Home to two ghosts, the Palace is supposedly haunted by an unknown ballerina and actor Ivor Novello, who likes to watch performances in the Dress Circle.
The Palace Theatre started out as The Royal English Opera House.
It almost became home to the long-running The Phantom of the Opera – just before Les Misérables moved in for their 19 year run there. They vacated in 2004 moving to Queen’s Theatre, while The Phantom of the Opera is still at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
It hosted the first ever Royal Variety Performance in 1912.
During its time as a cinema, the Palace Theatre screened the film In Birdland in 1907, which was the first wildlife film watched by an audience for a fee.
Judi Dench starred in the original London production of Cabaret at the Palace in 1968.
Not unlike some other venues that went on to present musicals, the Palace Theatre was first imagined as the English Opera House when it opened in 1891. Pulling out all the stops for its premiere production Ivanhoe, the trouble was that there was no opera to replace it when it finished. Already by 1892, its name was changed to the ‘Palace Theatre of Varieties’ and it became a place to see some of the best variety shows, as well as screenings of news from around the world.
With a new manager in 1904, experimental acts were brought in that proved popular – including bare-legged dancers, singing piano players and an interval orchestra that was an act in itself. But by the 1920s, the Palace Theatre became a musicals specialist. It held the third longest run of the 1920s, the 665-performance No No Nanette, and hosted the Marx Brothers in 1922 performing a Broadway medley.
It suffered closure from war bombings like other theatres, but came back roaring with a wide selection of shows including plays, cabarets and pantomimes. Its biggest hit was the 1961 The Sound of Music which ran for 2,385 performances, it longest run to date. This kicked off the Palace Theatre’s long-term show history, as Jesus Christ Superstar took up residency there for eight years in the ‘70s, and Les Misérables ran for a whopping 19 years from 1985 before transferring to Queen’s Theatre. It was at this point that the theatre was refurbished, with its paint stripped away to reveal glorious marble walls that were restored for its reopening. It’s since played host to larger-than-life shows Spamalot and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.