The Grand was opened on July 23 1894 by Thomas Sergenson, Blackpool’s first successful theatrical manager.
Sergenson immediately dubbed the theatre ‘Matcham’s Masterpiece‘, a title that is even more merited now that there are few surviving examples of the work of Frank Matcham, the leading Victorian theatre architect.
The theatre took just nine months to build and cost Sergenson £20,000, part of which he had earned by operating two small rented theatres and from a circus that he staged for five summer seasons on the site of The Grand.
With his imposing new theatre, Sergenson surprised the resort with the quality of his stars and shows. The theatre opened with a performance of Hamlet by Wilson Barrett, a leading actor-manager who had often appeared in Blackpool. But a few weeks later, Sergenson brought a much bigger star to The Grand, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who also gave Hamlet as part of a repertoire of plays.
In the first few weeks of the theatre’s existence, the owner-manager also presented the biggest musical hit of the London season, A Gaiety Girl; the comedy hit Charley’s Aunt; and a visit by the Carl Rosa Opera Company.
Sergenson made a valued arrangement with George Edwardes, the king of musical comedy production, to have the first choice in Blackpool of those famous musicals from the Gaiety Theatre and Daly’s Theatre, London.
During his fifteen years at The Grand, Sergenson presented great stars like Ellen Terry, Madge Kendal, Sarah Bernhardt, Lily Langtry, F R Benson and Dan Leno. In 1909 he sold the theatre for a handsome £47,500 to the Blackpool Tower Company, who ran The Grand for the next sixty-two years.
The Grand was the first Blackpool theatre to present the two big musical hits of World War One – The Maid of The Mountains and Chu Chin Chow – and in the 1920s become noted for staging big American musicals like Rose Marie, The Desert Song and No No Nanette.
The theatre was used by top West End producers for British premieres and for forty years many plays and musicals were seen at The Grand ‘prior to London’.
In October, 1942, Noel Coward premiered and appeared in two of his plays – Present Laughter and This Happy Breed – and threw in Blithe Spirit for good measure!
The prestige of The Grand continued through the 1950s, which was a glittering decade in spite of the growing impact of television. Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Alistair Sim, George Cole, Evelyn Laye and Margaret Lockwood could be seen there, while the most frequent visitors were the husband and wife teams of Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge and Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray.
The theatre proves that, when scheduled within a varied programme of plays, dance, musicals and concerts, there is a healthy demand for the arts in Blackpool and the surrounding areas.