Current Show: The London Stage Premiere of the new new musical Back to the Future
There has been a theatre here since 1806 when The Sans Pareil Theatre opened here. This theatre went through a number of refurbishments, and name changes, becoming The Adelphi Theatre in 1819 and then The Theatre Royal, Adelphi in 1829. Although the theatre was popular during the 1820s, the building fell into disrepair by the 1850s and was demolished to make way for a new 1,500 seater theatre which opened in December 1858 under the same name, though within 10 years the name was changed to The Royal Adelphi Theatre.
After barely 40 years, and with some modifications taking place during that time, the building was then virtually rebuilt with a slightly smaller capacity and reopened as The Century Theatre in September 1901 - but public demand for the old name was so strong, that the theatre reverted to being called The Royal Adelphi Theatre after just six months! It was announced early in 1930 that the theatre would once again be rebuilt - work started on demolishing the building in the middle of April 1930, and less than eight months later the theatre that we know today was opened.
'A theatre of straight lines and angles'
The current theatre is noted for being designed in a modernist 1930s art deco style. When it opened it was described as being "designed with a complete absence of curves. Externally and internally the entire conception is carried out in straight lines and angles, the angle of thirty-two degrees being used as the master note." This 'straight-line' design is most noticeable from the outside by the glazed window looking out from the Dress Circle bar area onto the street, directly above the theatre's canopy and, internally, by the line of the front of the two circles and side boxes. Designed by the architect Ernest Schaufelberg with seating on three levels it was opened officially on Wednesday 3 December 1930 with a successful 254 performance run of the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical Evergreen. Notable amongst the 150 strong company of performers were Jessie Matthews and her 'soon-to-be-husband' Sonnie Hale who both reprised their stage roles in the 1934 film version.
Two Cole Porter musicals where staged here during the early 1930s - introducing London audiences to his songs 'Mad About the Boy' and 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' in September 1932 was Words and Music which run for 164 performances while in October 1933 Nymph Errant opened for a run of 154 performances in a production choreographed by Agnes de Mille and starring Gertrude Lawrence in the 'title role'. The cast also included Elisabeth Welch who introduced the song 'Solomon'.
In February 1935 the Irving Berlin revue show Stop Press opened - this was a revised version of the Broadway show As Thousands Cheer which had enjoyed a run of just under 12 months at the Music Box Theatre in New York. Around half of Moss Hart's original sketches were kept with Greatrex Newman providing new sketches especially written for London audiences. The Daily Mirror praised it as being "the best revue for years. It has American smartness and English charm. Beauty and wit distinguish its various items, and it has what every intelligent revue must have, a unifying idea. The drop curtain represents the front pages of famous newspapers. A headline appears before each item of the show, and the scene that follows is an interpretation of it in terms of the revue writer's art."
Unfortunately Stop Press fell foul of the then current 'censorship laws' - prior to the introduction of the Theatre Act of 1968, all theatrical public performances needed to be sanctioned by the Lord Chamberlain. Although, as required by law at the time, the script of Stop Press had been submitted to Lord Cromer, the acting Lord Chamberlain, and was licensed by him subject to certain alterations - two parts of the new sketches where, without approval, altered and, when publically performed, were considered to fall foul of what was thought to be appropriate for public performance. The first sketch concerned the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the sculptor Jacob Epstein, who had just the previous year been commissioned to make a 'larger-than-life' bust of Bernard Shaw. The sketch was entitled Epstein Commissioned by Mr Bernard Shaw and, as licensed, concluded with the words spoken by an actor representing Mr Bernard Shaw, "No, I am adapting Back to Methuselah as a talkie short." But, as the sketch was presented, the actors, after speaking these words, returned to the stage and informed the audience that they were going to make a joint broadcast to the English-Speaking public. Then, using a hand microphone, and after some whispered words, both actors made "a labial imitation of a vulgar noise". The second sketch represented a society wedding, and in the first part there was a bedroom scene, followed by a mock marriage scene. Both were deemed to be offensive and, having made unqualified and absolute apologies, the producer Clifford Whitley, the director Hassard Short, the theatre's General Manager John Greenhill and the sketch writer Greatrex Newman were each fined £50. The magistrate said that there had been a very deliberate and grave infringement of the law saying "I cannot refrain from the view that it was perfectly well known by everyone that they were about to present in this revue a thing which not only had not been passed by the Lord Chamberlain, but would never be considered by the Lord Chamberlain as being fit to be passed for presentation at any theatre in this country." The revue continued to run for four and a-half months up to July 1935, with Maurice Chevalier joining the cast for the last four weeks during which time it played to sell-out audiences.
