National Skating Palace
London Palladium in 2014
|Public transit||Oxford Circus|
|Type||West End theatre|
|Opened||26 December 1910|
|Years active||1926 – present|
The London Palladium (//) is a 2,286-seat Grade II* West End theatre located on Argyll Street, London, in the famous area of Soho. Of the roster of stars who have played there, many have televised performances. The theatre has hosted the Royal Variety Performance 43 times, most recently in 2019.
Walter Gibbons, an early moving-pictures manager, built the Palladium in 1910 to compete with Sir Edward Moss's London Hippodrome and Sir Oswald Stoll's London Coliseum. The facade (on the site of Argyll House, demolished in the 1860s, from which the pub opposite took the name The Argyll Arms), dates back to the 19th century. Formerly it was a temporary wooden building called Corinthian Bazaar, which featured an aviary and aimed to attract customers from the recently closed Pantheon Bazaar (now Marks and Spencers) on Oxford Street. The theatre was rebuilt a year later by Fredrick Hengler, the son of a tightrope walker, as a circus arena for entertainments that included promenade concerts, pantomimes and an aquatic display in a flooded ring. It then became the National Skating Palace – a skating rink with real ice. However the rink failed and the Palladium was redesigned by Frank Matcham, a famous theatrical architect who also designed the Coliseum, on the site that had previously housed Hengler's Circus. The building now carries Heritage Foundation commemorative plaques honouring Lew Grade and Frankie Vaughan.
The theatre retains many of its original features and was Grade II* listed in September 1960. The Palladium had its own telephone system so the occupants of boxes could call one another. It also had a revolving stage.
The theatre started out as The Palladium, a premier venue for variety performances. Pantomimes were also featured there. In 1926, the pantomime starred Lennie Dean as Cinderella, footage of which remains to this day. The theatre is especially linked to the Royal Variety Performances, where many were, and still are, held. In 1928, for three months the Palladium also ran as a cinema. Following this 'Cine-Variety' episode the theatre fell dark for a short period in the autumn of 1928.
From 3 September 1928, the Palladium reopened under the directorship of the impresario/producer George Black as part of the General Theatre Corporation (GTC). When Black took control the theatre was close to bankruptcy. He revived its fortunes by returning to the original ethos of the Palladium by staging large variety shows, with a capital 'V' – and as well as headlining Britain's homegrown acts he brought over big American stars such as Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, Adelaide Hall, Louis Armstrong and Ethel Waters for two-week engagements. Before too long, under Black's management the Palladium was soon gaining praise again as 'The World's Leading Variety Theatre'. In 1935, Black initiated the Crazy Gang revues at the Palladium (for which he is chiefly remembered) with Life Begins at Oxford Circus. The revues continued at the Palladium as an annual event until they transferred to the Victoria Palace theatre in 1940. Black managed the Palladium until his death in 1945.
The theatre was hit by an unexploded German parachute mine on 11 May 1941. The device had fallen through the roof, becoming lodged over the stage. A Royal Navy bomb disposal team was sent to deal with it. After the mine was located, the fuse locking ring had to be turned to allow access to the fuze itself. Rather disconcertingly, the fuse began ticking as soon as it was touched. This caused a rapid evacuation of the immediate area, but the mine did not detonate. The two team members cautiously returned, extracted the fuse and removed other hazardous components, rendering the mine 'safe'. It was then lowered to the stage and disposed of. The George Medal for gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty was given to Sub Lieutenant Graham Maurice Wright for his action in the Palladium on that night. He was later killed, on 19 Aug 1941, while en route for Gibraltar on board the torpedoed troopship SS Aguila.
Val Parnell took over as Managing Director after George Black's death in 1945. He adopted a controversial, but very successful, policy of presenting high-priced, big-name American acts at the top of the bill. Among many, the list included Carmen Miranda, Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, the Andrews Sisters with Vic Schoen and his orchestra, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray, freezing out many British stars of the day, who were relegated to second-billing.
From 1955–67 the theatre was the setting for the top-rated ITV variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium hosted first by Tommy Trinder, followed by Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan, and Jimmy Tarbuck. The programme was broadcast live every week by ATV, which was owned by the famous theatrical impresario Lew Grade. Production was by Val Parnell. Six programmes aired as special episodes in the United States between May and August 1966 on NBC.
Val Parnell became associated with a property development company and began to sell Moss Empires' theatres for redevelopment. When it became known in 1966 that this fate awaited the London Palladium, The Victoria Palace and even the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Prince Littler organised a take-over to save the theatres and Val Parnell retired to live in France. The new Managing Director of Stoll-Moss was Louis Benjamin, who took on the role while continuing as MD of Pye Records within the ATV Group.
By 1965, the Wine Society was operating out of a cellar under the Palladium. Additionally, it was also using one at Joiner Street under London Bridge Station and one at St James's Bond in Rotherhithe (which flooded at high tide).
A Johnny Cash album was recorded there in 1968, but Columbia Records never released it. Bootlegs of the performance are in circulation.
