Thanks to Charles S.P. Jenkins for compiling the articles about the theatres. I have written about Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth's appearances in italics. Thanks also to Charles for his theatre photographs and collages.
Maggie Teyte, star of By Appointment
I couldn't find a song from By Appointment, but here is a lovely song by Reynaldo Hahn:
The New Theatre was built by Sir Charles Wyndham on a vacant site behind his Wyndham’s Theatre facing St. Martin’s Lane. The theatre was designed by W.G.R. Sprague and opened in 1903. It has a seating capacity of 877 seats with two circles and a balcony. The theatre’s façade is in the Classical style and leads into a spacious entrance. The interior is in the Rococo style with white and gold décor.
The first production in March 1903 was a revival of Rosemary starring Charles Wyndham and Mary Moore, the then-wife of James Albery. This was followed by a number of productions starring many of the great acting talents of the day including Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Cyril Maude, Fred Terry (younger brother of Ellen Terry) and Julia Neilson. In 1915, Peter Pan was presented at the theatre at Christmas and was to continue at the theatre for four more Christmas seasons. Fay Compton played Peter Pan in the 1917 production. Between 1915 and 1920, plays written by J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne and Somerset Maugham were produced at the theatre. In 1924, Sybil Thorndike appeared to much acclaim in the title role of Shaw’s St. Joan, which ran for 244 performances.
Sir John Gielgud appeared at the New Theatre on a number of occasions, the first in 1925. when he took over from Noel Coward in The Constant Nymph at the age of twenty-one.
Anne Ziegler in the nineteen-thirties
Anne Ziegler made her West End debut at the New Theatre on October 12th 1934 in an operetta set in the regency period, entitled By Appointment, with libretto by Frederick Jackson, lyrics by Arthur Stanley and music by Kennedy Russell. The stars were Frederick Ranelow, Maggie Teyte and Charles Mayhew. Anne sang the top line in the female octet.
Despite well-known singers in the cast, and charming music by Kennedy Russell, the Times critic did not view it very favourably. He said, “Nothing very much happens, but when it has gone on not happening for some time, someone is sure to sing a song (with or without chorus) or find partner for a duet…”
He did mention that the octet in the song, Ah Me! I Can’t Remember adds a spice of naughtiness to the play, but generally the entertainment was dull. The show closed after three weeks.
In 1941, following the bombing of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, the companies from these theatres presented a number of their productions at the New Theatre.
The name of the theatre was changed in 1973 to the Albery in memory of Sir Bronson Albery who was the theatre’s manager for a number of years.
In the 1950s, a number of notable actresses appeared here, including Katharine Hepburn in Shaw’s The Millionairess, Dorothy Tutin in I Am A Camera and Leslie Caron in Gigi. In 1960, Oliver, by Lionel Bart, opened at the theatre and ran until 1967 giving 2,618 performances and became the theatre’s biggest box office success.
During the 1970’s, the theatre was home to productions of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in 1974, Ingrid Bergman appeared in Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife. In the 1980’s, a number of successful Broadway plays were presented, including Children of a Lesser God and Torch Song Trilogy. In the early 1990’s, the musical revue, Five Guys Named Mo, which showcased the music of Louis Jordan, transferred here from the Theatre Royal Stratford.
In 2005, the new owners, Delfont-Mackintosh limited changed the name of the theatre to the Noel Coward Theatre after major renovations. Noel Coward, playwright and actor, had appeared at the theatre in 1920 in the first West End production of one of his own plays, I’ll Leave It To You. This play had been only slightly more successful than By Appointment and closed after five weeks. His famous play, Private Lives, with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman was successfully revived at the theatre in 2005.
THE LONDON PALLADIUM
Theatre Photos: Charles S.P. Jenkins
The London Palladium, designed by Frank Matcham, is the second largest theatre in London, and opened on 26th December, 1910. The exterior is built in Baroque style and resembles a temple with six giant Corinthian columns with statues at the centre and on each side of the roof. The auditorium is richly decorated in gold and red with two cantilevered balconies and a total seating capacity for 2,300 spectators. At one time, each box had a private telephone so that patrons could converse during the show.
