The Piccadilly theatre opened on 27th April 1928 and is a Grade II listed building. Designed in the popular Art Deco style of the period, the interior is full of angular lines and dark woods. Originally holding 1400 people, the seats were reduced over the years to the 1232 it holds today.
The first production to open at the venue was the musical Blue Eyes by Jerome Kern, starring Evelyn Laye. After becoming a picture house history was made in 1928 when a ‘talkie’ was shown in Britain for the very first time. The film was called The Singing Fool, written by Al Jolson. Talkies were screened at the theatre for the next five years until it was finally retuned to its original purpose.
In 1936, the Piccadilly was converted into a cabaret restaurant and re-opened as The London Casino, renowned for its over-the-top stage shows. During the Second World War it was one of many significant London buildings to suffer air raid damage, with a German bomb landing on part of the theatre leading to extensive repairs in the 1950s. Then the venue re-opened once more under its present name, soon to become famous for its plays, revues and musicals, making its mark by hosting the first ever UK performances of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? featuring the original Broadway leads Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill. It was also the venue for various broadcast shows like the 1980s variety show, called Live from the Piccadilly, hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck. And The Beatles recorded material there in the 1960s.
Other productions of particular note include the premiere of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit in 1941, with the wonderful Margaret Rutherford. The Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne musical Gyspy opened in May 1973 with Angela Lansbury in the lead, succeeded by Dolores Gray. 1975 saw Henry Fonda making his West End theatre debut in the one man show Clarence Darrow.
In the 1990s, the theatre focused on musicals and dance, with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake the most successful commercial ballet season ever to take place on the West End stage. Later musicals include Spend Spend Spend, Jailhouse Rock, Guys and Dolls, Grease the Musical, and Ghost the Musical. It closed in October 2012 to make way for the world première of Viva Forever, the Spice Girls’ musical which closed after just eight months on the 29th June 2013.
The venue has a reputation for short runs – sometimes attributed to the fact that, although the theatre is centrally located, it is rather hard to find behind the north side of Piccadilly Circus and so suffers from both a lack of passing trade and public awareness.