The Lyric Theatre is part of a group of theatres that hold the distinction of appearing in the West End in the 19th century and surviving the test of time to remain in the capital in the present day. For more than a century it has been the home to a number of comic operas, musicals, comedians and plays, allowing it to flourish as a venue and to emerge in the 21st century as the place to celebrate the life of the late King of Pop Michael Jackson. Like most other London theatres, it is now a Grade II listed structure and this means that it is protected as a historically important structure, in turn meaning that it will remain in the capital for the foreseeable future.
C J Phipps was the man responsible for the design of the Lyric Theatre, a well known theatre architect who stands up alongside the ranks of W G R Sprague and Bertie Crewe as a contributor to the London theatre scene. Phipps also designed venues such as the Vaudeville Theatre, the Savoy Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, amongst others, in addition to the former Gaiety Theatre that, unfortunately, did not survive the Second World War. But the Lyric Theatre has managed to remain in its place on Shaftesbury Avenue (which was in fact a new-ish street when the Lyric emerged in 1888) for over 120 years.
During the 20th century a number of shows would appear on the stage of the Lyric, many of them would be high profile musicals and others equally as famous plays. As a result it is amongst those that manage to attract a great deal of punters on a regular basis, with the quality of the shows on offer lending to a great reputation.
In the modern day the Lyric Theatre is the location in which audiences flock to witness the tribute to the late Michael Jackson as “Thriller – Live” opened in 2009. As Jackson was still alive when the run began the show was originally a celebration of his life so far, with his planned appearances in the O2 Arena proving that he had plenty of shows left in him. But upon his death the Lyric Theatre became a place in which fans paid their respects, with a permanent plaque to the star currently found in the foyer.
Years before “Thriller – Live” arrived in London, the Lyric Theatre welcomed a long-running comic opera in the form of “Dorothy” when the theatre first opened its doors in 1888. The comic opera had previously appeared on the stage of the Gaiety Theatre and after two transfers made the Lyric Theatre its home for two years. It featured a number of well known performers of the time and would eventually hold the honour of being the longest running show of all time (though this would soon be broken once the 20th century rolled around). As such, it laid the foundations of the Lyric Theatre’s century ahead.
In 1934 it would welcome the George S Kaufman play “The Royal Family” to its stage, with the acclaimed Noel Coward standing as director. This ensured an audience in itself due to the high profile of its director, but it also featured the renowned Laurence Olivier as part of its cast. The show is a parody that represents fictionalised versions of the Barrymore family – an American family of actors from which Drew Barrymore is descended. It would go on to appear on stages around the world.
A decade later the Lyric Theatre would welcome “The Winslow Boy”, the UK premiere of a new play from Terence Rattigan. The plot is based on real life events and follows a father as he attempts to clear the name of his son – accused of theft whilst serving as a cadet at the Royal Naval College. Glem Byam Shaw would direct, with the cast including the well known Welsh actor Emlyn Williams.
Another high profile show to appear at the Lyric Theatre was “Blood Brothers” in 1983, which was then the new musical from Willy Russell. The production had already appeared in Liverpool and its run at the Lyric was unsuccessful, leading to its early closure. But history was not finished with “Blood Brothers” and after a UK tour, plus some revisions, it returned to the Albery Theatre (now the Noel Coward Theatre) later in the decade – allowing it to go on to become one of the biggest shows in the West End.
In the last decade the venue has continued to welcome some high profile shows, from Eddie Izzard’s “Stripped” to the likes of “Hairspray the Musical” and “Thriller – Live”. Such productions are a testament to the wealth of talent that is attracted to the venue each year, with plenty of further surprises left in store for the Shaftesbury Avenue theatre well into the future.
Further Facts about The Lyric Theatre
• After the death of Michael Jackson, the ongoing show “Thriller – Live” was adapted into a celebration of his entire life.
• Alex Guinness, Laurence Olivier, Eddie Izzard, Henry Daniell and Jenny Eclair are amongst the well known names to have appeared at the Lyric Theatre.
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