|Rebuilt 1960, 1995|
Opened 20 December 1900
Owner Emerson College
|Address 106 Boylston Street
Similar Shubert Theatre, Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boch Center, Charles Playhouse, Boston Opera House
The Colonial Theatre (est.1900) is the oldest continually-operating theatre in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. Designed by the architectural firm of Clarence Blackall and paid for by Frederick Lothrop Ames, Jr., the theatre first opened its doors for a performance of Ben-Hur on December 20, 1900. Ben-Hur operated with a cast and crew of 350 people and featured eight live horses on stage in full gallop during the chariot race scene. The play was so mechanically and technically extraordinary, it was featured on the cover of Scientific American. It is located at 106 Boylston Street on Boston Common at the former site of the Boston Public Library. It is a pending Boston Landmark.
The Colonial has long been used to house both touring productions of Broadway shows, and to preview shows before their Broadway debuts. Notable shows which previewed at the Colonial before opening on Broadway include:
In the 1990s, Colonial president Jon Platt led a renovation of the Colonial. In 1998, Platt sold his Boston theater interests to SFX Entertainment (now Live Nation). In 2003, Emerson College leased the building with an option to purchase it.
In 2006, Emerson invoked its purchase option with the intent of using the upper floors for dormitories. In 2008, Key Brand Entertainment purchased most of Live Nation's theatrical assets, including its lease on the Colonial Theatre. When KBE's lease ended, the Citi Performing Arts Center assumed operation of the venue and continued booking in partnership with KBE.
Through the succession of operators until 2015, the Colonial Theater housed Pre-Broadway shows and was often the first stop for national tours of Broadway shows. Because of its size, the Colonial can often host highly technical musicals that the smaller houses, such as the Shubert and the Wilbur Theatres, cannot accommodate. The Colonial has also played host to much larger shows such as Les Misérables, but after the renovation of the newly restored Opera House, some of its typical shows performed elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Colonial continued to be a testing ground for Broadway-bound shows.
When the Citi lease ended October 15, 2015, Emerson College closed the Colonial to evaluate use of the structure. Later, the school announced plans to convert the theatre space into a dining hall. After protests from faculty, alumni, historians and theatrical personnel, and over 7,000 signatures on a Change.org petition, including playwright/composer Stephen Sondheim and New York Times theatre critic, Frank Rich, Emerson President M. Lee Pelton announced March 3, 2016, that the college would instead renovate another building into a dining hall and gathering area and seek to bring live performances back to the Colonial.
In September 2016, Emerson College announced they are now considering plans from various outside groups to reopen the theater. One of the proposals is from a local consortium, which includes Live Nation, the Boston Lyric Opera, Broadway in Boston, and Celebrity Series of Boston with the consortium bringing Broadway shows, musical acts, opera, and more to the theater. There are also proposals from internally from the college and from SMG, a Pennsylvania-based venue management group. A decision from the college should be made in the fall of 2016.
In January 2017, Emerson College announced a deal with the London-based Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) to operate the venue by signing a 40 year lease. The college and ATG have both agreed to make substantial capital improvements and have an reopening in January of 2018.