September 24, 2010
A number of West End anniversaries are celebrated in London this week, including the 80th birthday of the Phoenix Theatre.
Today, 24 September 2010, marks the 80th anniversary of London’s Phoenix Theatre. Commissioned by Sidney Bernstein, who started Granada television, the Charing Cross Road theatre opened in 1930 with Noel Coward’s classic play Private Lives, staring Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurence Olivier and Adrianne Allen.
Other notable successes for the theatre included Noel Coward again, this time with his Tonight at 8.30 one-act plays in 1936, Canterbury Tales in 1968, Night and Day in 1978 and a long list of famous players including John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh, Paul Scofield and Vanessa Redgrave. The Phoenix Theatre currently hosts Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers, which opened at the venue in November 1991.
The Phoenix theatre was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Bertie Crew and Cecil Masey with Theodore Komisarjevsky.
A number of West End venues are celebrating their 80th birthdays this year, following a boom in theatre building in the Art Deco 1930′s, including the Prince Edward, Cambridge, Trafalgar Studios, Apollo Victoria and Adelphi theatres.
Stomp and Wicked
Long-running West End shows Stomp at the Ambassadors Theatre and Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre also celebrate birthdays this month. Stomp celebrates its 8th birthday tomorrow, having opened at the Vaudeville Theatre on 25 September 2002. The high-energy show, which combines theatre, dance, comedy and percussion, moved to its current home at the Ambassadors in 2007.
On Monday 27 September big-budget Broadway musical Wicked celebrates its 4th birthday at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London. Currently starring Lee Mead, Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman, Wicked remains one of the most successful shows on both sides of the Atlantic. The Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman musical is based on the best-selling novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, a companion novel to L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
PHOENIX THEATRE QUICK FACTS
Hard to now imagine but the original site had been a factory, before becoming a Music Hall called the Alcazar.
In 1969 the owners of the Phoenix, Gerald and Veronica Flint-Shipman, organised a midnight matinee for Noel Coward’s 70th birthday, attended by Princess Margaret. A few days before, he opened the Noel Coward bar in the theatre’s foyer.
In 1976 the Phoenix hosted a Hollywood season of four plays featuring particularly starry names: Rock Hudson and Juliet Prowse in I Do I Do, Glynis Johns and Louis Jordan in 13, Rue De L’Amour, Lee Remick in Bus Stop and Douglas Fairbanks Jr in The Pleasure of His Company.
On reviewing the theatre when it first opened, The Stage newspaper said that, “Each seat has sufficient body and leg room and is provided with its own hat rack”.