London Theater to Be Named for Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim Olivier Awards 2011 - Getty - H 2019
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

The distinguished composer-lyricist becomes the only living artist to have a theater named after him on both the West End and Broadway.

In honor of Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday next March, the Queen's Theatre on London's West End will be renamed for the preeminent American musical theater composer following extensive renovations.

Theater owner Cameron Mackintosh announced today that the 112-year-old Shaftesbury Avenue playhouse, which has been home to Les Miserables since 2004, will close July 13 to undergo a major restoration.

The Queen's first opened in 1907, but the original boxes and loges, as well as the entire front of house, were destroyed by a bomb during the Blitz in 1940 and the theater remained closed for 20 years. The upcoming restoration will return the building to its original pre-war splendor.

"I have loved British theater since I saw my first play here in 1958," said Sondheim in a statement. "I have treasured Cameron Mackintosh's support and friendship ever since he produced Side by Side by Sondheim in 1976. Cameron is synonymous with British theater, so the confluence on this occasion is truly exhilarating. I am chuffed, as you say in British English, to a degree I wouldn't have imagined. Or as we say in American English, it's awesome."

Said Mackintosh: "Sondheim's work will undoubtedly be performed as long as audiences want to see live theater, so I feel honored that he has agreed to have his name on one of my Shaftesbury Avenue theaters."

"Over the decades his work has become increasingly appreciated and performed by all, both as part of the popular theater and classical repertoire and in spaces that range from a pie shop to the Royal Opera House," added the theater impresario of Sondheim. "His love of theater is unquenchable and throughout his career he has been an exceptional champion of so many young creatives as well as supporting numerous productions worldwide, especially here in London." 

The rechristened Sondheim Theatre will open Dec. 18 with a new production of Les Miserables, stripped down and reimagined without the staging's iconic turntable. In the interim, Les Miserables in Concert, with a company of more than 65, will play Mackintosh's intimate Gielgud Theatre (next door to the Queen's) from August through November, continuing the show's 35th year on the West End.

On March 22, 2010, Sondheim's 80th birthday, it was announced that the former Henry Miller's Theatre on Broadway would reopen later that year following a restoration as the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. The addition a decade later of his namesake theater in London makes him the only living artist granted that honor in both of the world's dominant commercial theater capitals.

Sondheim's celebrated body of work includes A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, A Little Night Music, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, Assassins and Passion. In addition, he penned the lyrics for the landmark musicals Gypsy and West Side Story

The most recent major Sondheim show produced in the West End was two-time Tony Award winner Marianne Elliott's 2018 staging of Company, which flipped the gender of the central character, commitment-phobic Robert, making the protagonist a woman named Bobbie, as well as changing one of the couples among his/her network of friends into gay men.

While no formal announcement has been made, the ecstatically received revival is believed to be planning a Broadway transfer in spring 2020.