The Sondheim Theatre opened on 8th October 1907. The seventh theatre in London to be designed by W. G. R. Sprague, The Sondheim was built as a pair with the Hicks Theatre (now the Gielgud Theatre). Walter Wallis built both theatres, built with Portland Stone to create a very impressive façade. The theatre was originally intended to be called the Central Theatre, though it was eventually decided that it should be named for Queen Alexandra. A portrait of the Queen hung in the foyer. The interior was decorated in white and gold, with green carpets and upholstery, all reflecting the old Italian Renaissance style. The theatre opened with a production of The Sugar Bowl, a comedy by Madeline Lucette Ryley which garnered terrible reviews and closed after 36 performances.
The theatre was badly damaged in the September of 1940 when a World War II German bomb dropped directly on the building. The façade and front of house areas were destroyed. Closing the theatre, it was another twenty years before the damage was repaired and the theatre reopened. Whilst the auditorium remained untouched, the exterior and foyer were rebuilt with a modern look. John Gielgud opened the theatre in July 1959 with a solo performance in Shakespeare speeches and sonnets, Ages of Man.
The theatre has seen performances from several notable stars, including Fred Astaire, Noel Coward, Alec Guinness, Gertrude Lawrence, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Miranda Richardson, Kenneth Branagh and, recently, Nick Jonas in the long-running musical Les Misérables, the theatre’s tenant since 2004.
The theatre is currently owned by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, who refurbished the theatre in 2009, improving the front of house area and adding additional seating, as well as reinstating the boxes on the Dress Circle level.
Fun Fact – the Sondheim Theatre is believed to have a resident ghost who is never seen but has been known to pinch the backsides of male cast members!
The auditorium has three levels - Stalls, Dress Circle and Upper Circle.
The Stalls offers good views of the stage, helped by a noticable rake in the seating from Row H onwards. The overhang of the Dress Circle affects the view of the stage for those in Row M onwards.
The Dress Circle offers good legroom, but the curving of the area means that the sightlines from the outermost seats to suffer. This is reflected in the pricing of these seats. The overhang of the Upper Circle affects the view from Row H onwards.
The Upper Circle has a very good rake in the seating allowing for good views, but the legroom at this level is rather cramped.