Walter Gibbons, an early moving-pictures manager, built the Palladium in 1910 to compete with Sir Edward Moss's London Hippodrome and Sir Oswald Stoll's London Coliseum. The facade (on the site of Argyll House, demolished in the 1860s, from which the pub opposite took the name The Argyll Arms), dates back to the 19th century. Formerly it was a temporary wooden building called Corinthian Bazaar, which featured an aviary and aimed to attract customers from the recently closed Pantheon Bazaar (now Marks and Spencers) on Oxford Street. The theatre was rebuilt a year later by Fredrick Hengler, the son of a tightrope walker, as a circus arena for entertainments that included promenade concerts, pantomimes and an aquatic display in a flooded ring. It then became the National Skating Palace – a skating rink with real ice. However the rink failed and the Palladium was redesigned by Frank Matcham, a famous theatrical architect who also designed the Coliseum, on the site that had previously housed Hengler’s Circus. The building now carries Heritage Foundation commemorative plaques honouring Lew Grade and Frankie Vaughan.
The theatre retains many of its original features and was Grade II* listed in September 1960. The Palladium had its own telephone system so the occupants of boxes could call one another. It also had a revolving stage.
The theatre started out as The Palladium, a premier venue for variety performances. Pantomimes were also featured there. In 1926, the pantomime starred Lennie Dean as Cinderella, footage of which remains to this day. The theatre is especially linked to the Royal Variety Performances, where many were, and still are, held. In 1928, for three months the Palladium also ran as a cinema. Following this 'Cine-Variety' episode the theatre fell dark for a short period in the autumn of 1928.
From 3 September 1928, the Palladium reopened under the directorship of the impresario/producer George Black as part of the General Theatre Corporation (GTC). When Black took control the theatre was close to bankruptcy. He revived its fortunes by returning to the original ethos of the Palladium by staging large variety shows, with a capital 'V' - and as well as headlining Britain's homegrown acts he brought over big American stars such as Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, Adelaide Hall, Louis Armstrong and Ethel Waters for two-week engagements. Before too long, under Black's management the Palladium was soon gaining praise again as 'The World's Leading Variety Theatre'. In 1935, Black initiated the Crazy Gang revues at the Palladium (for which he is chiefly remembered) with Life Begins at Oxford Circus. The revues continued at the Palladium as an annual event until they transferred to the Victoria Palace theatre in 1940. Black managed the Palladium until his death in 1945.
The climax of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller The 39 Steps was filmed at the Palladium.
The theatre was hit by an unexploded German parachute mine on 11 May 1941. The device had fallen through the roof, becoming lodged over the stage. A Royal Navy bomb disposal team was sent to deal with it. After the mine was located, the fuze locking ring had to be turned to allow access to the fuze itself. Rather disconcertingly, the fuze began ticking as soon as it was touched. This caused a rapid evacuation of the immediate area, but the mine did not detonate. The two team members cautiously returned, extracted the fuze and removed other hazardous components, rendering the mine 'safe'. It was then lowered to the stage and disposed of. The George Medal for gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty was given to Sub Lieutenant Graham Maurice Wright for his action in the Palladium on that night. He was later killed, on 19 Aug 1941, while en route for Gibraltar on board the torpedoed troopship SS Aguila.
Val Parnell took over as Managing Director after George Black's death in 1945. He adopted a controversial, but very successful, policy of presenting high-priced, big-name American acts at the top of the bill. Among many, the list included Carmen Miranda, Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, the Andrews Sisters with Vic Schoen and his orchestra, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray, freezing out many British stars of the day, who were relegated to second-billing.
From 1955–67 the theatre was the setting for the top-rated ITV variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium hosted first by Tommy Trinder, followed by Bruce Forsyth, Norman Vaughan, and Jimmy Tarbuck. The programme was broadcast live every week by ATV, which was owned by the famous theatrical impresario Lew Grade. Production was by Val Parnell. Six programmes aired as special episodes in the United States between May and August 1966 on NBC.
Val Parnell became associated with a property development company and began to sell Moss Empires' theatres for redevelopment. When it became known in 1966 that this fate awaited the London Palladium, The Victoria Palace and even the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Prince Littler organised a take-over to save the theatres and Val Parnell retired to live in France. The new Managing Director of Stoll-Moss was Louis Benjamin, who took on the role while continuing as MD of Pye Records within the ATV Group.
