Designed by the architect C. J. Phipps, the Lyric theatre opened its doors for the first time on 17th December 1888. It's a Grade II listed building with 976 seats spread over four levels. The Lyric is the oldest surviving of the many theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, although the foyer and bar areas were renovated and redecorated in 1932 and the façade restored in 1994.
Famous for light operettas, the Lyric was a beacon of classical entertainment in the late 1800s. The first to be staged was called Dorothy, followed by two W.S Gilbert operas called The Mountebanks and His Excellency. The theatre then changed tack and went on to stage light comedies and serious drama. The 1930s saw productions of Strange Interlude and The Royal Family, starring Laurence Oliver. Sadly, at the onset of war in 1939 the Lyric Theatre was abandoned, not re-opening until 1946 when it staged Terence Rattigan’s legendary play, The Winslow Boy.
Over the next 50 years the theatre continued to produce plays, featuring memorable works by Noël Coward, Oscar Wide, Tennessee Williams and Alan Ayckbourn. In 1950 Andre Roussin’s The Little Hut played more than 1000 performances, with Robert Morley in the driving seat. 1972 saw Alan Ayckbourn’s dark comedy How the Other Half Loves grace the stage for just under 900 performances. In the '90s, a musical based on the songs of Louis Jordan called Five Guys Named Moe ran for just under five years, opening on 14th December 1990 and closing on 4th March 1995.
In 1983 the theatre took a brief break from straight plays to become the first West End home of the hugely successful Willy Russell musical Blood Brothers, which was revived some time later to run at the Phoenix Theatre for almost 25 years. But the tradition of plays at the theatre was only truly broken in 2009 with the arrival of Thriller – Live!, the stunning Michael Jackson tribute musical.
The Lyric Theatre is also the seasonal home of The Guffalo by the brilliant children’s theatre company Tall Stories. It runs during the daytime in the school holidays.