(5mins) Go right on Long Acre; turn right into Bow Street and after 100 metres turn left (Russell Street) then immediately right onto Catherine Street, where the theatre is located 100 metres down on the corner with Aldwych.
The Novello Theatre stands on Aldwych in London and ever since it was first opened in 1905 it has taken on many different forms across a century that has provided it with many different names and two refurbishments. It means that the venue has evolved a lot over the years and as a result has managed to stand the test of time to remain a vital part of the West End, staging productions that include high profile plays and musicals, in addition to a stint between 2005 and 2009 hosting an array of shows for the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company.
The venue is perhaps prolific thanks to the number of name-changes it has undergone, with the original title taking the form of the Waldorf Theatre when it arrived in 1905 (it being located next to the Waldorf Hotel). However, it would soon be renamed the Strand Theatre in 1909, before changing to the Whitney Theatre, then back to the Strand Theatre in 1913 and finally becoming the Novello Theatre in 2005. The original designer was W G R Sprague, well known as the architect for an abundance of West End theatres, such as Wyndham’s and the Noel Coward (then the New Theatre) with Charles Wyndham, as well as the Aldwych Theatre, the Gielgud Theatre and more.
The venue managed to survive the First World War, but not without taking some damage as a bomb dropped from a Zeppelin damaged part of the building (with other venues receiving hits during the conflict as well). But it remained standing and also managed to survive the onslaught of the Second World War as well. It means that the only major developments to take place over the century included a refurbishment that took place in the 1930s, followed by another early on in the 1970s. This has helped it to remain a competitor with the theatre scene whilst also retaining some of its historical character.
The venue is also a Grade II listed building and as a result it is considered of historical importance, in turn ensuring its lasting stay in the West End as audiences continue to flock to witness some of the best known shows in the world. It became the Novello Theatre in 2005, the decision made following Ivor Novello’s living arrangements upstairs for much of the early 20th century. A well known Welsh performer who entertained audiences across the country, he is a fitting person for the venue to celebrate.
The first production to appear at the then-Waldord Theatre when it opened in 1905 was “Il Maestro di Capella”, an opera from Ferdinand Paer, though the first huge success as probably in the 1940s in the form of “Arsenic and Old Lace”, Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 play that was undoubtedly his most successful. The show had already been seen by audiences on the other side the Atlantic and had proven itself ahead of its London appearance, with audiences relishing in the black comedy and morally dubious characters. It would run for more than 1,300 performances when it appeared at the then-Strand Theatre.
In the next decade the Strand welcomed another production to score more than a thousand performances as “Sailor Beware” appeared from 1955. The plot follows two men attempting to enlist in the navy, one to impress women and the other so that he could travel at sea and abide by the orders of his doctor and whilst recruited they indulge in some madcap incidents. The show also became a well known movie that starred Dean Martin Jerry Lewis, making it a highly well known story.
Another show to appear that had also been told onscreen was “Footloose” in 2006, based on the hit movie starring Kevin Bacon from the 1980s. The Broadway musical made its way to the West End with Cheryl Baker in a lead role and continued to cement the Novello Theatre as a venue that could compete with other blockbusting West End theatres in the capital. It ran for much of the year and stood out from the abundance of offerings from the Royal Shakespeare Company that were appearing at the theatre at the time.
The Royal Shakespeare Company welcomed an array of annual shows in London and between 2005 and 2009 many such shows made their way to the Novello Theatre.
In the past few years it has continued to welcome some well known plays and musical, with “Spring Awakening” appearing in 2009 and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with James Earl Jones in the same year. The dance spectacular “Tap Dogs” also appeared in 2010 and it was followed by Robert Lindsay’s anticipated appearance in the role of Greek Shipping Magnate Aristotle Onassis in the show entitled “Onassis”. The latter had been staged previously but appeared at the Novello following extensive rewrites which refocused the story.
Further Facts about the Novello Theatre
• Famous names to appear at the venue include John Mills, Cheryl Baker, Elaine Paige, Summer Strallen, Emma Williams, James Earl Jones, Sanaa Lathan, Jenny Eclair and Robert Lindsay, amongst others.
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