Beatlemania started at the Palladium 13 October 1963.
By 1965, the Wine Society was operating out of a cellar under the Palladium. Additionally, it was also using one at Joiner Street under London Bridge Station and one at St James's Bond in Rotherhithe (which flooded at high tide).
In 1968, Sammy Davis, Jr. starred in Golden Boy, the first book musical to be produced in the venue.
A Johnny Cash album was recorded there in 1968, but Columbia Records never released it. Bootlegs of the performance are in circulation.
In 1970, the Palladium attempted to get Elvis Presley to perform 14 shows over a period of seven days. When Presley's manager, Tom Parker heard that the theatre was offering Presley 28,000 dollars, he reportedly said "That's fine for me, now how much can you get for Elvis?" Had Presley performed, it would have been his first overseas performance. Presley never performed outside of North America due to Parker's lack of a passport.
In January 1973, glam rock band Slade played a gig in the theatre which resulted in the venue's balcony nearly collapsing. In 1976 Marvin Gaye recorded a live concert at the venue. The performance documented on the resulting double LP, entitled Live at the London Palladium and released in 1977. It included his number one hit "Got to Give It Up".
In 1981 the cellars of the Palladium housed a waxworks museum, aptly called "The Palladium Cellars". Headlined by a Yul Bryner live projection automaton, (as the king from the long running "King and I, (also starring Virginia McKenna)).
In the late 1980s, the Palladium was once again the setting for the popular ITV1 variety show, Live From the Palladium, compered by Jimmy Tarbuck. During this time, the theatre was under the ownership of the 'Stoll Moss Theatres Group', and the management of Margaret and David Locke, who were both major shareholders of Stoll Moss at the time.
In 1988, the Edinburgh Gang Show appeared as part of the British Musical Hall Society's Silver Jubilee.
In 2000, ownership of the theatre changed once again when Stoll Moss was acquired by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group. From 3 May 2000 to 5 January 2002, the Palladium played The King and I starring Elaine Paige and Jason Scott Lee. This production was a West End transfer of the hugely successful 1996 Broadway production. Before the opening, the box office had already taken in excess of £7 million in ticket sales. This version of the show was a lavish affair, with new dialogue and music added, while the original material was updated. During the run, Josie Lawrence played the role of Anna and Paul Nakauchi and Keo Woolford played the role of the King, respectively. After the production closed, the famous (but outdated) revolving stage was removed to make way for more modern technology.
From April 2002 to 4 September 2005, the Palladium played host to a theatrical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with songscore by the Sherman Brothers as a successor to The King & I. Throughout its three and a half year run at the venue, the production starred many celebrities (see below). This show proved to be the most successful in the theatre's long history and reunited, 50 years later, the show's choreographer Gillian Lynne, with the theatre in which she had appeared as the Palladium's Star Dancer during the early 50s. On 1 November 2004 and 22 November singer-songwriter Jackson Browne performed two concerts during his solo acoustic tour. For Christmas 2005–06, the venue staged Bill Kenwright's production of Scrooge – The Musical which closed on 14 January 2006. The show starred Tommy Steele, making a return to the Palladium. From February 2006, the theatre played host to a new musical production entitled Sinatra At The London Palladium, which featured a live band, large screen projections and dancers performing Frank Sinatra's greatest hits.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian's production of The Sound of Music opened at the Palladium in November 2006. The production ran for just over two years, before closing on 21 February 2009. It starred Connie Fisher and Summer Strallen as Maria, Simon Shepherd, Alexander Hanson and Simon MacCorkindale as Captain Von Trapp and Lesley Garrett and Margaret Preece as the Mother Abbess. A production of Sister Act the Musical opened on 2 June 2009, starring Patina Miller as Deloris, Sheila Hancock as Mother Superior, Ian Lavender as Monsignor Howard, Chris Jarman as Shank, Ako Mitchell as Eddie, Katie Rowley Jones as Sister Mary Robert, Claire Greenway as Sister Mary Patrick and Julia Sutton as Sister Mary Lazarus.
