Photo Flash: Go Inside The Newly Refurbished Sondheim Theatre, Home To London's LES MISERABLES!
This evening, ahead of press night, BroadwayWorld was fortunate enough to get a tour of the newly refurbished Sondheim Theatre from the man responsible: super-producer Cameron Mackintosh, who has provided London's Les Misérables with an extremely smart new West End home.
Formerly the Queen's Theatre, the Shaftesbury Avenue-based building opened in 1907 as a twin to the Gielgud Theatre - both designed by W. G. R. Sprague.
A German bomb landed on the theatre in 1940, destroying the facade and front of house area - and eventually causing the auditorium's circle to cave in.
The theatre was restored, but with cheap materials available post-war like cinder block and wood, Mackintosh explained - making his current restoration task challenging, since some of that work is nevertheless listed by English Heritage.
However, he and his team (respectfully) "took the place apart" over 20 weeks, he said, finding huge inspiration in the neighbouring Gielgud when it came to the colourful, glamorous and inviting design - with rich wallpaper and carpets, pictures and paintings, and intricate decorations.
They also dug into the "void" on the sides of the auditorium, opening up the areas considerably in order to improve sight lines and add in a much-needed 32 more toilets.
The work extended to backstage - much to the delight of cast, one imagines, since the dressing rooms hadn't been substantially updated since 1907...
The theatre bars have also been considerably smartened up; Mackintosh is adamant that the rest of the theatre experience be the same whether you've bought a top-price ticket or a cheaper one.
Stephen Sondheim's presence is felt throughout - from the 'Sondheim' welcome mats in the lobby through to portraits and photographs of the great man, plus decorative 'S' symbols in the plasterwork.
The auditorium itself feels radically different. Gone is the tunnel-like view with straight walls; instead, the side aisles have been narrowed and the ends of the rows given more space to curve. "It hugs the stage," Mackintosh pointed out.
That's a big improvement for the experience of theatre patrons in the upper levels, who have much clearer sight lines of the whole stage.
There's also more lavish décor throughout, anchored by the female bas-relief sculpture Mackintosh has nicknamed "Sasha".
Some design elements have been borrowed from Mackintosh's earlier planned Sondheim Theatre; his purchase of the Ambassadors Theatre fell through. But his passion for this particular venue - where he did a musical with Jim Dale back in 1973, at the start of his career - is apparent.
So, too, is his passion for the current production, whose designs are inspired by Victor Hugo's stirring paintings. A print of one can be found in the downstairs bar, and it makes a great reference point for the striking projections and scenic elements used in the show.
Overall, it's a wonderfully sumptuous revamp of a previously tired building. As Mackintosh summed up: "What was the dowdiest creature on Shaftesbury Avenue is now the most beautiful - just as Sprague would have wanted."
If only every West End venue could get the same treatment...!
See more images below, plus a video of the cast at press night curtain call!
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