Right now there's only the purpose-built St James Theater near Victoria and the grimy old Arts Theatre off Leicester Square with its creaky ancient seats for shows to move to — sometimes, as in the current run of Bad Jews (ending this week). moving from the St James to the Arts.
But now Sir Cameron Mackintosh, owner of the West End's best appointed theatres, has announced plans to try to fix the problem; he's he has secured an option to buy the Ambassadors Theatre, subject to securing planning consent for changes to the building needed to accommodate his plans to relaunch it as the Sondheim Theatre. Not only will the theatre be renamed in honour of the Broadway composer, it will also be reconfigured with a flexible thrust (ie open) stage, as opposed to the current proscenium stage.
In an interview with London Evening Standard, Nicholas Allott, managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, has commented, "We would be satisfying a need that isn't satisfied in the West End as things stand. But there are very few people who would do what Cameron Mackintosh is proposing to do. He's made a lot of money and is putting it back in. This is not remotely a commercial proposition. If you're a commercial theatre operator, your dream is Phantom of the Opera where you sit back and take the rent."
Or, for that matter, Stomp, which has been the sitting tenant at the Ambassadors itself for the last 8 years. Stomp isn't going away anytime soon - it is currently still booking through June 2016 — and planning permission is still being sought for the changes necessary. But already Mackintosh has announced that if and when it does happen, the theatre will be renamed in honour of Stephen Sondheim -- so he'll have a theatre named after him on both sides of the Atlantic now.
"We've got magic to do/just for you"
Pippin is yet to have the sort of stellar revival that Broadway recently got; but there's plenty of people with magic to do heading to the West End nonetheless. While Penn and Teller open a New York season this week at the Marquis Theatre, The Illusionists — who previously played at the Marquis last year — will make their West End debut from November 14 for a season at the Shaftesbury Theatre though January 3, simultaneously to the show's New York return Nov. 19 at the Neil Simon Theatre. That's just one of a trilogy of magic, psychological and illusion shows heading to the West End in the coming months. Two-time Olivier winner Derren Brown will return to he West End with his latest touring show Miracle, running from Nov. 11. His 7th live show since 2003, Brown - who is best known for his UK TV specials - has last week announced on Twitter, "I'm going to take a break from touring a stage show after the 2016 run. Been 14yrs! So last chance for a while."
And a homegrown magic show called Impossible will begin performances at the West End's Noel Coward Theatre from July 24. In an interview with headliner magician Ali Cook in the UK's Sunday Times, he pinpointed the reasons for why magic is suddenly proving so theatrically popular: "The best thing a magician can do, something you can’t get in any other form of entertainment, is to give someone a feeling of astonishment. It’s really hard to do it, but when you do, people love it, because it’s a rare feeling. It’s quite easy to laugh or cry, but it’s weird to actually be amazed.”
News headlines of the week
It has been announced that Liza Minnelli, who is set to make a London return to the London Palladium on September 20, where she has appeared regularly in the past (including a legendary 1964 appearance alongside her mother Judy Garland), will be interviewed by Bruce Forsyth - the veteran British tv entertainer. Seven years ago Minnelli was a special guest star who sang "New York New York" to Sir Bruce on his 80th birthday BBC TV show, "Happy Birthday Brucie."
Meanwhile, Liza's kid sister Lorna Luft, who has been touring the UK in a show called Judy — The Songbook of Judy Garland, has had to pull out of the run, so it will now shutter July 11 after its Brighton run, following the return of breast cancer for which she was previously treated in 2013. According to a press statement, she now requires further treatment and extensive surgery. Producer David King, of Spirit Productions who brought her to the UK for the tour, commented, "I am shocked and saddened by this news. Lorna is an incredible performer and she lights up the stage at every performance. We wish her a full recovery from her surgery and hope and pray that her breast cancer will be gone forever."
Highlights for the week ahead
- The recent UK national tour of Nick Payne's Constellations arrives at Trafalgar Studios for a short reprise run, opening on July 14 for a run through August 1 only, with Joe Armstrong and Louise Brealey in the roles originated by Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins at the Royal Court. and subsequently played on Broadway by Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson.
- There's also a West End outing for Richard Bean's 2002 play The Mentalists, originally premiered at the National, in a production starring TV comLedy actor and writer Stephen Merchant and Steffan Rhodri, opening on July 13 at Wyndham's Theatre.
- The Menier Chocolate Factory imports What's It All About? - Bacharach Revisited, Kyle Riabko's musical reinvention of Burt Bacharach's back catalogue, from off-Broadway to open on July 15. In an interview I did with Riabko, who has starred on Broadway in Spring Awakening and Hair, he told me that this "the first time I lifted a show up the mountain that is development. It's a very different story to joining something as a performer." But it's been worth the effort: "There's so much joy in Burt's music, so much unashamed joy, but there's also melancholy and heartache. I hope we've got it all in the show."
Follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen! And keep checking the international section of playbill.com for major stories.