The Princess of Wales Theatre is a 2000-seat theatre located at 300 King Street West in the heart of Toronto's Entertainment District in the downtown area. The theatre's name has a triple meaning: it recalls the Princess Theatre, Toronto's first "first-class legitimate" playhouse, that once stood three blocks to the east; it honours Diana, Princess of Wales, with whose consent the theatre was so-named; and it links the building to its sister theatre, the Royal Alexandra, one block to the east, also named - with Royal assent - for a former Princess of Wales.
The theatre was built by Ed and David Mirvish as a state-of-the-art facility for the staging of long-running, large-scale musicals. At the time of its construction, it was the first privately owned and financed theatre built in Canada since the Royal Alexandra was built in 1907, and the first such to be built in North America in over thirty years. Mirvish Productions owns Toronto's Royal Alexandra, Ed Mirvish (formerly the Canon), and Panasonic theatres. The Mirvish family also owned Honest Ed's department store.
Construction began on August 6, 1991. The theatre opened on May 26, 1993 with a local production of the megamusical Miss Saigon. Subsequent productions in the Princess of Wales have included the musicals Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Les Misérables, Hairspray, Chicago, Oliver!, Cabaret, The Phantom of the Opera and recently was home to The Sound of Music.
For the Princess of Wales Theatre, David Mirvish commissioned a series of murals by American abstract expressionist painter and sculptor Frank Stella. The paintings—10,000 square feet (1,000 m2)—cover the auditorium ceiling dome, the proscenium arch, the walls of lounges and lobbies on all four levels of the theatre and the outside back wall of the fly tower. They are believed to comprise one of the largest mural installations of modern times. Stella also designed the decorative fronts of the boxes and balconies and the decorative end-caps of the each seating row.
The theatre has seating on three levels—orchestra, dress circle and balcony—with elevator access to all levels and is configured as a traditional 19th century English proscenium theatre. Further, the entire theatre is barrier-free, enabling wheelchair access to all levels — not a common occurrence in Toronto considering the age of many of its theatres.
The project architect was Peter Smith, of the Toronto firm Lett-Smith. Smith was also responsible for the duMaurier Theatre Centre in Toronto and for the restoration of the Grand Theatre, in London, Ontario.
The Princess of Wales Theatre is designed to incorporate both traditional and contemporary design elements. The Toronto Star described it as "...a glittering glass jewelry case, a sparkling glimpse into a spectacle of total design." It is often used for study by architecture, engineering, design, and theatre students.
A stage production of The Lord of the Rings made its world premiere in the facilities on February 8, 2006, losing money owing to terrible reviews and a lack of public interest. The original stage was gutted and replaced with a complex stage surface that includes three interlocking turntables and 17 independent elevators for this production.
The National Theatre's production of War Horse opened at the theatre on February 10, 2012.
On September 29, 2012, with the facility only having been in operation for 19 years, it was announced that the Princess of Wales Theatre would be demolished in favour of a multi-purpose complex to be designed by Frank Gehry and which would include an extensive artwork collection available for public viewing, as well as museums, condominium units, and retail spaces. However, in response to criticism from city planners, a revised plan was announced by Mirvish and Gehry in May 2014 which would spare the theatre.