The Savoy Theatre, located on the Strand in London’s West End, has a long and interesting history that dates back to 1881 and extends even further back if other factors are taken into account, such as the site on which it sits. Over the years it has been under the watch of many different companies and has also presented a wide range of popular productions across the last century, leading up to its current occupation as the home of the popular blockbuster show Legally Blonde the Musical. The latter has seen many famous names in its lead roles and is one of many productions in the West End to have a movie counterpart (in this case the Reece Witherspoon-starring “Legally Blonde”).
The theatre gets its name from The House of Savoy – a family that contained within its ranks Count Peter of Savoy – who was related to the queen consort of King Henry III. The latter gave Peter the land on which the current Savoy Theatre stands in 1246 and on the site an array of buildings existed here right up until a fire burned it all in 1864. The next step was Richard D’Olyly Carte purchasing the land to construct what we now know as the Savoy Theatre.
The Savoy immediately made it into the history books as it was lit by electricity, making it the first theatre and public space in the world to do so. The design was by C J Phipps, the well known architect responsible for a whole host of London theatres, including the Queen’s Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Lyric Theatre and the Vaudeville Theatre, along with various other venues around the country.
As the owner was now Richard D’Oyly Carte, the venue was used to house a number of productions of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and then, during the 20th century, a wide range of plays and musicals. This was interrupted by a fire in 1990 but after renovation work the Savoy reopened to stage further high profile productions, some of which are the best known shows still running today and others have been blockbuster musicals, providing Wet End audiences with some spectacular sights. The most recent of these has been “Legally Blonde the Musical”, which has including some well known female stars in the lead role and continues to attract many fans ever since it opened in December 2009.
The first ever show to appear at the Savoy Theatre was “Patience”, a comic opera from Gilbert and Sullivan and as the venue was the first public building in the world to use electric lighting, it made “Patience” the first ever show to be lit in such a way. The production had originally appeared at the Opera Comique and transferred to the new Savoy in 1881 where it ran for a high number of performances. If not for “The Mikado” it would have been the longest-running of all opera from Gilbert and Sullivan.
But that does not mean that the Savoy missed out on housing the longest-running Gilbert and Sullivan opera as it was the same place in which “The Mikado” appeared in 1885, running for 672 performances. This not only made it the longest running opera of Gilbert and Sullivan but also one of the longest musical theatre productions of all time. Though productions from the 20th century (namely Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and “Cats”) have surpassed this tenfold, it was a big achievement at the time and was amongst the achievements to ensure recognition for the Savoy Theatre. So the then-newest addition to the West End had gotten off to a great start.
Another high profile show to appear at the Savoy Theatre was in the 1940s when one of Noel Coward’s most famous plays premiered at the venue. “Blithe Spirit” is a show that continues to find audiences in the modern day, with the most recent example taking the form of the 2011 production at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. It follows the story of a writer who employs a medium to entertain his dinner guests and is then surprised to discover that she is the real deal, conjuring up the spirit of his dead wife and having to deal with the farce that follows.
In the last decade the Savoy Theatre has continued to welcome some high profile shows, with the Take That musical “Never Forget” appearing, in addition to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel”. Then, in 2009, the venue became the home of the West End premiere of “Legally Blonde the Musical”, based on the 2001 movie “Legally Blonde”. It had already been seen on the other side of the Atlantic and in London it went on to be a huge hit.
Further Facts about the Savoy Theatre
• Famous names to appear at the Savoy Theatre include Robert Lindsay, the Pet Shop |Boy, Dawn French, Alison Steadman, Ruthie Henshall, Edward Fox, Sheridan Smith, Duncan James, Denise Van Outen and Richard Fleeshman, Lesley Garrett, amongst others.
• As the first public building to use electric lighting, there was great interest in the theatre and to demonstrate the safety of the technology Richard D’Oyly Carte stepped out onto the stage and broke one of the light bulbs, whilst lit.
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