While not the largest West End theatre - the souvenir brochure celebrating the theatre's opening still proclaimed that 'if all the bricks used in the building were laid in a straight line, they would stretch from London to Paris'. Two week before opening the Observer visited the building and sent back this report: "London's latest playhouse - the Piccadilly Theatre, at the corner of Sherwood and Denman Streets - is just now the scene of a battle against time. A small army of artists, craftsmen, and bricklayers are engaged in a great effort for the completion of the theatre by Friday week when Blue Eyes, with Evelyn Laye, will be produced. Holding only 1,200 persons, the house has for its colour motifs eau-de-nil and gold which, with the help of darker decorative panels round the well of the theatre, give a cool and yet cosy appearance. This is enhanced by a magnificent crystal ceiling light, set in a shallow elliptical saucer dome whose fine tinting will be illuminated by concealed lighting. Dainty Japanese designs are being used to adorn the fronts of the boxes and circles. These have been painted by the Japanese craftsmen of the Paris firm who - under the direction of the joint architects Messrs. Bertie Crewe and Edward A. Stone - are responsible for the decoration. Portland stone has been used for the exterior, which is modern in that it carries no superfluous details. Some fine walnut wood inlay is being used in the front of the house and foyers which produce a warmness of tone altogether pleasing. Some features new to London theatre planning are incorporated in the structure. For instance, a special ladies' buffet and retiring room has been provided, while a feature of the general bars is the extreme length of counter. The houses seating accommodation is divided into stalls, dress circle and upper circle, there is no gallery. Comfortable tub seats are fitted throughout the theatre. Ample exits are provided, there being five feet of doorway for every seventy-five persons. Yet another feature is the system of heating and ventilation. By the method employed, fresh air, washed and warmed to the required temperature, enters the auditorium from the roof and is extracted from under every seat. Overheated air and tobacco smoke thus cannot rise, an especial blessing in a theatre to be given over to the production of musical comedy. Back stage there are over forty dressing rooms spread over five floors, and all connected with lifts. The stage, although not exceptionally large, is fitted with every known modern appliance, including a system of flood-lighting and electric counter-weighting of 'tabs' - these being the battens to which the scenery is attached - that is comparatively now to this country. There is little doubt that when the curtain goes up on the first night, it will rise upon one of the most charming, certainly the most up-to-date, of London's theatres." In the mid-1950s the art deco interior was given a completely new colour scheme.
The theatre opened on Friday 27 April 1928 with the romantic musical Blue Eyes with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Guy Bolton and Graham John, and starring Evelyn Laye. A spectacular production with one critic remarking that "the company of 93 people wear 480 costumes. They are always changing, and each time they seem to get more beautiful." After a successful opening, the production transferred on Monday 30 July 1928 to Daly's Theatre before closing after 276 performances on Saturday 22 December 1928.
History was made here on Thursday 27 September 1928 when the theatre premiered Al Jolson's film The Jazz Singer - the first full-length 'talkie' to be shown publically in Britain. It was presented as the main feature in a programme of films presented using the Vitaphone system. The programme started with a couple of short films that showcased the versatility of this new 'talkie' system followed by a showing of The Jazz Singer. 'Talkies' continued to be shown for the next year before the theatre returned to use as a live theatre.
Notable productions here include the revue Folly to be Wise by Dion Titheradge with music by Vivian Ellis and devised by Jack Hulbert and Paul Murray which opened on Thursday 8 January 1931 starring Cicely Courtneidge and Nelson Keys. It run for some 257 performances up to Saturday 1 August 1931 and was replaced by a revised version - Folly to be Wiser - featuring the same cast which opened on Thursday 16 September 1931, but only managed to run up to Saturday 28 November 1931. One of the longest running productions was the original production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit starring Margaret Rutherford, Fay Compton, Kay Hammond and Cecil Parker which opened here on Wednesday 2 July 1941 and played here for virtually one year before transferring to the St James Theatre from Monday 29 June 1942 - the production subsequently transferred to the Duchess Theatre where it completed a total run of 1,997 performances - a record for a non-musical at the time.
Other long running shows here include the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Willy Russell's play Educating Rita starring Julie Walters and Mark Kingston which, after playing at the Donmar Warehouse from June to July 1980, transferred here at the Piccadilly Theatre on Tuesday 18 August 1980 and run for a 870 performances before closing on Saturday 18 September 1982. The film version, which starred Julie Christie and Michael Caine premiered at the Leicester Square Theatre on Tuesday 3 May 1983. The musical Pump Boys and Dinettes opened here in September 1984 starring Paul Jones and Kiki Dee. The longest running show here though was the revival of the musical Grease. This production, featuring the songs from the movie, had originally been staged at the Dominion Theatre very successfully back in the early 1990s and had returned to London's West End for a couple of short holiday seasons. Then in 2007 the production was the subject of the reality TV show Grease Is The Word when, over a number of weeks, the public voted for who they wanted to play the lead roles of 'Danny' and 'Sandy' - the show then opened here on Wednesday 8 August 2007 and played a record-breaking 1,557 performances before closing on Saturday 30 April 2011.
Closes 31 August 2019Buy tickets online
From 24 Oct 2019 to 4 Jan 2020Buy tickets online