West End venues playing name games

Delfont Mackintosh refurbs empire

LONDON — Two long-established West End playhouses, the Strand and the Albery, are being rechristened the Novello and the Noel Coward, respectively. Both venues are expected to have new signage in place by the end of 2006.

The renaming is part of impresario Cameron Mackintosh’s ongoing refurbishment program for his Delfont Mackintosh empire. That roster swells to seven prime London venues in March 2006, when the Gielgud Theater’s lease reverts back from Really Useful Theaters to Delfont Mackintosh.

Work begins almost immediately on the Strand, which opened as the Waldorf 100 years ago and is being renamed in honor of actor-composer Ivor Novello, who lived above the playhouse between 1913 and 1951.

The Albery is on a later, longer timetable, since management of that playhouse (along with the neighboring Wyndhams) doesn’t pass from the Ambassador Theater Group to Delfont Mackintosh until September.

The Albery is well-matched to its new moniker. Coward’s first play, “I’ll Leave It to You,” briefly occupied the building in 1920 under its previous incarnation as the New Theater. More recently, the Albery hosted the smash 2001 revival of “Private Lives,” with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, later a Tony winner on Broadway.

While London’s Globe Theater was renamed the Gielgud in 1995 to honor the late actor John Gielgud, such name changes are relatively infrequent in the West End compared with Broadway. “In New York, it’s almost a daily occurrence,” Mackintosh org chief exec Nicholas Allott tells Variety. “Where did the Ford go? Oh, hello: It’s the Hilton!”

Gotham’s Plymouth and Royale theaters were officially renamed May 9 in honor of Shubert organization execs Gerald Schoenfeld and the late Bernard B. Jacobs. In June 2003, Broadway’s Martin Beck Theater became the Al Hirschfeld, to honor the legendary illustrator who died earlier the same year at age 99.

A new studio theater, a 500-seater to be named for composer Stephen Sondheim, is planned for London, but it looks unlikely to open until 2009. “We can’t even start until ‘Les Miz’ finishes,” Mackintosh says, since the new auditorium will be built above the Queen’s, where the long-running musical now is, “and ‘Les Miz’ is still doing very well.”

When it’s built, the Sondheim will be the first new theater on Shaftesbury Avenue since 1931.

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