The Prince Edward Theatre is situated in Soho, the heart of London’s West End, surrounded by numerous bars and restaurants.
One of the largest theatres in London, it has been home to many hit musicals in recent years, including Evita, Chess, Mamma Mia! and more recently Jersey Boys.
Named after the-then Prince of Wales, it opened in April 1930 with Rio Rita, a romantic musical which closed after only 59 performances. Designed by Edward A. Stone, who had been joint-architect of the Piccadilly Theatre, there is a spacious circular foyer, decorated in the fashionable art deco style, with staircases leading off to the stalls and dress circle. The auditorium has a seating capacity of 1,650.
At the time, the size of the stage was exceeded only by those at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. It was specifically designed to accommodate large musical shows.
Following little success with musical productions during the 30’s the theatre was turned into a cabaret-restaurant; large kitchens were installed beneath the stage, a semi-circular revolving dance floor was put in and staircases linking the dress circle and stalls levels were added. It reopened in April 1936 as the London Casino with a spectacular revue called Folies Parisiennes. The London Casino quickly became the place to go for an evening’s entertainment.
In 1940 the London Blitz called a halt to all such frivolity and for two years the theatre was dark. Then in July 1942 it became the home of the Queensberry All-Services Club. The audiences were members of the armed forces who gathered for the recording of shows like Variety Band Box. Leading artists who appeared included Vera Lynn, Jack Warner, Max Wall, Flanagan and Allan, child star Petula Clark, bandleader Glenn Miller and even American sensation Bing Crosby.
After the war the theatre reopened as the London Casino. From 1947, following on from Ivor Novello’s popular musical The Dancing Years, it largely hosted variety shows. The Ink Spots, famous for the song ‘Whispering Grass’, played to packed houses, and there were a series of Latin Quarter revues. On top of this, there was the traditional annual pantomime. Julie Andrews appeared as Humpty Dumpty, Arthur Askey as Buttons in Cinderella and Richard Murdoch made his pantomime debut as Queen Hysteria in Little Miss Muffet.
In 1954 Cinerama arrived and the theatre that had been wired for ‘talkies’ since the day it was built was converted to house a large, curved 64ft wide screen with three projectors to create a three-dimensional effect. How The West Was Won ran continuously for over two years and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for more than a year. In December 1974 Bernard Delfont staged the pantomime Cinderella starring model Twiggy.
Evita was the massive hit musical that the Prince Edward Theatre had been waiting for, and was the first of a new generation of musicals written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It brought the leading lady, Elaine Paige, to fame and fortune, and ran at the Prince Edward Theatre from June 1978 for eight years. To coincide with the opening the theatre reverted to its original name of the Prince Edward Theatre. Evita was followed by a three-year run of Tim Rice’s Chess and later by Anything Goes, both of which also starred Elaine Paige.
In 1990 Bernard Delfont and Cameron Mackintosh decided to rebuild the Prince Edward. They spent over £3 million on a complete refurbishment which included deepening and widening the stage, improving the acoustics, remodelling and redecorating the auditorium, adding side boxes and a sophisticated new interior and exterior lighting. The Prince Edward reopened in March 1993 with the hit Broadway musical Crazy for You.
Mamma Mia!, the sensational Abba-inspired musical love story featuring Abba’s greatest hits, broke all previous box office records when it sold out for five years before transferring to the newly-refurbished Prince of Wales Theatre in June 2004. Prior to the opening of Mary Poppins, the Prince Edward again underwent some refurbishment to improve the bar areas and other facilities front of house. The Mozart Bar in the entrance foyer is so named because the young Wolfgang Amadeus and his father lived at 28 Frith Street, now the theatre’s stage door, from 1764 to 1765.
The multi award- winning production Miss Saigon took its final flight at the theatre in Feb 2016. Disney’s new magical, Aladdin lands at the theatre in May 2016.
Prince Edward theatre tickets in London:
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- Aladdin (May 2016 – Oct 2016), please click here.
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