London’s Lyceum Theatre, located on Wellington Street in Westminster, contains a rich, captivating history of prestigious performances and interesting longevity. It has featured an array of first-class entertainers throughout the past and present.
Taking a trip to the Lyceum Theatre is not only about enjoying a production you will never forget; it is also about connecting with the remarkable history that resonates with the theatre’s name.
The original Lyceum Theatre was built in 1765 on the Strand—before Wellington Street ever existed. In the mid to late 1700s, major names at The Lyceum included Charles Dibdin, whose opera “Liberty Hall” became a famous attraction, as well as David Garrick, a major influence of 18th century theatrical form. During these early years, the Lyceum Theatre held circus performances, chapel services, and once housed the first wax museum London ever saw, created by Madame Tussauds.
In the early 1800s, the Lyceum Theatre saw many dramatic performances by the Drury Lane Company after their own theatre had burned down. In 1816, The Lyceum was redesigned by Samuel Beazley, a leading architect, to be reopened under the name The English Opera House. Soon after, it became famous for hosting the premiere of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.” In 1830, however, The English Opera House would succumb to an inferno of fire with nothing left standing.
Four years later, The Lyceum Theatre was rebuilt on Wellington Street—again by Samuel Beazley—with the full name “Theatre Royal Lyceum and English Opera House.” The theatre gained immeasurable notoriety from Sir Henry Irving becoming the new manager. Throughout the 1800s, The Lyceum saw beloved performances such as “The Mountain Sylph,” “Blanche Jersey,” countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’s novels and Christmas books, and Tom Taylor’s adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities.” Charles Dickens was an advisor to the play as well.
In 1904 the theatre was under new ownership. It was rebuilt and completely adorned in beautiful rococo style, but Beazley’s original veneer and entranceway was preserved. In the 1900s the building continued to entertain the public with an array of music, theatre, and culture; surviving both World Wars and dodging plans to be permanently destroyed in 1939. The Lyceum housed bands throughout the later 1900s including The Who, Bob Marley, The Clash, Iggy Pop, The Kinks, U2 and Genesis. By 1994, a revamping of the stage allowed for musical theatre productions to take place. Since, then, it has shown “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Oklahoma,” and “The Lion King,” which is currently playing there and has been beguiling crowds at the Lyceum since 1999.
Not only is The Lyceum Theatre an important symbol of London’s rich theatrical and cultural background, it is also a beautiful work of architectural art that has been slowly moulded by history for over 150 years. Enjoying a production is even more awe-inspiring when one is aware of the rich range of happenings that contribute to the longevity of this theatre. Through it we can find an arousing glimpse into the past, and if we look hard enough we’ll find inspiring new perspectives on the present and future.
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