Colonial Theatre

106 Boylston Street,
Boston, MA 02116

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Colonial Theatre

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Boston’s beloved Colonial Theatre was built inside a new office building on the site of the old Boston Public Library. The sumptuously decorated house quickly eclipsed the nearby Tremont Theatre (later the Astor Cinema) as the Klaw and Erlanger syndicate’s Boston flagship. It is a richly rococo Victorian-era playhouse, home to both touring shows and pre-Bway tryouts. The opening production was the stage spectacular “Ben Hur”.

The advent of full-length feature “photo plays” after 1910 created “road-show” movie presentations in legit houses. A number of these movies played at the Tremont Theatre and in February 1913, “The Miracle” in “Lyricscope” opened at the Colonial Theatre. Sound films came to the theater in October 1927 with the local premier of “Don Juan” using the Vitaphone process. The feature was accompanied by a number short subjects which were also designed to show off Vitaphone sound. When the engagement ended, these films went into other Boston houses at regular prices.

The Shuberts controlled the theatre from the 1930 to the mid-1950’s. At that time, it boasted a square cinema-style marquee which used white letters on a black background. Around 1956 it was thought that the house would be sold to a movie exhibitor, but that did not happen. Emerson College, which also owns the Cutler Majestic Theatre around the corner, currently owns the Colonial Theatre and leases it to the organization that operates the Wang Center. In 2014, the Colonial Theatre is operated by Citi Performing Arts Center.

Contributed by Ron Salters

Recent comments (view all 50 comments)

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 6, 2011 at 11:34 am

I have heard that the booking of attractions at the Colonial will be handled by the Wang Center; I don’t know how accurate that is. And further to the comments above of May 10: notwithstanding what was listed in the Julius Cahn guide, I believe that the Colonial’s stage is 55 feet deep, not 45.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 8, 2011 at 11:01 am

I walked by the Colonial yesterday and it’s totally dead and dark with posters for shows at the Boston Opera House in its poster frames.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 9, 2012 at 10:54 am

The Colonial has been closed and unused during the present 2011-2012 theater season. But that will change next season because at least 2 or 3 shows have been booked there.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on September 30, 2012 at 10:36 am

The Colonial has been closed since early-summer 2011. Now there are at least 2 touring shows booked for this 2012-2013 theatrical season. The theater’s name as printed in the ads for those shows is: “Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre”. Oh, barf.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm

What are the two shows? Are they a joint venture between ArtsEmerson and the Wang Center?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 1, 2012 at 10:26 am

I can’t remember the titles, but they are two touring shows, both musicals, I think. One is booked in Dec., and the other in Feb. Both are part of the Broadway in Boston line-up. Ads for them have run in the Quincy Patriot-Ledger; it was in these ads that I noted the change in the theater name.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on December 15, 2012 at 11:46 am

In the entertainment section of today’s Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger there is mention of the musical “Memphis” which it says is now playing “at the Citi Performing Arts Center Emerson Colonial Theater”. How’s that for a mouthful !

Patsy on December 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm

This theatre is the current home of the I Love Lucy Live On Stage production. If you haven’t seen this show and you are in Boston….go! And if you haven’t ever been to the Lucy Comedy Festival in Jamestown NY….go! Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball, the First Lady of Comedy.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on September 3, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Today’s Boston Globe reports that Emerson College will close the theatre after the October run of “The Book of Mormon” ends, as the Wang Center’s lease on the Colonial is expiring. The future of the theatre is quite unclear.

Boston Globe story

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