The History of Southampton Musical Society
A little shy of a century ago, in 1927, Southampton Musical Society was formed under the musical direction of Arnold Williams with the intention of broadening the local musical repertoire.
SMS, as the Society is more fondly referred to, held its very first performance of Haydn's The Creation on the 26th September 1928 at the Central Hall, Southampton.
1931 saw SMS broadening its horizons by showcasing Hiawatha, the premiere for the show outside of London. And from 1935 the Society performed numerous operettas, at the Palace Theatre, Above Bar, Southampton.
The Second World War had a major impact on front line Southampton and destroyed many iconic buildings including the society’s home, The Palace Theatre. As a result, SMS did not return to the stage until 1948. However, the Society returned in style with a performance of The Country Girl boasting a lavish set and elegantly dressed cast.
Following the aftermath of the war the next two decades saw SMS host one major show a year; performing in a series of venues, including the Royal Pier Pavilion and the Plaza Theatre.
In 1960, financially strong from its steady success through the 1950s, SMS arrived at the 2,000+ seated Gaumont Theatre. Under the direction of long standing members Dorothy Snook and Frederick Duerden, SMS performed for the first time Lehar's The Merry Widow. The Society grew from strength to strength and under the direction of Charles Rose between 1963 and 1971, and large scale productions were staged biannually at the Gaumont Theatre (now the thriving Mayflower Theatre).
In 1972 SMS took a new direction, employing professional producers who staged classics such as My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Showboat and Cabaret. The Society also became renowned for staging innovative productions which included the spectacular La Cage Aux Folles, Chicago, Little Shop of Horrors and the South Coast premiere of Copacabana.
In 1999 SMS staged South Pacific, its final performance, at the Mayflower Theatre. The difficulty in competing with touring professional companies and ever rising costs meant SMS had to move on. The Society performed regularly with great success at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton with shows including Sweet Charity and Return to the Forbidden Planet.
In 2004 SMS commenced their 10-year residence at Theatre Royal Winchester, with the Society’s second performance of 42nd Street. Over the coming years a number of shows including West Side Story, Boogie Nights, Copacabana and the Producers drove the success and reputation of the Society within local musical theatre scene. In 2014 The Wedding Singer became the last show performed by SMS at Theatre Royal Winchester after which the society moved to The Berry Theatre, Hedge End to showcase successful productions of Our House and West End Exchange.
Increasing in number, SMS continues to evolve with enthusiasm using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to drum up a strong following with both new members and audiences. September 2016 sees SMS taking to the stage with its production of Rock of Ages, at The Point, Eastleigh.
Nearly 100 years on from the first curtain up, SMS continues doing all it can to keep amateur musical theatre alive in Southampton.
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