Opened in 1891 under the management of Richard D'Oyly as the Royal English Opera House as a home for English grand opera. A contemporary account tells us: "The new Opera house in Shaftesbury Avenue, which it is, perhaps not a great compliment to describe as the most beautiful theatre in London, was opened on Saturday night with all possible pomp and circumstance. Mr D'0yly Carte, Mr Collcutt, the architect, and the decorators who have been employed are to be congratulated on nothing so much as on the good taste which has ordered the liberal display of all manner of costly materials, and has avoided nearly all trace of garishness and vulgarity. The marble incrustations of the proscenium arch do not form the best conceivable frame for the picture on the stage, but the use of the various marbles on the staircase, in the foyer, and in other parts of the building is extremely good. A curious reversal of the ordinary conventions of theatrical architecture is in the slight convergence of the walls, not towards, but away from the stage, so that the side walls of the auditorium are 14fft nearer to each other at the back of the pit than they are at the proscenium. It is difficult to believe that any acoustic advantage will result from this. Another structural novelty, as far as England it concerned - namely, the upward incline of the ceiling from the stage to the gallery - is less open to criticism."
The opening production on Saturday 31 January 1891 was the romantic opera Ivanhoe, with music by Arthur Sullivan and words by Julian Sturgess. On the following Monday, the Guardian wrote that: "The newly built Royal English Opera House in Shaftesbury Avenue opened its doors for the first time on Saturday evening to a brilliant and distinguished audience, headed by the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. Crowds had waited outside the theatre since midday to obtain access to the three-and-sixpenny pit and two-shilling gallery, and , crammed as these parts were, where remained many hundred people disappointed in their endeavour to witness the first performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan's grand dramatic opera Ivanhoe." The production was a resounding success and run for six months before closing on Friday 31 July 1891. Unfortunately though, with no English opera ready replace Ivanhoe, D'Oyly Carte had to stage French opera and other light opera until he gave up and sold the theatre so that, with some interior alterations, it was converted into a music hall, opening on Saturday 10 December 1892 under the direction of Augustus Harris with the new name the Palace Theatre of Varieties.
Since the mid-1920s the Palace has been mostly home to musicals which have included the musical comedy No, No, Nanette! which opened on Wednesday 11 March 1925 and run for 655 performances before closing on Saturday 16 October 1926. Ivor Novello's King's Rhapsody which opened on Thursday 15 September 1949 and enjoyed a run of 839 performances while the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music opened on Thursday 18 May 1961 starring Jean Bayless as 'Maria' and played for 2,385 performances.
Judi Dench played the role of 'Sally Bowles' in the original West End production of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Cabaret which opened here on Wednesday 28 February 1968, playing for 317 performances before closing nine later. Danny La Rue brought his revue show here in the aptly named Danny La Rue at the Palace which opened on Thursday 9 April 1970 and played for 844 performances. The rest of the 1970s where taken up by one musical - Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar which opened here on Wednesday 9 August 1972 and didn't close until 3,358 performances later on Saturday 23 August 1980. The longest running show here though is Les Miserables. It originally opened at the Barbican Theatre on 8 October 1985 before transferring here on 4 December 1985 playing a record-breaking 7,602 performances over 18 years before it finally closed on 27 March 2004 - but only to move down Shaftesbury Avenue to the Queen's Theatre where it continues it play today!
One notable 'non-musical' that played here at the Palace Theatre was John Osborne's The Entertainer which transferred here from the Royal Court Theatre on Tuesday 10 September 1957. Starring Laurence Olivier in the title role as 'Archie Rice' the cast also included his future wife Joan Plowright playing his daughter, 'Jean'. The production enjoyed a run of 150 performances before closing in January 1958.
During the late 1950s the interior marble work was painted over but, thankfully, during the last half of the 1980s the theatre was extensively restored to its former glory without closing the theatre - interior painting was removed to once again reveal the marble and onyx, while on the exterior, the huge illuminated billboards advertising productions at the theatre have been removed to provide a clear view of the building which holds a prominent position at Cambridge Circus at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road.