The Shaftesbury Theatre opened under a different name, The Princes Theatre, on Boxing Day in 1911 with a production of The Three Musketeers. It is the most recent theatre to be built on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was designed as a house for melodrama by Bertie Crewe for the Melville brothers, who also owned the Lyceum Theatre at the time. The interior of the theatre was lavishly decorated with statues representing comedy, tragedy, poetry and music, as well as impressive paintings. It was renamed the New Princes Theatre in 1914, and operetta was introduced in 1916 under the new management of Seymour Hicks. Notably, in 1921, Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas played a season at the theatre performed by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, who still operate today.
Under new management, the theatre had its name changed to the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1962, reopening with the Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying which was the theatre’s first long-running musical. The musical Hair opened in September 1968 when the ban on theatre censorship was lifted, and went on for a run of just under 2000 performances. The show and theatre were forced to close when parts of the ceiling fell in on 20th July 1973. After much campaigning from actors and members of the entertainment industry the theatre was saved from demolition and is now a Grade II listed building.
Reopening in 1974, the Shaftesbury has since seen a long line of musical productions performed on its stage, starting with West Side Story, and closing the 20th Century with the Broadway sensation Rent (1998). The new millennium saw a handful of new musicals take up residence, but none particularly successful. This changed in 2007 when the Tony Award winning Hairspray transferred from Broadway and played for almost three years – the most successful production the Shaftesbury has seen.
The Broadway musical Motown opened in March of 2016 and is still enjoying considerable success.
The auditorium has three levels – the Stalls, Royal Circle and Grand Circle.
Of note, the seats in the Stalls are on a very shallow rake which means that sightlines can be problematic, and the overhang of the Royal Circle does have an affect on the view for those in Row P and onwards.
In the Royal Circle, the seats are gently raked which might impact on the sightlines depending on certain productions. Those in Row H and onwards will notice the overhang of the Grand Circle.
The Grand Circle does feel far away from the stage, but the central seats do offer good views of the stage.