade II, theater, is also located in the City of Westminster, on Argyll Street. Focusing primarily on musical theatre, this location has played host to the Royal Variety Performance forty times, which is a record. Built in 1910, the façade is older than the theater. It was once part of the Argyll House, which was destroyed fifty years earlier.
This theater has a unique feature where a phone system connecting the boxes are available for guests to talk during the intermissions. The stage revolves and still has most of the original design, which is why it earned Grade II historical status. In 1928 the Palladium was used as a movie theatre and it actually closed for a brief time in the late 1920’s.
Opening once again in September of 1928 under the eye of George Black, who drove the theatre to bankruptcy. Yet he also brought it back to life by hosting variety shows and featuring American sensations like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
6. Lyric Theater
Located on Shaftesbury Avenue, this theatre was the brain child of C. J. Phipps and built by Henry Leslie. The funds for the theater came from the profits of Dorothy, an opera written by Alfred Cellier and B. C. Stephenson. With a performance of the very opera that bankrolled the construction of the theatre, the Lyric opened its doors on December 17, 1888.
At the time of its construction the Lyric was only the second on Shaftesbury Avenue and now it is the elderly residence on the block. At the beginning, the Lyric was home to comedic operas and then moved to comedy plays, dramas, and musicals. A Grade II theater, a unique feature of the Lyric is the iron curtain, which still requires the use of water to function, although an electric pump is used most of the time.
Works that have been staged at the Lyric include The Gold Diggers, Death of a Salesman, Hairspray, Steel Magnolias, and The Constant Wife.
7. Vaudeville Theatre
Located on the Strand in the City of Westminster, this theatre was host to, you guessed it, vaudeville shows and musical revues. The doors officially opened in 1870 and has gone through several renovations since then, the most current in 1926, which expanded the theater to nearly seven hundred seats.
The most recent productions at the Vaudeville Theatre include Stepping Out, The Boys in the Band, Dead Funny, 30 Million Minutes, and My Family: Not the Sitcom. A 1997 production of She Knows You Know! was nominated for the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment. The famed Gatti brothers, who also owned the Adelphi Theatre, another West End location, took over the lease of the Vaudeville in 1892 and held an interest in it until 1969.
When they sold it to Sir Peter Saunders in 1970, he had the inside reconstructed adding seats that were more comfortable and red wallpaper to the auditorium.
Check out here for last year’s 12 best musicals in the West End theatres!