The Sondheim Theatre (formerly the Queen’s Theatre) is one of the most prominent West End theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue.
The theatre was opened in 1907 – originally as a twin to the neighbouring Hicks Theatre (now renamed the Gielgud Theatre). The Sondheim and Gielgud are both designed by W. G. R. Sprague. Originally, it was going to be called the Central Theatre, but it was eventually named the Queen’s Theatre – and it is a portrait of Queen Alexandra that hangs the foyer of the theatre. It was announced in July 2019 that it is to become the Sondheim Theatre, in honour of the legendary composer and lyricist’s 90th birthday year. Sondheim will become the only living artist to have a theatre named in his honour both in the West End and on Broadway.
In September 1940, the theatre was subject to a direct hit by a bomb and the façade and lobby were destroyed. The theatre remained closed for almost 20 years until it was refurbished and the exterior modernised. The Edwardian décor remained yet the lobbies and the exterior were built in a more modern style. The reconstructed theatre opened in July 1959 with John Gielgud’s solo performance in Shakespeare speeches and sonnets, Ages Of Man.
Since the reconstruction, the theatre has been noted for its unique architecture and design, for example, the ceiling detail of the auditorium, which has statues positioned above the audience. The theatre went through further renovations in 2009 to boost the capacity of the theatre and restore some of the boxes so that they could be used again.
After 18 years at the Palace Theatre, Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Les Misérables transferred to the Sondheim Theatre in 2004. The musical celebrated its 20th anniversary at the venue on 8 October 2005 – and in October 2006 overtook Cats to become the longest-running musical of all time. In 2012, Les Misérables celebrated its 11,000th performance in London. The Sondheim Theatre has a capacity of 1074 and is owned by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres.
The Sondheim Theatre has recently undergone a series of works, including a major backstage and auditorium renovation, and the restoration of some of the theatre’s original boxes and loges.