About the Cambridge Theatre

Cambridge theatre night facade

About the Cambridge Theatre

The Reluctant Debutante (1955-1956) was staged at Cambridge Theatre

Arriving on the West End scene in 1930, the Cambridge Theatre is one of the newest additions to our glamorous set of stages. The size of the auditorium provides an intimacy that makes it not only suited to spectacular musicals but also more scaled down plays. Among the most notable were George Bernard Shaw’s legendary Heartbreak House (1943) and Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s Billy Liar (1960-1962).

Billy Liar (1960 -1962) by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall was staged at Cambridge theatre

Star-studded casts (you’ll no doubt recognise a few of the names) have walked its boards in a huge range of dramatic productions, including Ian McKellen’s 1971 portrayal of Hamlet and performances by Joan Collins in The Last of Mrs Cheyney and Peter O’Toole in Shaw’s Man and Superman in 1980.

Still renowned as one of the youngest and most attractive venues in the West End, the Cambridge Theatre has never been afraid to mix things up. Its rich history of revues began with its first ever production – André Charlot’s Masquerade – and continued with a highly successful revival of 1066 and All That in 1937. Audrey Hepburn went on to star in the chorus of Sauce Tartare in 1949 and comedy legends Peter Cook and Dudley Moore brought their acclaimed Behind the Fridge to the stage in 1972. Audiences arriving here in 2005 will doubtless remember performances as diverse as Derren Brown in Something Wicked This Way Comes and Motown masterpiece Dancing in the Streets.

Through it all, the theatre has maintained its youthful look and feel thanks to some stylish upgrades. The first was in 1950, by Tom Arnold and Prince Littler, with a second in 1986, when the interior was restored to its former glory after a disastrous attempt to turn the building into a permanent venue for a magic show (not all experiments are destined for success…).

The theatre’s productions have also helped in keeping the Cambridge feeling young. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, Peter Pan himself, made his home here for many years. Dating back from JM Barrie’s original play in 1943, to Lulu starring as Tinkerbell  in the American musical version of the story in 1987. And finally Ron Moody and Nicola Stapleton bringing a modern spin to the tale in Peter Pan – The British Musical  in 1994. This youthful spirit remains alive and well, as demonstrated by the fact that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical has been playing to packed houses since 2011.

Peter pan was staged at Cambridge theatre in London's West end.

Over the years there have also been flirtations with operettas, from A Night in Venice (1944) by Johann Strauss, to Lizbeth Webb as The Merry Widow (1963) and John Hanson in Bernard Delfont and Emile Littler’s revival of The Desert Song (1968). And who could forget Michael Denison playing Pooh Bah with an otherwise all black cast in The Black Mikado (1975), or the New DOyly Carte Company launching with productions of IolantheandThe Yeoman of the Guardin 1988. Continuing to keep things fresh, the theatre has not been afraid to court a little controversy in recent times, famously playing host to the global phenomenon Jerry Springer –The Opera (2003).

But musical theatre has always been at the heart of this venue. Its stage has been graced by glamorous productions from across the pond, with American musicals Fame (1995 and 2001) and Chicago (1977 and 2006) both notably enjoying two highly successful runs either side of the millennium. Previous audiences have also been treated to the New Orleans musical One Mo’ Time (1981), starring Vernel Bagneris, and a three year run of everyone’s favourite smash-hit singalong, Grease (1996).

Fame was staged at Cambridge theatre in 1995 and 2001

Of course, some of the best loved musicals to play here have been home-grown successes, going back to the 1960s when old-school musical impresario Harold Fielding’s enormously successful production of Half a Sixpence (1963), starring Tommy Steele, wowed the crowds.

In the 1960s the building was home to Harold Fielding’s enormously successful production of Half a Sixpence (1963) starring Tommy Steele and Bruce Forsyth

There was also a memorable turn from Bruce Forsyth, who played no fewer than eight roles opposite Avril Angers in the Neil Simon musical Little Me (1964). For three years the Cambridge Theatre was home to Bob Carlton’s Olivier Award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet(1989), a rock’n’roll ‘Jukebox’ musical that combined Shakespeare’s The Tempest with sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet.

 

For three years The Cambridge was home to Bob Carlton’s Olivier Award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet (1989)

Bringing us back to the present day, the venue was acquired by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2000, who staged his Ben Elton collaboration The Beautiful Game here the same year, before bringing another Olivier Award-winning spectacle, Our House (2002), from ska legends – and hometown heroes – Madness. Young, energetic and no stranger to innovation, the Cambridge Theatre continues to go from strength to strength

Other American musicals include the New Orleans musical One Mo’ Time (1981) starring Vernel Bagneris and a three year run of Grease (1996) having transferred from the Dominion. The majority of the musicals to play here have been home grown and met with varying degrees of success including Budgie – The Musical (1988), Sherlock Holmes – The Musical (1989), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Beautiful Game (2000) and Our House (2002), the Madness musical.