The Colonial Theatre, Boston, 2009
|Address||106 Boylston Street
|Operator||Ambassador Theatre Group|
|Opened||December 20, 1900|
The Colonial Theatre, opened in 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 tryout runs of shows before their Broadway debuts. Notable shows which previewed at the Colonial before opening on Broadway include:
- Anything Goes
- Red, Hot and Blue
- Porgy and Bess
- Oklahoma! (called Away We Go! in Boston)
- The Merchant of Yonkers
- Born Yesterday
- Annie Get Your Gun
- Promises, Promises
- La Cage aux Folles
- Grand Hotel
- Beatlemania (musical)
- A Little Night Music
- The Diary of Anne Frank
- Seussical The Musical
- High Fidelity
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 the 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 were considering plans from various outside groups to reopen the theater. One of the proposals was from a local consortium, which included 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 were also proposals internally from the college and from SMG, a Pennsylvania-based venue management group.
In January 2017, Emerson College announced a deal with the London-based Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) to operate the Colonial Theatre by signing a 40-year lease. In a deal that was partly facilitated by the City of Boston,  the college and ATG have both agreed to make substantial capital improvements to the venue which is now to be called the Emerson Colonial Theatre. A reopening is scheduled for June 2018 featuring the premiere of a new musical, Moulin Rouge!, based on the film by Baz Luhrmann, prior to a possible Broadway run.
- Viagas, Robert; Clement, Olivia (March 3, 2016). "Emerson College Withdraws Plan to Convert Boston's Colonial Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Clay, Carolyn (December 6, 2001). "Lobby hero: Jon Platt books the Colonial". Boston Phoenix.
- Reidy, Chris (August 22, 2003). "Emerson College, Colonial Theatre Link". The Boston Globe. p. D2. (Subscription required (. ))
- "Emerson College to add dorm to Colonial Building". Boston Business Journal. February 4, 2006.
- Robertson, Campbell (January 25, 2008). "Live Nation Finds a Buyer for Its Theater Business". The New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Collins-Hughes, Laura (September 30, 2011). "Deal near to reopen the Colonial: Citi Center has plan with Broadway group". The Boston Globe.
- Gay, Malcolm (October 8, 2015). "Emerson College may turn Colonial into student center". The Boston Globe.
- Gay, Malcolm (September 12, 2016). "Emerson considers reopening Colonial Theatre". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
- Gay, Malcolm (January 9, 2017). "Emerson College strikes deal to reopen Colonial Theatre". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2017-01-09.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Colonial Theatre (Boston, Massachusetts).|
- Boston Colonial Theatre defunct website
- Colonial Theatre at Cinema Treasures
- Jersey Boys performance at Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts
- Boston Public Library, Special Collections. William B. Jackson Theater Collection. Includes materials related to the Colonial Theatre, 1900–1993