Commissioned by Richard D'Oyly Carte in the late 1880's, it was designed by Thomas Collcutt. Carte intended it to be the home of English grand opera, much as his Savoy Theatre had become the home of light opera with the Gilbert and Sullivan series. The foundation stone, laid by his wife Helen in 1888, can still be seen on the facade of the theatre, almost at ground level to the right of the entrance. The Palace Theatre's current capacity is 1400.
The Royal English Opera opened in January 1891 with Arthur Sullivan's Ivanhoe. No expense was spared to make the production a success, including a double cast and "every imaginable effect of scenic splendour" (Hesketh Pearson, 'Gilbert and Sullivan'). It ran for 160 performances. However, this was not enough to sustain the venture. Sir Henry Wood, who had been répétiteur for the production, recalled in his autobiography that "[i]Carte had had a repertory of six operas instead of only one, I believe he would have established English opera in London for all time. Towards the end of the run of Ivanhoe I was already preparing the Flying Dutchman with Eugène Oudin in the name part. He would have been superb. However, plans were altered and the Dutchman was shelved." ('My Life of Music', Victor Gollancz Ltd, London 1938) Carte sold the theatre within a year, and it was renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The name finally changed to The Palace Theatre in 1911. On March 11, 1925 the musical comedy No, No, Nanette opened at the Palace Theatre starring Binnie Hale and George Grossmith, Jr. The run of 665 performances made it the third longest running West End musical of the 1920s. The Palace Theatre was also the venue for Fred Astaire's final stage musical Gay Divorce which opened there on November 2, 1933.
The last years of the twentieth century saw two exceptional runs at The Palace: Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Misérables. The latter ran for eighteen years, having transferred from the Barbican Centre on December 4, 1985. The show is still running at the Queen's Theatre just 100 m further up Shaftesbury Avenue, having transferred in April 2004. In August 1983, Andrew Lloyd-Webber announced that he had purchased the freehold of the theatre for £1.3 million, and subsequently set out on a series of works to restore the theatre. During work on the auditorium, a layer of plum-coloured paint was removed, revealing the famous marble and onyx panels to be untouched. Following the transfer of Les Miserables, the theatre was greatly refurbished, marble walls uncovered, restored, repainted, new chandeliers, cleaned etc. This was followed by a short 6-week season of illusionist Derren Brown following his successful UK tour. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White received its world premiere on 15 September 2004 and ran for 19 months to 25 February 2006. The show starred Maria Friedman and Michael Crawford originally with subsequent casts including Ruthie Henshall, Michael Ball, Anthony Andrews, Simon Callow and David Burt. It outlived the broadway version, playing at Broadway's Marquis Theatre where it opened in November 2005, by 6 days. Bill Kenwright's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's musical Whistle Down The Wind played from 15 March - 12 August 2006,
- Song and Dance (April 7, 1982 - March 31, 1984)
- Les Misérables (December 4, 1985 - March 27, 2004)
- The Woman in White (September 15, 2004 - February 25, 2006)
- Whistle Down The Wind (March 15, 2006 - August 12, 2006)
- Monty Python's Spamalot (From October 2, 2006 - )