Current Show: Lee Hall's new musical Get Up, Stand Up!, based on the music of Bob Marley and The Wailer
The Lyric Theatre is the oldest surviving of all the theatres currently on Shaftesbury Avenue and was built for Henry J Leslie with the profits that he had made from staging the Benjamin Charles Stephenson and Alfred Cellier comic opera Dorothy. Thus it was fitting that the first production here on Monday 17 December 1888 was a transfer from the Prince of Wales Theatre of that very same opera, playing its 870th performance.
A contemporary report from the theatre's opening states that: "This large and handsome new theatre, which may in a sense be said to owe its existence to the phenomenal success of a single opera, has what must be considered an admirable situation, for it stands on a plot of land nearly isolated and only a few yards from Piccadilly Circus. Into Shaftesbury Avenue, Archer Street, and Windmill Street, the Lyric Theatre has twelve doors for entrance and exit, ten for the public and two for the performers and employees, whilst in this respect the Royal Box is exceptionally well provided for. The house is not only arranged by the architect, Mr C J Phipps, with a view to the prevention of panic, but is made as fireproof as the resources of builders' science will allow. It is, of course, lighted with electricity; no gas at all is, it is said, to be employed, though a good deal was used last night; and the installation has been carried out by M Emil Sechehaye, of Vienna. There is an iron curtain, painted with a picture of Bushey Park, to divide stage from auditorium; and in every practicable way the risk from fire seems to have been minimised. In size the Lyric appears to rank with the Savoy and the Prince of Wales Theatres (both now rebuilt): but it is so arranged as to seat an audience of nearly 1,600 persons, 330 of whom are provided for in the Pit, and 700 in the Gallery; of Stalls there are 159, and there are 12 private boxes. The foyer for the use of visitors to the more expensive parts of the house is on a level with the Dress Circle and, therefore, with the street, as Stalls and stage are sunk into the basement. This foyer, richly and tastefully decorated after the manner of Dutch domestic architecture, is certainly one of the features of the theatre, another being the fine hall or lounge-room at the back of the Upper Circle, a spacious apartment, which will be used for concerts and other entertainments. The style of decoration in this latter room is French, of the time of Henry II, with ribbed ceiling, tapestry, and panelled dado. The auditorium itself is decorated in a lighter, brighter way than either of these foyers; the colours chiefly employed being pale lemon and equally pale grey-blue, together with white and gold. The predominant tint of the upholstery is blue, and the general effect of the scheme of colour is very pleasing. The brown and white alabaster of the proscenium, however, is a mistake, for it looks heavy und unrefined. The accommodation for the comfort of the public is not only adequate, but luxurious; and Mr Leslie has actually provided a dressing and bath room for the convenience of visitors - whom one cannot suppose very numerous - desiring to dress after arriving at the theatre." The opening production of Dorothy continued to play up to Saturday 6 April 1889 for a total run of 931 performances - and becoming the longest-running musical in history at the time!
The Lyric Theatre initially staged mostly light operettas when it first opened before subsequently staging light comedies and straight drama normally for limited seasons. On Wednesday 23 August 1950 Peter Brook's production of Andre Roussin's The Little Hut, featuring Robert Morley in the first cast, run for 1,261 performances. Twenty years later Robert Morley returned, this time in Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves which opened on Wednesday 5 August 1970 and run for 869 performances. More recently Five Guys Named Moe, a musical based on the songs of Louis Jordan, had a very successful run here - opening Friday 14 December 1990 and running until Saturday 4 March 1995 when it transferred to the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre). In 1933 the vestibule crush room and bars were entirely reconstructed and the theatre was completely redecorated by Micheal Rosenbauer while in 1994 the exterior was restored to its former glory.