Since 1884, audiences have flocked to Coventry Street to witness the wonderful plays and musicals presented by the Prince of Wales Theatre (which was called simply the Prince’s Theatre for the first two years of its appearance in the capital). However, there have in fact been two theatres to appear on this site and take on the famous name; the one that emerged in 1886 (and lasted until 1937) and the one that was rebuilt and remains to this day. Both venues have welcomed a long line of visitors and performers during their time, and both would have to survive the onslaught of world wars, whilst continuing to welcome visitors in the modern day.
C J Phipps was the man behind the original Prince of Wales Theatre that appeared on Coventry Street and from its first arrival in 1884 to its replacement in 1937 it would host a number of famous shows, in addition to some of the biggest stars of the time. The success of one show in particular – 1886’s “Dorothy” – ensured that another West End theatre would appear in the capital in the form of the Lyric Theatre, which was built on the funds from the successful show. Then, as the decades progressed, further musical plays, comedies and farces would emerge and entertain the crowds.
Robert Cromie would be the man responsible for the designs of the new Prince of Wales Theatre that appeared in 1837, with Gracie Fields singing as the foundation stone was laid. With a revised number of seats, plus designs that harked to a different era of theatre tastes, it would continue to welcome shows. It would also be used as a cinema, just like many other West End theatres, and in particular screened “The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin in the 1940s. Then, after surviving the Second World War – which had seen stray German bombs hit both the Piccadilly Theatre and Queen’s Theatre – the Prince of Wales Theatre continued to provide homes for further shows.
This continued with varieties, reviews and musicals right up until 2004 when Cameron Mackintosh oversaw refurbishments to the venue. However it was not long before such changes were complete and the Prince of Wales Theatre reopened with a production that has continued to the present day and even spawned a hit movie – “Mamma Mia!”
The first production to appear in the 1884 version of the theatre was W S Gilbert’s “The Palace of Truth”, which had previously been staged in London in 1870 and, in addition to the run that appeared at the then-Prince’s Theatre, would go on to be staged successfully at other locations well into the 20th century. However, it would be “Dorothy” – a comic opera from Alfred Cellier and B C Stephenson – that would prove to be the first true success story to appear on its stage. The show had previously appeared at the Gaiety Theatre (a venue that would fail to reappear following a bomb hit in the Second World War) and after its success at the Prince of Wales would transfer to the new Lyric Theatre, whilst continuing to be performed into the early 20th century.
As time went on, further high profile shows would appear, including “In Town” from George Edwardes and “Gentleman Joe” from Basil Hood, in addition to adaptations of the likes of “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Vanity Fair”. Then, as the 20th century arrived, it would see in the new century with shows like “King of Cadonia” and “Yes, Uncle!” It ensured that it would find a lasting audience right up until the announcement of its demolition and reconstruction.
Then, after 1837’s reconstruction, the venue would become the home of various further hits. Amongst them was “Harvey”, the play from Mary Coyle Chase that would go on to become a high profile Hollywood movie starring James Stewart. The London production would star Josephine Hull, who would go on to earn an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the same role onscreen.
As the decades progressed it would welcome the likes of “Sweet Charity” and “Aspects of Love” from Andrew Lloyd Webber, before closing for refurbishments in 2004. When it reopened it would welcome a show that would go on to become a cultural icon, breaking box office records and spawning a hit movie that would earn further fans around the world. It takes the form of the venue’s current production “Mamma Mia!”, which is a unique story of love and marriage on a Greek Island, with the music of “ABBA” as its big draw. Before James Cameron’s “Avatar” and Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” overtook it in 2010, the movie version of “Mamma Mia!” was the highest grossing movie in UK box office history.
Further Facts about the Prince of Wales Theatre
• Some well known names to appear at the Prince of Wales Theatre include Martin Harvey, Gertrude Lawrence, The Beatles, James Stewart, Michael Ball and more.
• In addition to the reconstructions that took place in 1937 and 2004, the Prince of Wales Theatre was also extensively refurbished in the 1960s.
|Thursday, 19 Jan, 2017||Prince of Wales Theatre, London||The Book of Mormon|
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