This large venue serves as both a theatre and a cinema. Originally seating some 2,841 on 3 levels, the seating capacity has been reduced to 2,007 with just the stalls and first circle now being used.
The Dominion Theatre was built via a public share issue to raise the needed funds to build what was at the time London's largest theatre. The goal was to build a large enough theatre to house large spectacular style musicals while having enough seating to allow for 'popular' (ie cheaper) prices to be charged.
When it opened, the Times described it as being "intended for musical plays of a light nature at popular prices. It is decorated in the style of the late French Renaissance and presents pleasant vistas of cool soft blue walls, lightened with silver... The theatre has everything in its favour; every grumble of the ordinary theatregoer has been listened to and met. There are three centre gangways in the stalls and two side gangways, and there is plenty of room to get in and out... The theatre contains to large boxes, 1,340 stalls, 818 dress circle seats, and 683 balcony seats. The auditorium is 105ft wide and 105ft deep. The theatre is of steel and reinforced concrete, and every seat commands a full view of the stage."
The opening production on Thursday 3 October 1929 was the musical comedy Follow Through about two women golfers at a country club. Written by the respected Broadway writing team of Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, the show was already into its ninth month on Broadway by time it opened in London. Unfortunately though it was not particularly well received - The Times said that, although "some parts of the play are so good, it seems a pity that the whole should be rather disappointing," and The Guardian said: "At the close of the musical comedy Follow Through there was a vociferous tendency of those upstairs to show their disapproval in the usual way, and when Mr Leslie Henson [one of the leads in the show] endeavoured to make a speech he could not be heard owing to the turbulence of the disappointed. That disappointment was reasonable enough, whatever we may think about the way of expressing it. The piece began with golf, went on with golf and ended with golf, and it is not everyone who can relish royal and sometimes ancient humours of the game for three hours on end." The newspaper went on to highlight that "another point that was against the play's chances was the enormous size of the Dominion Theatre. In order to put on huge and lavish productions at the popular prices aimed at, it is necessary to hold an enormous number in the audience, and to hold this enormous audience it is necessary to have long-distance acting and a larger style of comic attack than is usual nowadays... It is no use building theatres on the colossal scale unless you have voices and personalities and a technical method to fill them so thoroughly as to reach the topmost rows of the auditorium. Comfort, space, and excellent surroundings the audience had tonight, and these are important conditions of enjoyment. But they are not the root of the matter." But, with 'popular' prices for seats, the musical still managed a run of some four months before closing, and interestingly the show was revived a few months later in July 1930 at the Victoria Palace Theatre for a short run.
Although the next show - the musical comedy Silver Wings by Dion Titheradge and Douglas Furber and starring the popular entertainer Lupino Lane managed a respectable run of some five months, by July 1930 the Dominion Theatre was showing 'talkies' interspersed with short seasons of opera and dance as well as variety seasons and Christmas pantomimes. During the 1950s and 60s the theatre has presented long runs of musical films most notably South Pacific and The Sound of Music. The Balcony was closed off in 1958 in order to house projection equipment, reducing the maximum seating capacity to the current 2,007 on two levels. The theatre has also been used as a concert venue through the years, with concerts from the likes of Judy Garland, Maurice Chevalier, Sophie Tucker and Shirely Maclaine being just some of the names who have appeared here.
The musical Time by Dave Clarke and starring Cliff Richard enjoyed a two year run here from April 1986. In June 1990 the new musical Bernadette, based on Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, opened. Written by the husband and wife team of Maureen and Gwyn Hughes, it was hailed as 'the people's musical' due to the fact that just over half the £1million required to stage the musical was raised through some 2,000 small shareholders investing from £100 each. Opening to poor notices in the newspapers, the show's producers, William Fonfe and James Murray, hit back saying that a straw poll of 305 people in the first-night audience found 70 per cent thought the show was excellent, 20 per cent thought it was good, 3 per cent that it was average and 5 per cent said that was below average. Murray said: "We are the people's musical and the people have shown they like the show" adding that "the appalling writing and standard of criticism in London is wretched. Almost every review described the show as being riddled with clichés, yet they ended by saying it will need a miracle to save the musical. We don't need a miracle. We need bums on seats." Unfortunately those 'bums' didn't materialise, and the show closed after just 28 performances.
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