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A production photo for LAOS West Side Story. Dancers in colourful dresses stand in formation with their arms out in a pose, smiling at the audience.

The History of LAOS

Last year, Leeds Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) returned to The Grand for the first time since 2019 with their production of Kinky Boots. Looking forward to their upcoming production of Legally Blonde, committee member and Media Manager Siân Crossley tells us more about the musical theatre company.

Written by Siân Crossley


History of LAOS

Leeds Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) is a well-established and professional musical theatre company which has been performing at prestigious theatres for many years; most members are based around West Yorkshire.

LAOS was originally founded in 1890, first staging H.M.S Pinafore at the Coliseum in Cookridge Street, Leeds. In 1937, the society moved to our current home, Leeds Grand Theatre, and performed La Fille De Madame Angot. Since then, the society has gone from strength to strength, performing at The Grand on an annual basis.

In 1989, the society’s centenary year, we produced 100 Musical Years at the Civic Theatre in Leeds. This was a selection of songs from the shows, reflecting on the past 100 years. This production was such a success that LAOS continued to perform a Musical Years production at the Civic Theatre every year, as well as our main musical production at The Grand.

Following the successful LAOS production of Hello Dolly in 2004, The Grand closed for some major refurbishment and LAOS became the first amateur society to play at West Yorkshire Playhouse (now Leeds Playhouse), with audiences reaching 95% capacity for Jesus Christ Superstar in 2005. In the same year, the Civic Theatre was taken over as a museum and the autumn Musical Years was performed firstly at the famous City Varieties and then at the new Carriageworks Theatre the following year with a show entitled Jazz It Up.

A scene from LAOS's production of West Side Story. A man jumps in the air to attack another man on the floor as another man watches on with his hands on his head in horror.

A scene from the LAOS production of West Side Story

From then on, the society ceased performing Musical Years concerts and moved to producing two large-scale musicals per year, one at Leeds Grand Theatre and one at West Yorkshire Playhouse. This continued until 2015 when the society cut down to producing just one musical per year. 2015 also marked the society’s 125th anniversary and to celebrate, we produced the critically acclaimed Hairspray to almost sell-out audiences.

Despite huge successes, we were not in the financial position to produce another full-scale musical and therefore took a year out to pursue some fundraising opportunities. This was a difficult year but we did manage to raise funds through events such as a cabaret-style show, a family BBQ and other social events. To support the society’s eventual return to Leeds Grand Theatre, we started small and performed The Full Monty at City Varieties in 2017. With the funds secured, The Grand was booked for the following year and LAOS returned with the musical spectacular Cats in 2018, followed by West Side Story in 2019 and a plan for My Fair Lady in 2020.

A production photo of Cats. A cast of actors/dancers dressed as cats kneel and bow towards a actor dressed as a cat standing on a raised platform with a spotlight on them.

The LAOS production of Cats, 2018

A production photo for LAOS West Side Story. Dancers in colourful dresses stand in formation with their arms out in a pose, smiling at the audience.

The LAOS production of West Side Story, 2019

Two dancers dressed as grey cats with red jackets. One holds up the other as they extend their leg straight up in the air

The LAOS production of Cats, 2018

Impact of COVID-19

In late summer 2019, LAOS held successful principal auditions for what would be our next production, My Fair Lady. With all the parts filled, and a full ensemble to support, we were excited to produce a musical classic in our home (and favourite!) venue of Leeds Grand Theatre. Rehearsals commenced just after Christmas and with Jim Lunt as Musical Director and Louise Denison as Director/Choreographer, the production was set to be a hit.

Every scene was set and we had started doing full runs in rehearsals when the news started spreading regarding a virus from China which had just arrived in the UK. The future remained uncertain so we continued to rehearse for our planned production. As we headed into March and got everything ready to move into the theatre for a week of rehearsals before opening night, the world came to a standstill and the first lockdown of the COVID-19 Pandemic commenced. This was the most surreal time and most upsetting for all of those involved. Sadly, the LAOS production of My Fair Lady was abandoned but will remain in our memories and in the archives of the society’s history.

All committee meetings moved to Zoom and LAOS found a new way of working. We used this opportunity, and the break in productions, to do a lot of work behind-the-scenes on our policies and procedures to ensure we are fully compliant and can continue producing such large-scale musicals in professional venues.

In 2021, the society performed All Together Now which was a cabaret-style show of songs from MTI Europe’s catalogue. This production was performed in 31 different countries, by different societies, all on the same weekend to help bring the theatre world back together and raise much-needed funds for theatrical organisations across the globe.

Moving forward

Last year, LAOS brought Kinky Boots to Leeds Grand Theatre. Featuring a huge company, Kinky Boots was a crowd pleaser, destined to get you dancing in the aisle and discovering why sometimes, the best way to fit in is to stand out. This year is no different, as LAOS return with another feel-good musical of epic proportions – Legally Blonde.