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The Princess of Wales Theatre Timeline
The 1980s were the era of the “mega-musical,” the term given to shows such as Cats, Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera. These productions were mega in many ways: the size of casts, sets, costumes and special effects; and their appeal to audiences around the world. These shows also shared a few other elements — primarily that they were all British born and all produced by Cameron Macintosh.
The last of these mega-musicals opened in September 1989 at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The much-anticipated new show from the creators of Les Misérables, Claude-Michel Schônberg and Alain Boublil, Miss Saigon was the apotheosis of the mega-musical. It was bigger and bolder, and took the staging of a musical to a higher level.
As all three of the British mega-musicals had successfully played Toronto with local sit-down companies, it was only a matter of time before Miss Saigon would find its way on one of this city’s stages. But was there a stage large enough to accommodate it? After all, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane stage is 60 feet deep, and the Miss Saigon set used every inch for its spectacular special effects, including the famous helicopter that carried away the last American evacuees from Saigon before the city fell to the invading North Vietnamese army. Toronto did not have a theatre large enough.
David and Ed Mirvish offered to build a theatre for Miss Saigon. It would be a state-of-the-art facility but designed in the tradition of the Victorian playhouses so that, while still large enough for spectacular shows, would also provide an intimacy for audiences.
They decided to build it on King Street so that it could be a sister theatre to other the Mirvish-owned venue, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, which was built in 1907. And like the Royal Alex, it would be built on land originally used as the playing field of Upper Canada College.
Designed by architect Peter Smith, with an interior design by the then up-and-coming design firm Yabu Pushelberg, now world renowned, and featuring artwork by the brilliant Frank Stella, the Princess of Wales opened with the Canadian premiere of Miss Saigon on May 26, 1993.
The theatre has since become the premier home of classic and contemporary musical productions. The timeline below takes you through the building’s construction and history, highlighting some of the more than 94 shows that have played there in the last 28 years.
CONSTRUCTION BEGINS ON PRINCESS OF WALES
AUGUST 6, 1991 - MAY, 1993
Construction on the Princess of Wales began on August 6, 1991. Its name honours Diana, Princess of Wales.
The Princess of Wales Theatre opened its doors to the public in 1993. The first privately owned and financed theatre built in Canada since 1907, this theatre seats 2,000 and boasts state-of-the-art technical facilities, as well as one of the widest and deepest stages in North America.
The Princess of Wales was designed by architect Peter Smith, with an interior design by the then up-and-coming design firm Yabu Pushelberg, now world renowned, and featuring artwork by the brilliant Frank Stella.
elevators & accessibility
Four banks of elevators make it possible to park underneath the theatre and go straight up to all seating levels in the auditorium.
All levels of seating in the auditorium and all public lobbies in the building are accessible by wheelchair.
BEAUTY & THE BEAST
JULY 25, 1995 - AUGUST 30, 1997
Distinctly Canadian flavor to the Toronto cast of Beauty & the Beast. Of the 39 cast members, 36 are Canadian. Dan Chameroy appeared as the muscle-bound, self-adoring Gaston.
AUGUST 15, 1998 - JANUARY 2, 1999
The production features Colm Wilkinson, reprising the role of Jean Valjean. Wilkinson had not played the part since leaving the original Broadway Company in 1987.
Chicago first played the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1977 and in 1998 played the Princess of Wales for this first time. This time around Chita Rivera plays murderess Roxie Hart.
THE PAJAMA GAME
JUNE 17, 1999 - JULY 24, 1999
The North American premiere of Simon Callow's British staging. The production is designed by abstract artist Frank Stella (whose permanent works already decorate the Princess of Wales). With Canadian actress Camilla Scott.
SEPTEMBER 8,1999 - OCTOBER 16, 1999
This production, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff starred Joely Fisher.
