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The Shaftesbury Theatre didn’t always host hits – in 1994 Out of the Blue, a musical set in Nagasaki, Japan about the aftermath of the atomic bomb, was turned off after merely 17 performances following lukewarm reviews and almost no promotion.
It was the last theatre to be built on Shaftesbury Avenue (there are currently six).
During a 1973 production of Hair, part of the ceiling collapsed during the show, which forced the theatre to close and the production run to stop. The building must have taken the command to ‘let the sun shine in’ a little too literally!
The 1911 theatre opened as The New Princes Theatre (dropping the ‘new’ just three years later) as a venue for super-serious melodramas. This programme could only attract the crowds for so long and quickly expanded into operettas and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, which ended up dominating the theatre for a good 30 years. Post-war they even diversified into productions courtesy of the Sadler’s Wells opera and ballet companies.
Yet in the 1960s, with new ownership came a new name and a new approach, relaunching in 1963 as the Shaftesbury Theatre. It presented Broadway transfers Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, running for two years, and later on hippie musical Hair, which stayed for five years and caused the roof to literally cave in! Luckily, it managed to secure financial backing to rebuild and stay as a theatre, mostly sticking with a musical theatre theme that was a big differentiation from its original concept.
The Shaftesbury Theatre was bought up by the Theatre of Comedy Company in 1984, but this didn’t mean it was for comedies only – some of its most serious shows were put on during this time, including M. Butterfly. Still, its musical theatre roots were never neglected and it has become a bona fide musical venue in the last 20 years, from jukebox musicals Tommy and Daddy Cool, to colossal Broadway transfers Hairspray and Thoroughly Modern Millie, to revivals of Rent and Carousel.