Rufus Wainwright held two sold out Judy Garland tribute concerts at the theatre on 18 and 25 February 2007. On 20 May 2007 the London Palladium hosted the 2007 BAFTA awards, which were broadcast on BBC television, and in 2010 the BAFTA Television Awards returned to the Palladium. While the Theatre has a resident show, it is still able to have one off performances; this is enabled by the scenery of the resident show being designed to be easily removed. For example, the set of Sister Act was able to be hoisted completely above the stage out of view in an area called the Fly Loft.
The London Palladium turned 100 years old on Boxing Day 2010, and a one-hour television special entitled '100 Years of the Palladium' aired on BBC Two on 31 December 2010. Sir Elton John performed at the venue in September 2013 in a special show where he was presented with the Brit Awards Icon, subsequently broadcast on ITV1. Robbie Williams promoted his new album 'Swings Both Ways', the UK's 1000th No. 1 album, with a one-night performance on 8 November 2013 that was filmed for television broadcast (BBC One). He was joined by members of the cast of the Muppet Show (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzon, Statler and Waldorf), Lily Allen, Rufus Wainwright, his father, a children's choir and a 30-piece orchestra. Invited guest included Adele and One Direction.
In 2014, Really Useful Group split in two, and the entity owning the theatre is Really Useful Theatres Group.1987: Cinderella, the Palladium pantomime produced by Qdos Entertainment. For the 30th anniversary remake see below.
1991: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Steven Pimlott's reworking of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, starring Jason Donovan and Linzi Hateley
1994: Oliver! – Cameron Mackintosh's revival directed by Sam Mendes. Originally starring Jonathan Pryce, Sally Dexter and Miles Anderson.
1998: Saturday Night Fever directed and choreographed by Arlene Phillips, starring Adam Garcia and Ben Richards
2000: The King and I directed by Christopher Renshaw. A transfer of the acclaimed 1996 Broadway revival, this version starred Elaine Paige and Jason Scott Lee
2002: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang directed by Adrian Noble and choreographed by Gillian Lynne. The original cast included Michael Ball as Caractacus Potts, Emma Williams as Truly Scrumptious, Anton Rodgers as Grandpa Potts, Nichola McAuliffe as Baroness Bomburst, Brian Blessed as Baron Bomburst and Richard O'Brien as The Child Catcher.
2005: Scrooge – The Musical, by Leslie Bricusse, starring Tommy Steele
2006: The Sound of Music directed by Jeremy Sams, starring BBC How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? winner Connie Fisher, Alexander Hanson, Lesley Garrett
2009: Sister Act the Musical – performances from 7 May 2009, produced by Whoopi Goldberg and Stage Entertainment with music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Glenn Slater, starring Patina Miller, Sheila Hancock and Ian Lavender. The production received various award nominations including an Olivier Award nomination for its star, Miller
2011: The Wizard of Oz opened at the theatre on 7 February 2011 and played until September 2012. This production was produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber who found Danielle Hope to play Dorothy via the BBC talent show series Over The Rainbow.
2012: Scrooge the Musical, a revival of the 2005 production, starring Tommy Steele, played from October 2012 through January 2013.
2013: A Chorus Line directed by Bob Avian, opened 2 February 2013. closed on 31 August 2013.
2013: The Nutcracker on Ice, a touring production, directed by Tony Mercer, due to open on 24 October 2013, and close on 3 November 2013.
2013: Eat Pray Laugh! Barry Humphries Farewell Tour, Barry Humphries farewell tour, 13 November 2013 - 5 January 2014
2014: I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical, directed by Sean Foley, (Press Night 26 March). Closed 10 May 2014
2014: Cats, a West End Revival, which opened 6 December 2014, starring Nicole Scherzinger.
2015: Beyond Bollywood, A New Musical, 8 May 2015 - 27 June 2015
2015: Sinatra The Man & His Music, The Tribute of Frank Sinatra Live On Stage, 10 July 2015 - 10 October 2015
2015: Cats, a continuation of The West End Revival, which opened 23 October 2015, starring Beverly Knight.
2016: Cinderella, the return of the Palladium pantomime after 29 years, produced by Qdos Entertainment. Opened 10 December 2016 and closed on 15 January 2017. Starring Paul O'Grady, Amanda Holden, Julian Clary, Lee Mead, Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers, Count Arthur Strong, Natasha J Barnes, Suzie Chard and Wendy Somerville, this debuting production is directed by Michael Harrison and Andrew Wright.
2017: The Wind in the Willows by Jullian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe starring Rufus Hound