The Victoria Palace Theatre and the Ambassadors Theatre are soon to become the latest additions to Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s stable of West End theatres, bringing the total number of venues under the impresario’s control to nine.
The Victoria Palace, which currently hosts Billy Elliot The Musical, will formally come into Mackintosh’s ownership next month. The Ambassadors, which will be renamed the Sondheim Theatre, will be added by 2015 subject to approval of planning consents. Both are being purchased from Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen.
Many thought the party that accompanied the Wednesday opening of Mackintosh’s new production of Miss Saigon would feature the West End’s biggest fireworks of the week. But news of Mackintosh’s plans has created just as much of a stir.
Under Mackintosh’s scheme, both the Victoria Palace and the Ambassadors would undergo building work to prepare them for life within the Delfont Mackintosh group of theatres.
The billionaire producer, who recently became the first name from British show business to feature on the Sunday Times Super Rich List, will close the Victoria Palace for around a year from autumn 2016 to extend the stage, overhaul the front of house and restore the auditorium and exterior.
With its current shallow stage, he said, it couldn’t “accommodate many of the big shows that might have played there”. Waley-Cohen has already obtained planning consent that, Mackintosh said, means “the full potential of the theatre can be realised with one of the best stages in the West End, ensuring it will become one of London’s most desirable and, thanks to the Victoria Station expansion scheme, strategically sited musical houses.”
Billy Elliot The Musical has confirmed that it will run at the Victoria Palace Theatre for the next two and a half years.
Mackintosh’s plans for the soon-to-be-renamed Ambassadors Theatre build on the current trend for hit productions from off-West End and regional theatres transferring into the West End. He intends to rebuild the auditorium, “in order to fulfil a long standing dream for the West End to have a transfer house primarily for seasons of exciting productions from theatres in the subsidised sector seeking a non-proscenium environment that mirrors their own stages”.
In addition to renovating the foyer and front of house, Mackintosh will rebuild the auditorium to create a non-proscenium arch space and a “glamorous 450 seat studio environment”.
Sondheim, the American composer of shows including Into The Woods, Sunday In The Park With George and Merrily We Roll Along, said he was “flattered and thrilled” at the news the Ambassadors would be named after him. “To have my name attached to such a vivifying contribution to British theatre is an honour as well as a thrill,” he said.
Waley-Cohen confirmed that the Ambassadors Theatre’s current production Stomp would continue its West End run until Mackintosh began renovation, which is subject to planning consent, adding: “For the Victoria Palace there can be no better next owner than Cameron Mackintosh. I have been privileged to have stewardship of it for almost 25 years, and thank all the staff I have worked with to create the improvements we have already achieved.
“For the Ambassadors Theatre, providing planning consent is obtained for Cameron’s wonderful plans to create the Sondheim Theatre, this will be a shining example of how imaginative rethinking can ensure a vibrant future for a historic theatre.”