Prince Edward Theatre London - home of the musical
| By London Theatre Direct
There is obviously something about the Prince Edward Theatre London that makes it a magnet for musicals. Since Evita opened there in January 1978 it has enjoyed an almost unbroken spell of musicals right up to the present day. The theatre opened in April 1930 with a performance of Mexican-set musical comedy Rio Rita, and later that same year legendary cabaret artiste Josephine Baker was shaking her hips for all she was worth made her London debut, wowing the crowds with her 'Bananas Dance'. Perhaps as the irrepressible Baker undulated her way around the stage mesmerising her audience she cast a similar spell on the theatre that would leave it forever clamouring for the joy of music and dance.
In 1935 the theatre was converted to a dance and cabaret hall, and later in 1954 it was converted to a cinema space. It was returned to a theatre in 1978 and a slew of musicals have graced its proscenium arches ever since. The Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber-helmed Evita managed just over eight years at the venue, captivating audiences with classic songs such as Another Suitcase In Another Hall, Buenos Aires, Oh What A Circus and Don't Cry For Me Argentina. The West End production opened with Elaine Paige as controversial Argentinean First Lady Eva Peron and David Essex as Che, strongly based on revolutionary Che Guevara. The production gained a wider audience with the 1996 film version starring pop legend Madonna in one of her few critically acclaimed screen roles, and Latin heartthrob Antonio Banderas.
As the doors to Evita closed, those to next musical Chess opened. Lyricist Tim Rice was once again at the helm, but this time teaming up with songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from Swedish supergroup ABBA. Elaine Paige originated her second role in a row at the venue and the show's biggest hit, I Know Him So Well took her and Barbara Dickson to the top of the UK charts for four weeks. The track remains to this day the UK's biggest selling single by a female duo. The show lasted three years, and Anderson and Ulvaeus' ties with the theatre would be rekindled in 1999 when the musical based around ABBA's hefty back catalogue, Mamma Mia, debuted at the venue. Mamma Mia would run there for five years before transferring to the Prince Of Wales theatre, where is currently still resides, thanks in part to the global success of the 2008 film starring acting heavyweight Meryl Streep, Veronica Mars star Amanda Seyfried and The Good Wife's Christine Baranski.
Elaine Paige's hold on the theatre continued as Evita vacated. After being spellbound by the Broadway revival of Cole Porter musical Anything Goes, she was determined to bring the show to the West End. She ended up co-producing the show with her then partner, Prince Edward veteran Tim Rice. The show opened in 1989 but only lasted just over a year. Other notable musicals at the theatre since have included Ruthie Henshall and Kirby Ward in Crazy For You in 1993, as well as revivals of Show Boat and West Side Story. Schonberg and Boublil musical Martin Guerre opened in July 1996 and was rebooted not once but twice, but eventually gave up the ghost just over eighteen months later.
The long-awaited stage version of the classic Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke film Mary Poppins opened at the venue in December 2004 receiving two Olivier awards including Best Actress in a Musical for Laura Michelle Kelly. Largely faithful to the original movie it also reintroduced some elements from P.L.Travers' original children's books. Its memorable score boasts the bouncy tongue-twister Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious as well as Feed The Birds, Jolly Holiday, Chim Chim Cher-ee and A Spoonful Of Sugar.
The venue currently houses…you guessed it…another musical, in the form of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons-based Jersey Boys. The production opened at the Prince Edward Theatre London in March 2008 and is currently booking until February 2013.