The theatre was specifically built for the presentation of Variety, which included farce, ballet, opera, melodrama, song and comedy. Two shows were presented each evening together with two matinee performances during the week. The most successful Music Hall entertainers of the day appeared at the London Palladium during its early years.
In 1928, George Black became the theatre manager and achieved great success with his presentations. His opening bill included Gracie Fields, The Lancashire Lass, making her first appearance at the theatre. In 1930, the first annual Royal Variety Show in aid of the Entertainment Artists’ Benevolent Fund took place at the theatre and has been the venue most often used for further shows over the years. An annual presentation of Peter Pan was produced here until 1938 with Anna Neagle and Elsa Lanchester amongst those playing the title role. At the height of Variety’s popularity, artistes who had played the London Palladium, were considered to have made it! The theatre soon gained a reputation for presenting the most popular and prestigious British and international entertainers and was home to the antics of The Crazy Gang between 1932 and 1938.
Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth in "Gangway" (1941)
While Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth appeared together frequently at the London Palladium in the first half of the nineteen-forties, Webster had first sung in the theatre as early as November 1932 when a musical matinee had been held in aid of the League of Mercy and the Royal Free Hospital. Webster was made a life governor of the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead at an early age. Appearing at the same performance were Harry Hudson’s Melody Men, Louisa Londa, Adela Verne, Desiree Elinger, Esme Beringer, Thorpe Bates, Bratza, the Gresham Singers, Edward Slaughter, Cyril Clency, and Flanagan and Allen (two members of the Crazy Gang). Apart from Harry Hudson, Thorpe Bates, and Flanagan and Allen, I fear the other performers who appeared at this concert are forgotten today.
Anne and Webster joined the Variety Circuit in 1940 and were, almost immediately, invited by George Black to take part in a Gala Performance at the Palladium on 5 May 1940. This performance took the place of the usual Royal Command Performance because of the War and was in aid of the Variety Artistes Benevolent Fund, whose president was George Black himself.
In December of 1941 Anne and Webster were back at the Palladium as stars in George Black’s musical smile, Gangway. Apart from Anne and Webster other leading stars of the show included Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon, Tommy Trinder, and xylophonist, Teddy Brown. Welsh composer, Harry Parr Davies wrote the duet, My Paradise for the Booths and they also sang a musical arrangement of Chopin’s étude, entitled So deep as the night. Debroy Somers conducted the orchestra.
In 1942 Anne and Webster sang at another charity variety show at the Palladium for the Variety Artistes Benevolent Fund, this time in aid of Brinsworth, the old age home for retired variety artistes. Other artistes at this concert included Gracie Fields, Arthur Askey, Flanagan and Allen, Vic Oliver, Stanley Holloway, Teddy Brown, Florence Desmond, Jack Warner, Bebe and Ben Lyon, Rawicz and Landauer, the Condos Brothers, Maurice Colleano, Max Miller and Frances Day.
Boxing Day of 1943 saw Anne and Webster back in the London Palladium in a fortnight variety bill, which included Max Miller, Ivy Benson and her Ladies’ Band, Rawicz and Landauer, Cairoli Brothers, Jimmy James, and Charles Warren. George Black billed this entertainment as Variety at its Best.
As long as George Black was the manager of the Palladium, Anne and Webster were often on the bill, as they were again in May 1944, with many of the same artistes who had appeared in 1943. But early in 1945, George Black died and was succeeded by the more robust Val Parnell. The war ended in 1945 and, with the return of the forces, big changes were about to take place in British theatres. Although Anne and Webster continued singing in many variety concerts until they left for South Africa in 1956, they did not sing at the Palladium again.
From 1948 the London Palladium began to present top-line American artists such as Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Carmen Miranda, Judy Garland and many others.
During the nineteen-fifties television became a popular medium of entertainment, and, with the advent of a second commercial TV channel, the theatre became home to the weekly variety programme, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. It was produced by Associated Television (ATV) for the Independent Television (ITV) channel and ran from 1955 until 1967. Tommy Trinder was the original Master of Ceremonies, followed by Bruce Forsyth, Don Arrol, Norman Vaughn, and Jimmy Tarbuck along with a number of guest compères. At the end of each show, all performers stood on the revolving stage to take their final applause, although The Rolling Stones declined to do this.
