The Prince Edward Theater London

The Prince Edward was built in 1930, at the height of the golden years of cinema. Its namesake was the Prince of Wales at the time. The architect for its construction was none other than Edward A. Stone, one of the co-designers of Piccadilly Theater two years earlier. While the Italianate exterior seemed rather harsh to some, the interior of the theater was plushly and lavishly decorated in soft tones of fuchsia and gold. Seating 1650 patrons, the auditorium featured fully upholstered, tip-up seats, which were quite the rage at the time. With the third largest stage in all of London, the theater was designed for over-the-top musicals, dramas, revues, and even film. The proscenium arch for which it was noted was truly a masterpiece, with niches and fountains by Rene Lalique.

Performances at the Prince Edward began in a rather inauspicious manner. The original offering there, opening April 3, 1930, was the musical comedy Rio Rita, starring Edith Day and Geoffrey Gwyther. The show had been a resounding hit in New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre, but was received quite coolly in London. After only 59 performances the show was cancelled. The next offering at the theater began in October 1930 and was somewhat successful. The musical Nippy starred Binnie Hale, a great box office attraction at the time. The huge stage made possible an extensive recreation of an Austin saloon. Following Nippy a series of short runs included the glamorous Fanfare with Bernard Clifton, which closed after just three weeks.

After a few years of less than successful cabarets and trade films, the theatrical world of London was astonished when Aladdin was shuttered in January 1935 without sufficient funds to pay the actors. With the purchase of the property by a syndicate, the Prince Edward was about to undergo enormous changes. Upon completion of large kitchens below the stage, a revolving dance floor, and staircases linking the various levels of the auditorium, the theater reopened as The London Casino on April 2, 1936. Billed as a cabaret-restaurant, its initial offering was the Folies Parisiennes, a most popular revue at the time. The Casino was soon the place to go in London, developing a reputation for gaudy, even risqué, entertainment. For the first time, the theater began showing significant profits.

Sadly, the Blitz in 1940 ended such a gaiety. The theater was in disuse for two years, when it reopened as the Queensbury All Services Club. The Club made over 2,500 wartime broadcasts to troops engaged in the battles of WWII. Headliners for these broadcasts included such notables as Jack Warner, Max Wall, child sensation Petula Clark, Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby. Upon the war’s conclusion the theater reopened as the London Casino. Offering mainly variety shows, it featured such greats as the Ink Spots, Julie Andrews, Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. Ballet enjoyed an autumn season in 1948. Then, in 1954, the theater that was originally wired for talking cinemas came full circle with the introduction of Cinerama to the venue.

How the West Was Won had a run of over two years, followed by 2001: A Space Odyssey, which ran for more than a year. In the ensuing years the theater saw checkered usage, included the pantomime Cinderella, starring Twiggy. Finally, in 1978, the theater returned to its former glory and its reason for existence. It was renamed the Prince Edward to coincide with its new offering, the musical Evita, which ran for the next eight years. Elaine Paige became a theatrical sensation with the musical. She later starred in Chess and then Anything Goes, enjoying quite a long run at the Prince Edward.

After a complete refurbishment, the theater reopened in March 1993 with the hit musical from Broadway, Crazy for You. Other notable offerings since have included Martin Guerre, Mamma Mia!, Mary Poppins, and the current offering, Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which opened in March 2008 to rave reviews.

The Prince Edward Theater is conveniently located in the heart of London’s entertainment district. Nearby are such attractions as Soho, Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus and the Trocadero. By the way, you might be interested to know the origination of the naming of the Mozart Bar situated in the entrance foyer of the Prince Edward. It seems that a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father lived at the site of the theater’s present stage door during the years of 1764-1765. History truly resides at the Prince Edward.

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