The Sondheim Theatre (formerly the Queen's Theatre) is a West End theatre located in Shaftesbury Avenue on the corner of Wardour Street in the City of Westminster, London. It opened as the Queen's on 8 October 1907 as a twin to the neighbouring Hicks Theatre (now the Gielgud Theatre) which had opened ten months earlier. Both theatres were designed by W. G. R. Sprague. In 2019 the theatre's name was changed from the Queen's to the Sondheim Theatre.
The Sondheim Theatre in 2011 (then the Queen's), showing Les Misérables
|Owner||Delfont Mackintosh Theatres|
|Production||Currently closed for renovation|
Original plans were to name the venue Central Theatre. However, after lengthy debate, it was named The Queen's Theatre and a portrait of Queen Alexandra was hung in the foyer.
The first production at the Queen's Theatre was a comedy by Madeline Lucette Ryley called The Sugar Bowl. Although it was poorly received and ran for only 36 performances, the theatre received glowing reviews.
The Stage on 10 October 1907 described the theatre as:
A two-tier house, the Queen's holds about 1200 persons, representing some £300 in money. The colour scheme of the walls and roof is white and gold, while green is the hue of the carpets, hangings and upholstery, and of the very charming velvet tableau curtain. From a spacious and lofty entrance-hall, with passages leading down into the stalls, one ascends by a handsome marble staircase to the dress circle, which runs out over the pit; and there is a fine and roomy saloon at the top. Mr Vedrenne makes a point that 7/6 will be charged for seats in the first three rows only of the dress circle, while but 5/- will be the price of the remaining eight rows, also unreserved, in which evening dress will be optional. On the second tier of the Queen's, which is in the Old Italian Renaissance style and in the building of which the cantilever principle has been adopted, are the upper circle and the shilling gallery. The auditorium is lighted up agreeably with electric lamps and an electrolier, and ample refreshment room and other accommodation will be found to have been provided
Through its history, the theatre has seen such talents as Peggy Ashcroft, Fred and Adele Astaire, Tallulah Bankhead, Kenneth Branagh, Noël Coward, Henry Daniell, Marlene Dietrich, Robert Donat, Edith Evans, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., John Gielgud, Cedric Hardwicke, Jack Hawkins, Nigel Hawthorne, Celia Johnson, Jane Lapotaire, Alec Guinness, Rachel Kempson, Gertrude Lawrence, Robert Morley, Stephen Fry, Anthony Quayle, Basil Rathbone, Michael Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, Margaret Rutherford, Fiona Shaw, Nigel Havers, Maggie Smith, Sybil Thorndike, Nick Jonas,and Ramin Karimloo. Recent notable shows at the Queen's include the Tony Award winning musical Contact; Cyberjam, a production by the Emmy and Tony Award winning creators of Blast!; and The Taming of the Shrew.
In September 1940, a German bomb landed directly on the theatre, destroying the facade and lobby areas. The production at the time was Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca starring Celia Johnson, Owen Nares and Margaret Rutherford. The theatre remained closed until a £250,000 restoration was completed by Westwood Sons & Partners almost 20 years later. The auditorium retained its Edwardian decor while the lobbies and exterior were rebuilt in a modern style. The reconstructed theatre opened 8 July 1959 with John Gielgud's solo performance in Shakespeare speeches and sonnets, Ages of Man.
From April 2004 to July 2019, the theatre played host to Cameron Mackintosh's production of Les Misérables which transferred after 18 years at the nearby Palace Theatre. The musical celebrated its 20th anniversary at the venue on 8 October 2005 and overtook Cats as the longest running musical of all time a year later on 8 October 2006.
An extensive refurbishment was undertaken in the latter half of 2009 which improved public areas and increased capacity with new seating and boxes reinstated at dress circle level.
In 2019, Cameron Mackintosh announced that the original production of Les Misérables would close on 13 July 2019 while the theatre underwent a major restoration, but would return in a new production from 18 December 2019, when The Queen's Theatre would be renamed as The Sondheim Theatre in honour of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Recent and present productions
- The Hobbit (28 November 2001 – 9 February 2002) by Glyn Robbins from J. R. R. Tolkien's book
- Mysteries (26 February 2002 – 18 May 2002) adaptation by Speir Opera
- Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness (18 June 2002 – 31 August 2002) by Todd Twala, Thenbi Nyandeni and Ian von Memerty
- Contact (23 October 2002 – 10 May 2003) by Susan Stroman and John Weildman
- The Rocky Horror Show (23 June 2003 – 5 July 2003) by Richard O'Brien, starring Jonathan Wilkes and John Stalker
- Cyberjam (23 September 2003 – 3 January 2004)
- The RSC's The Taming of the Shrew (15 January 2004 – 6 March 2004) by William Shakespeare
- The RSC's The Tamer Tamed (22 January 2004 – 6 March 2004) by John Fletcher
- Les Misérables (12 April 2004 — 13 July 2019, 18 December 2019 –) by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
- "Queen's Theatre-History". Delmont Mackintosh Theatres. Archived from the original on 14 April 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
- "The Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London". Arthur Lloyd site. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- "Les Mis takes long-running crown". BBC News. 8 October 2006. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
- Historic England. "The Queen's Theatre (Grade II) (1236175)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 6 October 2019.
- Gans, Andrew (5 July 2019). "London's Queen's Theatre Will Be Renamed the Sondheim Theatre". Playbill.
- Further reading
- Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 133–4 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 978-0-7136-5688-6
- Who's Who in the Theatre, edited by John Parker, tenth edition, revised, London, 1947, pp. 477–478, 1183.
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