Although Variety survived at the London Palladium for some time after it was considered to have died elsewhere, eventually musicals became the staple fare of the theatre. The King and I, with Yul Brynner and Virginia McKenna, was presented in 1979, later followed by Barnum with Michael Crawford, and La Cage , aux Folles, Oliver and Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang and Singin’ in the Rain
In 2000, ownership of the London Palladium passed to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. This company has continued to produce lavish musical productions at the theatre, with some going on to tour the world and transfer to Broadway.
SAVOY THEATRE, STRAND
Original facade of Savoy Theatre (1881)
The Savoy Theatre was built by Richard D’Oyly Carte as a venue for the presentation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas by his D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. These operas had previously been presented at the Opera Comique. The Savoy opened on 10 October 1881 and the design and décor of the theatre received unqualified praise by audiences and press alike. It was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity using 1,200 Swan Incandescent Lamps. D’Oyly Carte introduced numbered seating, free programmes, a no-tipping policy for cloakrooms, as well as a queuing system for the pit and gallery. At first the main entrance was on the Embankment, but once D’Oyly Carte built the adjoining Savoy Hotel in 1889, this entrance was moved to the courtyard of the hotel.
The Sorcerer, H.M.S Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and Patience had been presented at the Opera Comique. Patience transferred from that theatre to the Savoy and the final eight Gilbert and Sullivan operas were presented at the Savoy.
Webster Booth, as Leslie W. Booth, made his professional stage debut with the D’Oyly Carte Company on 9 September 1923 as a yeoman in The Yeomen of the Guard. Despite his outstanding voice he did no more than sing in the chorus, occasionally perform small parts, and understudy leading tenor roles. After 4 years he concluded that there was no future with the company and that he would wait forever to fill “dead men’s shoes”. He had the opportunity to work with Malcolm Sargent when he became musical director of the company in 1926. As Webster’s more serious singing career advanced, he became Sargent’s favourite tenor soloist in oratorio. Most of his career with D’Oyly Carte was spent touring with the company and the 1924 London season was presented at the Prince’s Theatre rather than the Savoy.
In June 1929, Rupert, son of Richard D’Oyly Carte, closed the Savoy and rebuilt the interior following the design of Frank A. Tugwell, and the elaborate art deco décor of Basil Ionides. The Savoy reopened on 21 October, 1929, with a new production of The Gondoliers with Sir Malcolm Sargent as conductor.
Webster Booth and Jacqueline Francell in "A Kingdom for a Cow" (1935)
In 1935 Webster was selected to play the role of Juan in Kurt Weill’s A Kingdom for a Cow at the Savoy. The cast included the French star, Jacqueline Francell, Bobbie Comber and George Gee; the conductor was Muir Mathieson. The show opened at the theatre in June of 1935 and received good reviews by the critics, but the public did not appreciate the rather serious political satire and the show closed after three weeks. The Times critic said, “Mr Webster Booth, the Juan, was easily the best singer of the company.”
The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company appeared at the theatre in many revival seasons and the Gilbert and Sullivan operas are known as the Savoy Operas because of their close connection with the theatre built by Richard D’Oyly Carte, whose descendants, Rupert D’Oyly Carte and Bridget D’Oyly Carte directed the original company until its closure in. A special performance of Trial by Jury was given to mark the centenary of its first performance on 25 March 1975. Because of mounting costs, the company closed in 1982, and Bridget D’Oyly Carte, who was childless, died in 1985, bringing to an end the D’Oyly Carte family’s association with Gilbert and Sullivan.
Over the years, a variety of musicals, operettas and plays have been presented at the Savoy including Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Kaufman & Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner with Robert Morley, Agatha Christie’s The Spider’s Web with Margaret Lockwood, and Lloyd George Knew My Father by William Douglas Home, starring Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft. (My husband and I saw the last play in 1972. I was suffering from a heavy bout of ‘flu and had to stifle a constant tickle in my throat during the whole performance!)
In February 1990, during renovations to the theatre, the auditorium was destroyed by fire. Only the stage and backstage remained intact. After extensive renovations the theatre reopened on 19 July 1993 with a Royal Gala performance by the English National Ballet before Diana, Princess of Wales. In 2004, the Savoy Hotel group, which included the theatre was sold to Quinlan Private, which was sold in turn in 2005 to the Ambassador Theatre Group.