History of the Piccadilly Theatre
Piccadilly Theatre through the years
Built in the roaring twenties, the Piccadilly Theatre has stood at the heart of London’s West End for almost 100 years. During this period, it has played a key role in London’s history, seeing everything from the world’s first ‘talkie’ film and the effects of the Blitz, to the world premiere of the Spice Girls Musical and its current renowned show, Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
The Piccadilly Theatre was built in 1928 by Bertie Crewe, who was one of the most notable theatre architects of the early 1900s, along with Edward A. Stone. Grade II listed, the building became known for its art deco design and dramatic green and silver interior.
The theatre’s opening show was the musical ‘Blue Eyes’ which was highly anticipated at the time as it starred actress Evelyn Laye. A few months later, the Piccadilly made history when it hosted the world’s first ever ‘talkie’ film. The Piccadilly then became a picture house, owned by Warner Brothers, and showed talkies for the next five years, before returning to theatre shows.
In 1936, the Piccadilly Theatre transformed into a cabaret restaurant, changing its name to ‘The London Casino’. During this time, it was famed for its over-the-top performances and glitzy grandeur.
With a lively spot in central London, the Piccadilly endured great difficulty during the Second World War and faced multiple air raids. In 1944, it was hit by a German bomb, which resulted in closure for several months.
In the 50s, the whole building was restored to repair damage from the war. It was during this time that the venue returned to its original name, which it’s still known as today.
In 1960, the venue was acquired by well known theatre impresario, Sir Donald Albery. Throughout the 60s and the 70s, the Piccadilly hosted many successful plays and musicals, with hit shows ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ and ‘ A Streetcar Named Desire’ making their UK debut here.
As well as this, the venue also acted as a recording studio for the Beatles in 1964. Here, they recorded a series of songs for the BBC Radio show, ‘From You To Us’.
In 1986, while it was still acting as a theatre, the Piccadilly was home to series four of ‘Live From… The Piccadilly Theatre. Hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck, the production was a popular Sunday evening variety show that aired on ITV.
Throughout the 90s, the theatre’s show list focused predominantly on musicals and dance. One of the most notable performances was Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, which became the most successful commercial ballet season to ever be shown on the West End.
2000 and beyond
In 2000, the Piccadilly Theatre became part of the Ambassadors Theatre Group portfolio of West End theatres. Since that time it has welcomed famous performers and faces such as the Spice Girls in 2012 for the world premiere of Viva Forever as well as theatre legends Ian Mckellen and Judi Dench. In 2020 Pretty Woman The Musical opened at the theatre before transferring across the West End to The Savoy Theatre. It is currently the London home to the spectacular Moulin Rouge! The Musical.