The Palace Theatre stands alone on an island at one of London’s busiest intersections, making it an “impressive sight,” said theater manager Anna Charles. Almost every angle of the elaborate red-brick building, with its arched windows and domed turrets, is visible from the street, so it’s common to see passersby stopping for photos day and night, she said.
Originally opened as the Royal English Opera House in 1891, the theater was sold in 1892 and renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties. It became a popular playhouse for the musical revues of the ’20s and ’30s and survived severe bombing during World War II.
The Palace has long been home to long-running shows. “The Sound of Music” ran for 2,385 performances in the 1960s, “Jesus Christ Superstar” had 3,358 performances from 1972 to 1980, and “Les Misérables” played more than 7,000 shows during a 19-year stint that began in 1985.
Andrew Lloyd Webber bought the Palace in 1983 and launched an extensive restoration, uncovering the famous marble and onyx paneling from layers of paint. Nimax Theatres bought the Palace in April 2012, making it one of six theaters Nimax owns, and “The Commitments” opened in August 2013. The theater does quite a bit of group business and is now booking “The Commitments” through September, she said.
Although the Palace offers no formal tours, visitors can’t miss the marble walls and grand staircase in the foyer, the intricate scrollwork on the ceilings and walls, and the red-velvet-draped auditorium.
Broadway in Chicago operates five theaters in the city, and three of them are historic: the Bank of America Theatre, the Cadillac Palace Theatre and the Oriental Theatre. Although the 1906 Bank of America Theatre is the oldest, the Oriental is a crowd favorite.
“My personal favorite is the Oriental,” said Jon Martinez, a group sales representative for Broadway in Chicago. “The decor is more lush, and it has a lot more colors versus the other ones. There was a little more detail given to the Oriental.”
The Oriental opened in 1926 as a motion-picture house. The elaborate architectural details make it a Taj Mahal of theaters, and the Indian-inspired interior, which boasts statues of Buddha and lions, has been described as “hasheesh-dream décor.” When it opened, turban-wearing ushers showed guests to their seats.
During its heyday, the Oriental stage hosted big-name acts and headlining stars, including the Three Stooges, Judy Garland and George Burns. The theater held its own through the 1960s, but business dropped off in the 1970s, and the theater eventually closed in 1981. It was vacant for more than a decade before a public-private partnership restored it. The 2,250-seat theater opened in October 1998.
Broadway in Chicago offers Saturday morning tours of its three historic theaters for groups of up to about 70 people. If one of the theaters is dark, the historic tours sometimes include only two theaters. Guides talk about each theater’s history, the unique architecture and the shows that played there.
The theaters most often host touring Broadway productions but occasionally get concerts or a pre-Broadway premiere, Martinez said. Groups of 10 or more can make reservations before tickets go on sale to the general public, and a private suite option is available that includes hors d’oeuvres, an open bar and private restrooms before the show and during intermission.