Having originally opened its doors in 1910, the London Palladium has been the home to a number of top shows over the years, in addition to some of the world’s best known stars. These have included plays, musicals and varieties, but also some major event performances such as Royal Variety Performances and even the BAFTA Awards in 2007. So it has been a great century for the venue (it celebrated its 100th birthday on Boxing Day 2010) and despite the original venue being condemned, two World Wars hitting the capital and the threat of sale in the 1960s, it remains at its location off-Oxford Street to this day.
An original wood-based structure stood on the site before the current incarnation of the London Palladium and after this was condemned the new version emerged and opened in 1910. Like many venues and buildings around the capital, the architect that designed the venue was Frank Matcham, responsible for other buildings such as the Hackney Empire, the Victoria Palace Theatre, The London Coliseum and various other theatres across the United Kingdom. He was a renowned figure in the theatre scene and also taught both W G R Sprague and Bertie Crewe – two other famous theatre architects.
Its original title was simply The Palladium and it would eventually become the London Palladium in 1934 having already built up a reputation for its shows and for its status as a home of the Royal Variety Performance. It would find great success in the 1940s and continue this right through to the modern day, even finding time to welcome some acclaimed and well known music stars, including Marvin Gaye, to perform as well. A further significant part of its history occurred in the 1960s when its then-owner Val Parnell attempted to sell the venue for redevelopment, leading to a campaign to purchase it from him and save the venue for future use. Today it is a Listed Building and as a result we can look forward to more stand-out productions down the line.
Indeed as it celebrated its 100th birthday in December 2010 it was gearing up to welcome The Wizard Of Oz, the classic story of Dorothy attempting to get home to Kansas whilst thwarting the Wicked Witch of the West. On the back of the successful BBC talent-search to find Dorothy, it is one of many productions to receive great attention in the West End.
The first show to appear at what was then called The Palladium was a variety show called “The Conspirators”, however the first significant production took the form of “Cinderella”. The pantomime featured the actress Lennie Dean in the title role and as footage still remains from a 1926 performance this has remained popular – making it an important performance from the history of the world famous folk-tale. Indeed it had previously appeared in West End venues like the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Adelphi, two other famous productions of the pantomime.
Over the years, in addition to the Royal Variety Performance and the ITV variety show “Sunday Night at the London Palladium”, the venue would then welcome a host of top Hollywood stars as the venue’s policy dictated top billing for them. This policy was a success but would not always remain intact, though it did not stop Sammy Davis Jr. from appearing in a production of “Golden Boy” in 1968. A musical adapted from the play by Clifford Odets, the show had premiered on Broadway in 1964 with Davis Jr. appearing on both sides of the Atlantic. It tells the story of Joe Wellington who decides on a contentious way of making his way out of the ghetto in Harlem – to compete in prizefighting – and also to attempt to find great fortune and notoriety.
In recent years the venue has continued to host some of the best known musicals in the capital and this has helped it to become one of the most famous West End theatres of all. From “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in 1991 to “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2002, it has regularly welcomed some of the most recognisable performers to take on some iconic roles.
And this continues in the current decade as Andrew Lloyd Webber, as owner of the Really Useful Group (which owns the Palladium) - presents “The Wizard of Oz” from 2011. The production was one of many to receive great attention thanks to a BBC talent search to find its star (which in this case is Danielle Hope as Dorothy). The original cast is also made up of some of the best known names in the West End such as Hannah Waddingham, famous for other shows such as Monty Python’s “Spamalot” and productions for Regent’s Park’s Open Air Theatre.
Further Facts about the London Palladium
• Famous names that have received credit for appearing at the London Palladium include Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Connie Fisher, Sophie Tucker, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye, Johnnie Ray, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frankie Laine, Sally Dexter, Elaine Paige, Jason Scott Lee, Richard O’Brien, Bob Hope, Jason Donovan, Christopher Biggins and Adam Garcia, among others.
• Attempts were made to secure a performance from Elvis Presley at the venue in the 1970s. However, this was unsuccessful and the King never performed outside of North America.
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