Royal Alexandra Theatre

The 'Royal Alex,' as it is known affectionately, was designed by John Lyle who, using New York's New Amsterdam Theater as a model, incorporated novel features such as air conditioning which required tons of ice and.9 m-thick concrete floors which made it Canada's first fireproof theatre.


Royal Alexandra Theatre

 Royal Alexandra Theatre. Toronto landmark and cultural centre, located on downtown King St West near Simcoe St, on grounds formerly occupied by Upper Canada College. Named after Queen Alexandra, it was built in 1907 at a cost of $750,000 by a Toronto syndicate headed by Cawthra Mulock and including the stockbroker R.A. Smith, the manufacturer Stephen Haas, and the entrepreneur M.L. Solman.

The 'Royal Alex,' as it is known affectionately, was designed by John Lyle who, using New York's New Amsterdam Theater as a model, incorporated novel features such as air conditioning which required tons of ice and.9 m-thick concrete floors which made it Canada's first fireproof theatre. He employed gently curving lines to achieve excellent acoustics, thus creating a feeling of intimacy between performer and audience. Cantilevered balcony construction made the Royal Alexandra the first Canadian theatre to offer an unobstructed view of its proscenium arch from all vantage points. The auditorium (comprising orchestra level, balcony, gallery, and four private boxes) seated 1525. Its stage was 22.5 m wide and 10.95 m deep, while the proscenium was 11.4 m in height (Construction, November 1907).

The theatre opened 26 Aug 1907 with the musical revue Top of the World by Mark Swann and soon was established as one of the leading playhouses in North America. Fred and Adele Astaire, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Maurice Chevalier, Marie Dressler, Margot Fonteyn, George Formby, Al Jolson, Sir Harry Lauder, Beatrice Lillie, Alicia Markova, Edith Piaf, and Ethel Waters have performed on its stage, as have the Boston Grand Opera, the Dumbells, Anna Pavlova's Ballet Russe, the D'Oyly Carte, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Scores of local companies and performers have appeared there.

The Montreal Opera Company gave performances in 1912 and 1913, and the touring San Carlo Opera paid the first of its many visits in 1914 and gave a series of performances of popular operas. A Canadian work, Joseph Nevin Doyle's comic opera The Golden Age, was performed in 1915, and some of the operetta productions of the Savoyards were given in the Royal Alex. In March 1930 the TCM's opera company appeared in Hansel and Gretel and Vaughan Williams' Hugh the Drover, and in 1936 the Opera Guild of Toronto presented Tosca, Cavalleria Rusticana, and I Pagliacci. In 1948 the Royal Cons Opera (University of Toronto Opera Division) presented Rosalinda, the Broadway version of Strauss' Die Fledermaus. The company presented an annual season in the early 1950s and under the name Opera Festival 1954-9. The company became the Canadian Opera Company in 1960, and in 1961 moved to the O'Keefe Centre, but it returned to the Royal Alex in 1973 with Così fan tutte and again in 1978 and 1979 for its spring season.

John Weinzweig's ballet Red Ear of Corn had its premiere at the Royal Alex in 1950, in a production by the Volkoff Canadian Ballet, and the Canadian revues My Fur Lady and (the annual) Spring Thaw appeared there, along with many US touring musicals (As Thousands Cheer, Bittersweet, Bloomer Girl, Carmen Jones, Chu Chin Chow, etc).

In 1962 the trustees of the Cawthra Mulock Estate decided to sell the theatre. It was purchased in February 1963 by the Toronto entrepreneur Edwin Mirvish (Member 1978, Officer 1987 of the Order of Canada; OBE 1989) who commissioned the designer Herbert E.D. Irvine to restore it to its original Edwardian splendour. Under Mirvish's ownership it has flourished again.

The first production to be staged in the newly restored theatre was the Broadway show Never Too Late (1963). Successful shows presented thereafter included The Best of Spring Thaw, By George, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, Godspell, Grease, Oh Kay!, The Wiz, and the popular Hair, which had a run of 53 weeks Mirvish and his son, David, through their company Mirvish Productions, collaborated in 1986 with the COC to present a six-week run of Kismet, and with Brian Macdonald to present The Mikado in 1986 and HMS Pinafore in 1987. Les Misérables, with an all-Canadian cast, was co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Mirvish Productions. It established a new record for the theatre with a run of 63 weeks (15 Mar 1989-26 May 1990), followed by a national tour and then a return to the Royal Alex in 1991.

The theatre's managers have been Lawrence Solman 1907-33, William Breen 1933-9, Ernest Rawley 1939-56 and 1958-63, Edwin De Rocher 1957 and 1963-9, and Yale Simpson 1969-1989. Graham Hall succeeded Simpson in 1989. Canada's Historic Sites and Monuments Board awarded the theatre a plaque in 1989 to commemorate the Royal Alexandra as 'an elegant setting for Toronto's sophisticated theatrical and musical events'.

See alsoToronto Feature: Royal Alexandra Theatre.


Further Reading

  • Young, Roly. 'Cavalcade of musicals; recalling bygone hits; show prices are down,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 19 Jun 1948

    _ 'Oldtime amateur shows kept press scribes busy; summer theatre notes,' ibid, 14 Aug 1948

    'Royal Alexandra Theatre,' Centre Stage, Oct 1976

    Metropolitan Toronto Library. Royal Alexandra Theatre records, clippings, etc

    Look at the Record