Lyceum Theatre

Definition

Theater

  • (1) A venue in Wellington Street, London, which opened in 1771to present concerts and exhibitions before being converted into atheater in 1794. It acquired a licence to present plays in 1809, whenthe Drury Lane company was temporarily housed there after the TheatreRoyal was damaged by fire. Rebuilt in 1812, it was renamed the TheatreRoyal English Opera house in 1815; two years later it became the firstBritish theater to light its stage with gas (see lighting).After a fire destroyed the venue in 1830 a new building was constructedand opened as the Royal Lyceum and English Opera House in 1834. RobertKeeley managed it successfully from 1844 until 1847, when Madame Vestrisand her husband, the younger Charles Mathews took over. Their productionsincluded spectacular works such as Planché's The Vampire;or, the Bride of the Isles. After they went bankrupt in 1856,the venue became home to the Covent Garden Theatre company for threeyears following a fire at their own theater. Under the managementof the French actor Charles Fechter new ideas for lighting and sceneshifting were introduced. In 1871 the US impresario Hezekiah Batemantook over the theater as a showcase for his daughters, Kate, Virginia,and Isabel. He also hired the 33-year-old Henry Irving, whoseperformance that year in The Bells established both his andthe theater's reputation.

    Irving himself became manager seven years later and beganto perform with Ellen Terry (see Terry family) ina series of plays that made the Lyceum the most prestigious venuein London. The two appeared together for the last time in The Merchantof Venice in 1902 and their departure sent the theater's fortunestumbling. In 1904 it was partly demolished. For the next 25 years,under the Melville brothers, Walter and Frederick, it turned to musichall, lurid melodramas such as Walter's The Bad Girl of the Family(1909), and a spectacular annual pantomime. When the Lyceum was scheduledfor demolition in 1939, John Gielgud gave six performances of Hamletthere as a farewell. Ironically, the venue was saved by the startof World War II; it stood empty until 1945, when it became a dancehall. After extensive refurbishment it reopened as a theater in 1996with a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. The Disney musicalThe Lion King has been running since 1999.

    (2) The name of two theaters in New York. The first was a smallvenue on 4th Avenue opened in 1885 by Steele MacKaye, who establishedthe city's first school of acting there. The opening play, Mackaye'sDakolar, proved so unpopular that he gave up the management shortlyafterwards. Daniel Frohman and his brother Charles took it over and ran asuccessful stock company from the premises. The theater itself was demolishedin 1902.

    A second Lyceum, on West 45th Street and Broadway, was opened byFrohman the following year. J. M. Barrie's comedy The AdmirableCrichton had its US premiere there, and Charles Wyndham's Londoncompany visited for eight weeks. David Belasco, who had beenFrohman's stage manager at the first Lyceum, directed there for severalseasons from 1916.

    Successful productions have included The Merchant of Venice(1922), George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's George Washington SleptHere (1940), Clifford Odets's The Country Girl (1950),John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1957), Harold Pinter's TheCaretaker (1961), Arthur Kopit's Wings (1979), revivalsof Our Town (1988) and Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys(1997), and Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty (2009).

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