The history of the Apollo Victoria Theatre
The Apollo Victoria Theatre hasn’t always been the theatre that audiences know today. Find out more about the history of the building with our guide packed with information about the venue.
All about the Apollo Victoria Theatre
What was the Apollo Victoria like when it first opened?
Originally called the New Victoria, the building opened as a ‘super cinema’ on 15th October 1930 near Victoria train station. It cost £250,000 to build, equivalent to £151 million today. The first film to be played was Old English starring George Arlis, with an organ providing live instrumentals. As well as showing films, the venue also hosted big bands and variety performances, even hosting a Royal Matinee for King George V.
Before World War Two, the cinema was one of three London sites that presented a live relay of the Epsom Derby as an experiment before the war. This was one of the first times a live relay was broadcast, in preparation for live transmissions during the war. This early experiment paved the way for more frequent events of this nature in cinemas nationwide.
After the war, the New Victoria showed many films, as well as ballet and live shows before closing in 1975 for refurbishment. The building re-opened in 1981 as the Apollo Victoria Theatre, opening with a Shirley Bassey concert.
Early musicals performed at the Apollo Victoria Theatre
The Sound of Music was the first musical to be performed at the newly named Apollo Victoria. The first London revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein favourite starred Petunia Clark, Michael Jayston and Honor Blackman. Solving a problem like Maria to sell-out audiences, the show set a new record for the highest attendance for a single week of any British musical production in history. With a score including “Lonely Goatherd” and “Do Re Mi”, The Sound of Music was performed for 13 months, closing in September 1982.
Camelot came to the Apollo Victoria for a revival, with a cast starring Richard Harris, but the production only lasted for a few months, closing in February 1983. Fiddler on the Roof opened in June 1983 for a four-month run, starring Chaim Topol as Tevye.
Zooming around the West End for over 7,000 performances, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express ran at the theatre for over 17 years from 27th March 1984 to 12th January 2002, making it the eighth longest run of any show in the West End. Before the show began, the theatre had to be refurbished to make way for the set. Installing the split-level roller skating arena around the entire auditorium meant many seats to be removed. Performers skate for the entire show to a score including the title song and “Light at the End of the Tunnel”. The original production starred Stephanie Lawrence and Frances Ruffele. Since closing at the Apollo Victoria, the show has enjoyed two national tours.
Later musicals performed at the Apollo Victoria Theatre
Bombay Dreams opened at the Apollo Victoria in 2002. The story follows Akaash, a young man who lives in the Bombay slums but dreams of becoming the next big star in India. Dealing with Indian politics and the reality of show business, the show was on the West End for two years, before closing on 13th June 2004.
The disco ball of Saturday Night Fever lightened up the Apollo Victoria soon after, bringing the film of the same name to the stage. Starring Shaun Williamson and Kym Marsh, the show stayed alive from July 2004 to February 2006, with Movin Out’ taking its place. Movin’ Out only lasted at the theatre for two months, before Wicked flew in.
Wicked was first performed at the Apollo Victoria on 7th September 2006, before making its official opening on 27th September 2006. The cast was led by Idina Menzel, reprising her Broadway performance as Elphaba, with Kerry Ellis assuming the role soon after. The original cast included Helen Dallimore as Glinda, Miriam Margolyes as Madame Morrible and Adam Garcia as Fiyero. With a soundtrack including “As Long As You’re Mine” and “Defying Gravity”, the Apollo Victoria has welcomed over nine million people through its doors to see Wicked, the tale of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Apollo Victoria Theatre is one of the largest theatres in the West End, find out more about the 10 smallest theatres in the West End here.