Designed by C I Phipps and decorated by Collinson & Locke, the most beautifully fitted theatre in Europe opened its doors on 10th October 1881 with a transfer from the Opera Comique of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience. Built at the instigation of Impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, who wanted his own theatre in order to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, the Savoy Theatre became famous as the first public building in the world to be lit by Incandescent electric lights and in one way or another it has been blazing ever since.
On 3rd June, 1929, the Victorian auditorium was invaded by workmen and demolished and, 135 days later “a gleaming palace had sprung up”, a magic miracle of modernism built by Rupert D’Oyly Carte with Frank Tugwell as the architect and decorative designs by Basil Ionides. The Theatre re‑opened on 21st October 1929 with a revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, designed by Charles Ricketts and conducted by Dr Malcolm Sargent.
In 1982, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off premièred at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, directed by Michael Blakemore and starring Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, and Nicky Henson. It opened to universally ecstatic reviews and shortly after transferred to the Savoy Theatre, where it ran until 1987 with five successive casts. It won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.
Loved, and eventually listed, the Savoy Theatre’s auditorium, ravaged with fire in the early hours of 12th February 1990, has now been triumphantly and dazzlingly recreated under the guidance of the theatre’s late chairman, Sir Hugh Wontner, and the distinguished architect, Sir William Whitfield. The auditorium and public areas have been faithfully restored to the 1929 vision of Tugwell and Ionides.
The theatre re-opened on 19th July 1993 in the presence of HRH The Princess of Wales with a Royal Gala performed by English National Ballet. As a tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan, the overture to Patience was played and the season’s programme included Wayne Sleep’s specially commissioned ballet Savoy Suite with music by Sullivan arranged by Carl Davis.
Interest in the re-opening of the Savoy Theatre was unprecedented, with worldwide media coverage, which continued throughout The Times World Chess Championship, won by Garry Kasparov.
Theatrical production returned with Noël Coward’s Relative Values, first seen at the Savoy in 1951. This was followed by Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, with Anthony Sher, and in 1994 the musical She Loves Me with Ruthie Henshall and John Gordon Sinclair. Then came Terry Johnson’s Dead Funny; Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors, with Angela Thorne; J B Priestley’s When We Are Married, with Dawn French, Alison Steadman and Leo McKern; and Ben Travers’ Plunder, with Griff Rhys Jones and Kevin McNally.
In 1997 The Savoy Group entrusted the management of the Savoy Theatre to a group led by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen. Productions included Simon Callow in The Importance of Being Oscar; Pet Shop Boys in concert, Ian Richardson in The Magistrate; Edward Fox in A Letter of Resignation; the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard III, with Robert Lindsay and Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, with Geraldine McEwan. The year 2000 saw the triumphant return of the D’Oyly Carte Company with a traditional production of HMS Pinafore; Donald Sutherland’s return to the stage in Enigmatic Variations and a second D’Oyly Carte Season of The Pirates of Penzance and Antarctica by David Young. 2002 opened with a season of Return to the Forbidden Planet which was followed by the D’Oyly Carte productions of Iolanthe, The Yeomen of the Guard and The Mikado, and a revival of Yasmina Reza’s Life x 3. The D’Oyly Carte returned at the beginning of 2003 with HMS Pinafore, followed by Bea Arthur at The Savoy, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (for which Matthew Kelly won the Olivier Award for Best Actor), Peter Pan and The Pirates of Penzance. This was then followed by The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville performed by The Savoy Opera Company. These productions ran throughout April, May and June 2004. This was followed by seasons of Lorna Luft starring in Songs My Mother Taught Me and the exciting new salsa musical Murderous Instincts. Noël Coward’s Blithe Sprit opened in November 2004 and ran to May 2005. This was followed by The Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas.
In October 2005, the Ambassador Theatre Group and Tulbart LLC bought the Savoy Theatre. It is fitting that Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed production of Porgy and Best followed The Rat Pack - Live from Las Vegas at the Savoy Theatre. This in turn was followed by Fiddler on the Roof, starring Henry Goodman; Edward Fox’s return to the Savoy with Sir John Mortimer’s Legal Fictions; a successful season of the Take That musical Never Forget; Lesley Garrett in Carousel; followed by Dreamboats and Petticoats. In January 2010 the West End production of Legally Blonde the Musical opened at the Savoy Theatre and was nominated for five Laurence Olivier Awards and won three, including the Best New Musical award. Following productions have included The Sunshine Boys, with Danny DeVito and the late Richard Griffiths; Soul Sister; Cabaret starring Will Young and Michelle Ryan and the theatrical concert Let It Be.
In December 2013 the Ambassador Theatre Group acquired 100% ownership of the Savoy Theatre and is currently home to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels the Musical starring Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound, Katherine Kingsley, Samantha Bond & John Marquez.