In 1942, a revival of Ivor Novello's musical comedy The Dancing Years enjoyed a run of 969 performances. The theatre's first long running production was the A. P. Herbert and Vivian Ellis musical Bless the Bride which opened here in April 1947 and continued up to June 1949 and 886 performances. It was nearly twenty years later that the next long-running show opened - the musical comedy Charlie Girl starring Anna Neagle and Derek Nimmo. With songs by David Heneker and John Taylor, book by Hugh Williams, Margaret Vyner and Ray Cooney from a story by Ross Taylor, the show opened here on 16 December 1965 to poor notices from the newspaper critics: The Daily Express complained that was "devoid of subtlety and grace", the Financial Times thought that "almost everything about the production seemed to be obstinately second-class." The Times complained about the "sagging story line" and "mediocre score" while the Guardian said that "this baffling musical moves slowly through a series of musical clichés and dramatic banalities. It is very slow. It will probably be a roaring success." - and a roaring success it was! After opening the producer Harold Fielding is reputed to have spent the huge amount of some £20,000 on advertising the show (the equivalent of around £300,000 today!) which seems to have been money well spent as Charlie Girl went on to play for five-and-a-half years, finally closing in March 1971 after a record-breaking 2,201 performances. No doubt the success of the show owed much to the fact that the original stars - Anna Neagle and Derek Nimmo - stayed with the show for the entire run!
The 1950s saw a number of revue style shows presented here, often headlined by entertainment stars from the radio. The theatre was threatened with closure in 1955 when the chain store 'Woolworths' bought the block on the Strand on which the Adelphi stood - with the plan to convert the theatre into a Woolworths store! Fortunately the London County Council refused permission for the change of use: "The committee considered that there were no special circumstances involved and no information had been put forward to justify the change of use of the theatre - a change which would, therefore, be contrary to the County of London Development Plan as approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Then, again, in 1961 plans were submitted to redevelop the whole block enclosed by the Adelphi Theatre, the Strand, Bedford Street and Maiden Lane to the rear. This time the application included plans for a new theatre similar in size to the current Adelphi, but although the plan was approved by the London County Council, it was never carried out in the end.
In 1975 Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music was staged here and enjoyed a run of 406 performances. Then in February 1985 a revival of the Noel Gay musical Me and My Girl opened starring Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson. The original 1937 version at the Victoria Palace Theatre had starred Lupino Lane and had been a huge hit - running for 1,646 performances. For this revival the dialogue was completely rewritten for more modern audiences by Stephen Fry while Noel Gay's songs 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On' was added to the score. Despite the show's previous success the revival's director, Mike Ockrent, said: "We still can't be sure that Me and My Girl will work. It does have a lot of memories for a certain generation: we've all had letters from people who saw the original production and remember it as a happy show. But we hope that another generation will be brought in by the show's modern musical production valves: the scale is quite impressive, with huge production numbers and sophisticated scenic effects which audience nowadays expect." The show certainly did find a new generation to love it, so much so that it run for just under eight years, closing in January 1993 after a record breaking run of 3,305 performances, almost twice the number of performances of the original 1937 version!
The record for the longest running production ever to play here is currently held by the 1997 revival of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Chicago the Musical - opening here in November 1997 it played for some 3,500 performances before transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006.
In 1993 the Adelphi Theatre was extensively restored to its former 1930s glory when Andrew Lloyd Webber became the co-owner along with James Nederlander. When you visit the theatre be sure to take a look around and spot the art deco designs.
Architect: Ernest Schaufelberg
Opened: 3 December 1930
Listed: Grade II
Currently Seats: 1,560 on 3 levels
Adelphi Theatre Show Archive
Booking up to 13 February 2022