In November 1970 Dorothy Squires gave a concert at the Palladium. In January 1973, glam rock band Slade played a gig in the theatre which resulted in the venue's balcony nearly collapsing. In 1976 Marvin Gaye recorded a live concert at the venue. The performance documented on the resulting double LP, entitled Live at the London Palladium and released in 1977. In July 1974, singer Cass Elliott performed for two weeks. The night of her final performance she died in her sleep in her rented flat in Mayfair. Also in 1974, Josephine Baker performed in the Royal Variety Performance. The 1991 movie The Josephine Baker Story implied that, like Cass Elliott, she died after a show there, but this is not true.
In the late 1980s, the Palladium was once again the setting for the popular ITV1 variety show, Live From the Palladium, compered by Jimmy Tarbuck. During this time, the theatre was under the ownership of the 'Stoll Moss Theatres Group', and the management of Margaret and David Locke, who were both major shareholders of Stoll Moss at the time.
In 1988, the Edinburgh Gang Show appeared as part of the British Musical Hall Society's Silver Jubilee.
In 2000, ownership of the theatre changed once again when Stoll Moss was acquired by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group. From 3 May 2000 to 5 January 2002, the Palladium played The King and I starring Elaine Paige and Jason Scott Lee. This production was a West End transfer of the hugely successful 1996 Broadway production. Before the opening, the box office had already taken in excess of £7 million in ticket sales. This version of the show was a lavish affair, with new dialogue and music added, while the original material was updated. During the run, Josie Lawrence played the role of Anna and Paul Nakauchi and Keo Woolford played the role of the King, respectively. After the production closed, the famous (but outdated) revolving stage was removed to make way for more modern technology.
From April 2002 to 4 September 2005, the Palladium played host to a theatrical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with songscore by the Sherman Brothers as a successor to The King & I. Throughout its three and a half year run at the venue, the production starred many celebrities (see below). This show proved to be the most successful in the theatre's long history and reunited, 50 years later, the show's choreographer Gillian Lynne, with the theatre in which she had appeared as the Palladium's Star Dancer during the early 50s. On 1 November 2004 and 22 November singer-songwriter Jackson Browne performed two concerts during his solo acoustic tour. For Christmas 2005–06, the venue staged Bill Kenwright's production of Scrooge – The Musical which closed on 14 January 2006. The show starred Tommy Steele, making a return to the Palladium. From February 2006, the theatre played host to a new musical production entitled Sinatra At The London Palladium, which featured a live band, large screen projections and dancers performing Frank Sinatra's greatest hits.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian's production of The Sound of Music opened at the Palladium in November 2006. The production ran for just over two years, before closing on 21 February 2009. It starred Connie Fisher and Summer Strallen as Maria, Simon Shepherd, Alexander Hanson and Simon MacCorkindale as Captain Von Trapp and Lesley Garrett and Margaret Preece as the Mother Abbess. A production of Sister Act the Musical opened on 2 June 2009, starring Patina Miller as Deloris, Sheila Hancock as Mother Superior, Ian Lavender as Monsignor Howard, Chris Jarman as Shank, Ako Mitchell as Eddie, Katie Rowley Jones as Sister Mary Robert, Claire Greenway as Sister Mary Patrick and Julia Sutton as Sister Mary Lazarus.
Rufus Wainwright held two sold out Judy Garland tribute concerts at the theatre on 18 and 25 February 2007. On 20 May 2007 the London Palladium hosted the 2007 BAFTA awards, which were broadcast on BBC television, and in 2010 the BAFTA Television Awards returned to the Palladium. While the Theatre has a resident show, it is still able to have one off performances; this is enabled by the scenery of the resident show being designed to be easily removed. For example, the set of Sister Act was able to be hoisted completely above the stage out of view in an area called the Fly Loft.
The London Palladium turned 100 years old on Boxing Day 2010, and a one-hour television special entitled '100 Years of the Palladium' aired on BBC Two on 31 December 2010. Sir Elton John performed at the venue in September 2013 in a special show where he was presented with the Brit Awards Icon, subsequently broadcast on ITV1. Robbie Williams promoted his new album Swings Both Ways, the UK's 1000th No. 1 album, with a one-night performance on 8 November 2013 that was filmed for television broadcast (BBC One). He was joined by members of the cast of The Muppet Show (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Statler and Waldorf), Lily Allen, Rufus Wainwright, his father, a children's choir and a 30-piece orchestra. Invited guests included Adele and One Direction.
In 2014, Really Useful Group split in two, and the entity owning the theatre became the Really Useful Theatres Group.
In 2018, Sir Bruce Forsyth's ashes were laid to rest under the Palladium's stage, with a blue plaque commemorating him on a nearby wall, featuring the description "Without question the UK's greatest entertainer, he rests in peace within the sound of music, laughter and dancing… exactly where he would want to be."
Between 26 June and 8 September 2019, the Palladium staged the 50th Anniversary production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice’ Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was a whole new production with Sheridan Smith starring as the Narrator and Jason Donovan as the Pharaoh and introducing Jac Yarrow in the title role.
US pop icon Madonna will play multiple dates at the Palladium as part of her Madame X residency tour during January/ February 2020.
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