About The London Palladium
About The London Palladium
If we were going to pick one word to sum up the history of The London Palladium, it would have to be ‘variety’. With a very festive opening on Boxing Day 1910, the theatre burst onto the scene with the first ‘grand variety bill’ of its kind featuring acts as diverse as musical hall star Nellie Wallace and classical actor Martin Harvey. And it went down an absolute storm with audiences –so much so that the biggest names from stage and screen clamoured to top the bill at ‘the world’s most famous theatre’. An all-star series of famous bill-toppers hit the stage in the 1920s, including daring illusionist Harry Houdini, the multi-talented Gracie Fields, and all-round entertainer Ivor Novello.
There aren’t many people who did more for The London Palladium than theatrical impresario and production pioneer George Black, whose vision and passion took the theatre to new heights. He brought the beloved Royal Variety Performance here in 1930 for a hugely successful few years, followed by the first ever Crazy Week in 1931, which saw the theatre become the home for the famous Crazy Gang. Sprinkling some more stardust on the stage during the ‘30s were the likes of jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.
Despite interruptions in the 1940s because of the Blitz, the theatre continued to pull in the crowds. After a brief closure, its doors reopened in 1941 with performances from Max Miller and Vera Lynn in Apple Sauce, as well as star turns from husband-wife duo Arthur Lucan (aka ‘Old Mother Riley’) and Kitty McShane, samba singer Carmen Miranda and iconic comedians Laurel and Hardy.
It’s little surprise that by the 1950s the theatre was known the ‘Ace Variety Theatre of the World’, thanks in no small part to director and general manager Val Parnell. His commitment to bringing over some of the biggest names from across the pond was a masterful move, with the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Abbott and Costello, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope just a few of the global superstars to come here. But that’s not to say he overlooked our own homegrown talent – Julie Andrews, Cilla Black, Norman Wisdom, Des O’Connor, Frankie Howerd, Ken Dodd, Tommy Steele, Ronnie Corbett and Shirley Bassey all graced the stage in a true golden age of entertainment.
The worldwide popularity of ATV’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which first aired in 1955, cemented the status of the Palladium and also made stars of its hosts, Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan and Jimmy Tarbuck. Brucie in particular would continue to be an enduring face here over the decades, celebrating his 70th birthday in 1998 with a week-long run of his one-man show and a special Sunday Night at The London Palladium television broadcast with Diana Ross.
Tommy Steele also became a much-loved regular. The 2005 seasonal run of Scrooge saw him become the performer to have headlined more productions here than any other, and you’ll now see that he has his very own plaque in the Cinderella Bar. Steele would be back again another for another popular outing of the Dickens adaptation, in 2012-2013, proving that it’s always a festive audience favourite.
Speaking of the festive season, who could forget the pantomimes? The London Palladium has hosted some of the most lavish annual pantos ever seen, with a proud tradition of getting in the biggest stars of the day, like Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 1964 and 1966. Although these spectacular shows took a temporary hiatus they came storming back in 2016 with Cinderella and its stars Paul O’Grady and Julian Clary. Dick Whittingtonfollowed in 2017 as Elaine Paige shared top billing with Clary, before Dawn French dazzled audiences in Snow White – alongside Clary, naturally!
Despite the huge success of variety shows and pantos here, there’s plenty more to The London Palladium too. The theatre first embraced musicals in 1968, kicking off in suitably showbiz style when ‘Mr Show Business’ himself, Sammy Davis Jr, starred in Golden Boy. Next up was Harold Fielding’s Hans Andersen with none other than Palladium favourite Tommy Steele , which proved so popular that despite being booked for the 1974 Christmas season it would stay for a year and return shortly after in 1977.
And the musical love affair didn’t end there. In 1979, The King and I arrived with Yul Brynner recreating his most famous role alongside Virginia McKenna and John Bennett; Michael Crawford starred in Harold Fielding’s production of Barnum in 1981; and the spectacular stage premiere of Fielding’s Singin’ in the Rainwith Tommy Steele, Roy Castle, Sarah Payne and Danielle Carson came along in 1983 (and was later revived in 1989).
In 1994 Fiddler on the Roof, with Topol as Tevye, played a three-month season prior to a Cameron Mackintosh production of Oliver! This revival of Lionel Bart’s original musical opened with Jonathan Pryce as Fagin and Sally Dexter as Nancy, with direction by Sam Mendes and choreography by Matthew Bourne. A decorated series of recognisable Fagins would follow in the form of George Layton, Russ Abbott, Robert Lindsay, Barry Humphries and Jim Dale.
Naturally, then, it was only a matter of time before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a major player in the Palladium’s story. His new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was an instant success, initially with Jason Donovan and later Phillip Schofield in the title role. The musical maestro would go on to bring The London Palladium into the LW Theatres family in 2000, launching this exciting new era in suitable fashion with a lavish revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, starring Elaine Paige and Jason Scott.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had an enormously successful run with Jason Donovan, and subsequently Phillip Schofield, in the title role.
