NEWS: Queen’s Theatre to be renamed the Sondheim Theatre
Cameron Mackintosh has announced that in honour of Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday next March, the Queen’s Theatre will be renamed the Sondheim Theatre, making him the only living artist to have a theatre named in his honour both in the West End and on Broadway. Following the renovation of wartime bomb damage and a major restoration of the auditorium and the complete backstage, the newly named Sondheim Theatre will continue as the home of world’s longest running musical Les Misérables as it enters its 35th year.
Cameron Mackintosh said: “I have been lucky enough to have been a friend and colleague of Steve’s since our first collaboration in 1976 on the musical revue Side by Side by Sondheim at the Wyndham’s Theatre. After 112 years Shaftesbury Avenue will have a theatre named after a living legend and house the world’s longest running musical, the legendary Les Misérables as it enters its phenomenal 35th year. As an innovative voice in musical theatre, his influence has no equal. Sondheim’s work will undoubtedly be performed as long as audiences want to see live theatre, so I feel honoured that he has agreed to have his name on one of my Shaftesbury Avenue theatres to salute his upcoming 90th birthday. Over the decades his work has become increasingly appreciated and performed by all, both as part of the popular theatre and classical repertoires and in spaces that range from a pie shop to the Royal Opera House. His love of theatre is unquenchable and throughout his career he has been an exceptional champion of so many young creatives as well as supporting numerous productions worldwide, especially here in London. When Les Misérables re-opens in December with the new production, the re-built and restored theatre will be re-named the Sondheim Theatre – a perfect companion to the Gielgud Theatre next door, named after the great actor John Gielgud, and the Coward and Novello Theatres, named after the two celebrated British writers and composers. For the past 25 years I have tried to build a studio theatre in central London named after Sondheim, but it wasn’t to be. I felt this major refurbishment of a building that has housed his brilliant work was the perfect moment to put his name “on some marquee all twinkling lights – a spark to pierce the dark”. Stephen Sondheim has always been that spark to all of us. Even as an eight-year-old boy dreaming about becoming a producer I could never have dreamt a dream like this or be happier.”
Stephen Sondheim said: “I have loved British Theatre since I saw my first play here in 1958. I have treasured Cameron Mackintosh’s support and friendship ever since he produced Side by Side by Sondheim in 1976. Cameron is synonymous with British Theatre, so the confluence on this occasion is truly exhilarating. I am chuffed, as you say in British English, to a degree I wouldn’t have imagined. Or as we say in American English, it’s awesome.”
The Queen’s Theatre originally opened on 8 October 1907 with The Sugar Bowl, a comedy by Madeleine Lucette Ryley and was designed by architect W.G.R. Sprague as a pair with the adjoining corner of Shaftesbury Avenue. On 8 July 1959 the theatre reopened with John Gielgud’s Shakespearean recital Ages of Man. Architects Westwood Sons & Partners reconstructed the building at a cost of £250,000, with Sir Hugh Casson acting as consultant on the décor. On 13 July 2019 the theatre will close for four months of rebuilding work both backstage and in the auditorium. This work will also restore W.G.R. Sprague’s original boxes and loges which, along with the entire front of house, were destroyed by a bomb in 1940 and caused the theatre to be closed for 20 years. The restored theatre will be returned to its pre-war splendour, reopening on 18 December 2019 as the Sondheim Theatre.