Phoenix Theatre Archive

Current Show: The Exorcist up to 10 March 2018

Opening in September 1990 here at the Phoenix Theatre was Richard Jones' production of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine 'fairytale-themed' musical Into the Woods. The show featured Julia McKenzie as 'The Witch', who Stephen Sondheim described as being "one of the best singing actresses I've ever encountered. She's totally unmannered, a real character singer - not to mention that she has superb diction. Her theatrical instincts are impeccable. Most of the songs I write, outside pastiche numbers, have to do with scene and character, and I think it's important that the singers be actors. What Julia always brings is her own interpretation, added to the fact, of course, that she really is a singer as well," adding that "Julia is the equivalent of Angela Lansbury. She's got Angela's versatility, though Julia has a much greater voice." Unfortunately despite some good notices from the press, the show closed early after a run of just five months.

Transferring here in March 1991 from the National Theatre was Patrick Mason's well received staging of Brian Friel's new play Dancing at Lughnasa. Set in County Donegal, Ireland at harvest time in 1936, the story, told as a 'memory-play', centred on the lives, and loves, of five sisters. Following a run of just under eight months, the production transferred down the road to the smaller Garrick Theatre where it continued for a further 15 months.

After already running for just over three years at the Albery Theatre (now called Noel Coward Theatre), Willy Russell's re-staged revival of Willy Russell's musical Blood Brothers then transferred here in November 1991. Willy Russell, who adapted the musical from his own play of the same title said that "the musical is very much in ballad form, and it is rife with superstition, which is crucial to the plot. It is an indictment, not of people, but of the class system that divides them." The show hit a cord with the theatre-going public, making this the longest running show here by time it finally closed in November 2012. "I'm really incredibly proud to be part of a West End that is vibrant, ever changing and full of wonderful people, but I somehow doubt there will ever be one like this again," Bill Kenwright told the packed audience at the closing night. "It didn't come out of rave reviews, it didn't come out of millions of people on stage, tapping girls, helicopters, chandeliers - I love them too - but this show was discovered by you lot - this is the people's musical if ever there was a musical for the British public it is Blood Brothers. So many people have come up to me tonight and said 'This has meant so much to me', 'This has changed my life' and 'We just love this show', well I'm so grateful to all of you. This was the musical that the people discovered. We were on tour for two years before Willy decided we could bring it back into the West End because it had been on at the Lyric Theatre before and it hadn't been a huge success and I think he was a bit emotionally hurt by the experience, but eventually he said, 'OK, let's give it another go.' My friend Bill Freeman found me the theatre and he said, 'Come into the Albery'. Blood Brothers opened to the smallest advance in West End theatre history, we had less than 200 pounds in the box office. So what we did was we charged 1 for the first preview, 2 for the second preview and we actually got to 9 before we opened. It got some great reviews, some not so great reviews, but the public just kept coming. Eventually we were given notice to close at the Albery Theatre, where we opened, after a couple of years and I had Dancing at Lughnasa on here at the Phoenix Theatre and I said, 'Bugger that, we're not coming off, and we closed on the Saturday at the Albery Theatre and we opened here on the Thursday and we've had 20 fantastic years here at the Phoenix Theatre!"

Coming in afterwards, for a nine week Christms season, was Angus Jackson's stage production of Michelle Magorian's novel Goodnight Mister Tom, adapted for the stage by David Wood, and starring Oliver Ford Davies. In addition, the children's show Dinosaur Zo was presented for special daytime performances over the Christmas period. This was followed at the end of January 2013 by the return to the London West End stage of the dance show Midnight Tango featuring Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace for a strictly limited five week season. The cast also featured as a special guest Russell Grant, who had earlier partnered with Flavia Cacace in BBC TV's Strictly Come Dancing. April 2013 saw the opening of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Once. Directed by John Carney and based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name, the show was a celebration of love, friendship and music based around the relationship between an Irish busker and a young Czech mother. Over Christmas 2013 the children's show Dinosaur Zoo played special daytime performances.

The new stage musical Bend It Like Beckham, based on the film of the same name, opened here in May 2015, but despite mostly reviews it only managed a run of 10 months before closing and being replaced in March by the musical Guys and Dolls which transferred here from the Savoy Theatre. Unfortunately Guys and Dolls also closed early after a run here of five months. September 2016 saw the arrival here at the Phoenix Theatre of the acclaimed dancers Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace in their third (and final) West End show Last Tango which runs up to December 2016. Gary Barlow and Tim Firth's new musical comedy The Girls opened here in February 2017 to good reviews, but disappointingly the production soon closed after a run of just five months. Bill Kenwright then brough in his touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Evita for a limited 11-week season.