Modern ideas and designs have always been important here, so it was significant when the famous but outdated revolving stage was removed at the start of 2002. This was to accommodate the state-of-art technology required to make a car fly in the world premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Proving to be just as popular as the classic 1968 film, the show now holds the record as the longest-running show ever to play The London Palladium with 1,414 performances. And the innovation continued in 2006, which saw the return of Sinatra to The London Palladium stage in an all singing and dancing technological concert as well as the opening of Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian’s new production of The Sound of Music, followed by the premiere of Sister Act in June 2009.
A 100th birthday is always cause for some serious celebration, and, on Boxing Day 2010, it was no different here at the Palladium. Festivities included a gala concert presented by the building staff, paying tribute to the musicals and artists that have appeared in the last 100 years, the return of the Royal Variety Performance to its spiritual home, a month of special centenary building tours and small exhibition in the rehearsal room, a plaque unveiled by Forsyth, Lloyd Webber and Danielle Hope, celebratory radio broadcasts on BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4 and a one-hour documentary on BBC 2. Major building works began after the closure of Sister Act in October to transform the front of house areas, keeping them fresh and fabulous for yet another generation of theatre-goers.
And the makeovers didn’t stop there. When the new production of The Wizard of Oz opened in 2011, Andrew Lloyd Webber unveiled his extensive renovation of the box office facilities, a brand new means of accessing the Dress Circle and Stalls, and the addition of more ladies’ lavatories. All this work was undertaken with the audience in mind, substantially increasing the space and comfort available on arrival and during the interval – a grand gesture to mark the second century of the world’s most famous theatre. When you visit us we’re sure you’ll agree!
Since then there’s been plenty of variety here at The London Palladium. As well as short runs of the revived A Chorus Line and Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour, in 2013 the theatre once more welcomed home the Royal Variety Performance, watched on by Prince Charles himself. There were also several one-off specials – notable showbiz highlights being Sir Elton John receiving the first ever Brit Icon Award during an on-screen concert, Robbie Williams televising an outing of his album Swings Both Ways, and an on-stage interview with the legend that is Al Pacino. The following year kicked off in much the same vein, with Jonathan Ross interviewing Sylvester Stallone before the stage saw the Simon Cowell produced I Can’t Sing the Musical.
As far as reunions go, getting the original production team back together for a brand new run of Cats is right up there – and that’s exactly what Andrew Lloyd Webber did in 2014. To ignite his globally loved musical in the hearts of a whole new generation, he cast Nicole Scherzinger as Grizabella. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the show was a sell-out success. Kerry Ellis then took over for the final weeks of the run and the production returned for a Christmas season from October 2015 with soul music supremo Beverley Knight.
Beyond Bollywood and Sinatra at The London Palladium filled the stage over the summer months of 2015.
But The London Palladium has never strayed too far from its deep roots in variety entertainment. Mixing things up with a practised precision, the theatre brought Beyond Bollywood and Sinatra to the stage over the summer of 2015, while the welcome return of televised broadcasts of Sunday Night at The London Palladium and record-breaking live performance of Comic Relief and Jerry Lee Lewis’ 80th birthday concert underlined its enduring prestige.
The following year brought with it a new policy to provide an exciting programme of concert bookings, with the likes of Joe Jackson, Bryan Ferry, Primal Scream, Anastacia, Elvis Costello, Mika, Foreigner and Coldplay proving that variety is alive and well and The London Palladium. A new musical version of Wind in the Willows then dropped in for a visit in 2017, along with headlining spots from Bob Dylan, Whoopi Goldberg, 10CC, Billy Ocean, Divine Comedy, Eric Cantona, Anthony Joshua, Alison Moyet and Suzanne Vega. Esteemed company indeed!
More recently, in 2018 The Lincoln Centre production of The King and I starring Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe transferred across the pond, bookended by concerts from Morrissey, Turin Brakes, Nathan Carter, Suggs, Yes, Alexander O’Neal, Gary Barlow, Alexandra Burke, Joanna Lumley, Grayson Perry, Ross Noble and The Proclaimers, as the big names continued to flock to this legendary stage.
When you head down to The London Palladium you’ll discover that the building itself is truly remarkable. Designed by Frank Matcham, it occupies a site which was previously home to a Corinthian Bazaar, Hengler’s Grand Cirque and the National Ice Skating Palace – an esteemed past – but continues to evolve. In October 2018 Andrew Lloyd Webber unveiled the Wall of Fame, a new art installation by Lee Simmons commissioned as part of the renovations to the Grade II listed facade. You’ll find it at the theatre’s world-famous Stage Door on Great Marlborough Street – an ongoing project that serves as a loving legacy to the many incredible headline artists to have played here, providing an everlasting link between icons of the past and stars of the future.
If you come and visit us, you can expect to find some of the world’s most sought-after performers and biggest productions on the stage.
In recent years these have included Coldplay, Adele, Madonna, Ricky Gervais, Michael McIntyre, Boyzone, Paloma Faith, Sting, Bob Dylan, Beverley Knight, Emma Bunton and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.