The Lyric Theatre is the oldest surviving of all the theatres currently on Shaftesbury Avenue. The foyers and bar areas were completely redecorated in 1932/33 while the exterior was restored in 1994.
Lyric Theatre History:
The Lyric Theatre initially staged mostly light operettas when it first opened before subsequently staging light comedies and straight drama. In 1950 Andre Roussin’s The Little Hut ran for 1,261 performances with Robert Morley in the first cast. 1972 saw Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves run for 869 performances. More recently Five Guys Named Moe, a musical based on the songs of Louis Jordan, had a very successful run here – opening 14 December 1990 and running until March 1995.
The Lyric Theatre is the oldest West End theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, having opened in December 1888. Designed by architect C J Phipps, it was originally built for impresario Henry J Leslie as a home for operetta. Since then the building has successfully hosted drama, comedy and musicals and some highlights of its rich history are listed below.
Lyric Theatre Highlights and Recent Productions:
•1888 Opened with a transfer of the comic opera Dorothy from the Prince of Wales Theatre, featuring Marie Tempest.
•1892 The Mountebanks, a comic opera by W S Gilbert.
•1893 Eleanora Duse made her London debut in La Dame aux Camellias.
•1896 The Sign of the Cross, written and produced by Wilson Barrett.
•1899 Floradora with music by Leslie Stuart (including ‘Tell Me Pretty Maiden’) brought the theatre into the 20th century.
•1902 Johnstone Forbes-Robertson produced and appeared with his wife Gertrude Elliott in Mice and Men.
•1906 Lewis Waller appeared in a season of revivals and a romantic version of Robin Hood.
•1911 Michael Faraday became sole controller of the theatre and Yvonne Arnaud found fame in the musical The Girl in the Taxi.
•1922 A play about the composer Franz Schubert employing his music, Lilac Time, was a great success.
•1926 The Gold Diggers starred Tallulah Bankhead.
•1929 Leslie Howard appeared in Berkeley Square.
•1931 Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude and Dodie Smith’s first play, Autumn Crocus.
•1933 Thomas Bostock took over and the building was completely re-decorated.
•1934 Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontane in A Reunion in Vienna and George S Kaufman’s Royal Family, directed by Noël Coward with Madge Titheradge, Marie Tempest and Laurence Olivier.
•1935 Tovarich by Robert Sherwood and Laurence Houseman’s Victoria Regina about Queen Victoria.
•1941 Yvonne Arnaud in The Nutmeg Tree.
•1950 Robert Morley starred in The Little Hut which ran for 1,261 performances.
•1955 Noël Coward’s South Sea Bubble starred Vivien Leigh.
•1958 Keith Michell and Elizabeth Seal led the cast in the musical Irma La Douce.
•1964 Keith Michell again as Robert Browning in Robert and Elizabeth.
•1972 Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves and Alec Guinness in Alan Bennett’s Habeas Corpus.
•1974 The Lyric became part of the Stoll Moss Theatres group.
•1983 Barbara Dickson starred in the original production of Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers and Judi Dench and Michael Williams were in Hugh Whitmore’s Pack of Lies.
•1984 Leonard Rossiter sadly died during the run of Joe Orton’s Loot.
•1990 Burn This starred John Malkovich and Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Clarke Peters’ Five Guys Named Moe began a five-year run. Janet Holmes à Court took control of Stoll Moss following the death of her husband.
•1995 The musical revival Ain’t Misbehavin’, Leo McKern in Hobson’s Choice from Chichester and Australian dance sensation Tap Dogs.
•1996 Transfer of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn’s musical By Jeeves.
•1997 Siân Phillips starred as Dietrich in Pam Gems’s play with music Marlene directed by Sean Mathias, and Antony Sher in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Cyrano de Bergerac. The theatre front of house areas were completely refurbished.
•1998 Patrick Marber’s Closer from the Royal National Theatre.
•1999 Animal Crackers from the Manchester Royal Exchange and a multi award-winning performance from Janie Dee in Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential.
•2000 The Lyric became a Really Useful Theatre when Lord Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Group and Bridgepoint Capital purchased Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd. Fanny Burney’s A Busy Day with Stephanie Beacham and Sara Crowe prior to Brief Encounter with Jenny Seagrove and Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Jessica Lange.
•2001 Thelma Holt presented the first full-scale production of Noël Coward’s 1926 play Semi-Monde prior to a short season of Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim and Brendan Fraser in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (both produced by Bill Kenwright).
•2006 Bill Kenwright presented Night of the Iguana starring Woody Harrelson, Clare Higgins and Jenny Seagrove. Phil McIntyre staged a new play Smaller by Carmel Morgan, starring Dawn French and Alison Moyet, and directed by Kathy Burke.
In 2005 veteran producers Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer purchased The Lyric Theatre, along with the Apollo, Duchess and Garrick Theatres creating Nimax Theatres on 26 September 2005. The Vaudeville Theatre, solely owned by Max Weitzenhoffer, completes the Nimax portfolio.