THE LION KING
Canadian premiere of Disney’s The Lion King. This is the second North American production of the musical, after Broadway, and the fourth in the world. With a cast of 48, including 40 Canadians - Stephen Allerick as Simba, Saskia Garel as Nala, Richard McMillan as Scar, Eugene Clark as Mufasa, Mark Terene as Pumbaa, Jeffrey Kuhn as Zazu and Topaz Hasfal as Sarabi.
ON STAGE 2004THE HOLLOW CROWN
Royal Shakespeare Co., Duncan C. Weldon, Paul Elliott / John Barton present The Hollow Crown starring Vanessa Redgrave, Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson and Alan Howard.
MAY 5, 2004 - NOVEMBER 28, 2004
The Toronto engagement of Hairspray is the first international production of the 2002 Tony Award winning Broadway hit based on the cult movie by John Waters.
'DA KINK IN MY HAIR
JANUARY 8, 2005 - APRIL 24, 2005
Trey Anthony's 'da Kink in my Hair, makes it the first Canadian play to grace the stage at the Princess of Wales. Due to the demand, the play is extended five times! Directed by Weyni Mengesha.
ON STAGE 2006
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
FEBRUARY 8, 2006 - SEPTEMBER 3, 2006
The much-anticipated $30-million British musical theatre production of The Lord of the Rings makes its world premiere in Toronto with a cast of 50 and complex hydraulically operated sets. This largely Canadian cast of orcs, elves and hobbits is directed by Matthew Warchus in a three-act, 3½-hour show.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN
JUNE 3 - 15, 2008
After playing for five weeks to standing ovations and packed houses earlier this year (Jan 8 – Feb. 10, 2008), the highly regarded Roundabout Theatre Company production of Twelve Angry Men returns for a strictly limited run of only 16 performances. Starring Richard Thomas & Kevin Dobson.
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT
OCTOBER 12, 2010 - JANUARY 2, 2011
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical makes its North American debut before moving to Broadway. Starring Tony Sheldon (Bernadette), Will Swenson (Tick/Mitzi), Nick Adams (Adam/Felicia), Canadian C. David Johnson (Bob) and fellow Canadian actors Thom Allison, Susan Dunstan and David Lopez.
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF)
SEP 8, 2011 – SEP 18, 2011
For the first time, the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival takes place in the Princess of Wales Theatre. The theatre is outfitted with a state of the art projection system for this year's red-carpet events.
HUGH JACKMAN IN CONCERT
JULY 5, 2011 - JULY 17, 2011
“Hugh Jackman in Concert doesn’t feel like a career move – it feels like fun, the work of a talented performer unexpectedly given the chance to do what he loves just for the hell of it. But where another star might have let that opportunity sour into a statement of ego, Jackman lets the audience share in his passion and his fun. It’s hard to imagine him ever having a better role.” — THE GLOBE AND MAIL
FEBRUARY 10, 2012 - JANUARY 16, 2013
Adapted by Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, Britain’s National Theatre presents War Horse. The puppetry by Handspring Puppetry Company ,brings galloping, full-scale horses to life on stage — their flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, leather and aircraft cables. The stage show received five Tony Awards, including best play!
THE BOOK OF MORMON
APRIL 30, 2013 - JUNE 9, 2013
First engagement of The Book of Mormon at the Princess of Wales. The Toronto engagement is part of the first national tour of the nine-time Tony Award-winning show, a religious satire centred on two Mormon missionaries.
FEBRUARY 11, 2015 - MARCH 15, 2015
Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit first played the Royal Alexandra theatre in 1943, 1945 and again in 1982. This time, The Princess of Wales wecomed the legend Angela Lansbury as the medium Madame Arcati.
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER
MAY 25, 2016 - JUNE 26, 201
Getting away with murder can be so much fun... and there's no better proof than the knock-'em-dead hit show that's earned unanimous raves and won the 2014 Tony Award for BEST MUSICAL.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
Curious Incident originated at Britain's National Theatre and sparked a Broadway production that eventually spawned a U.S. tour. Mirvish Productions brings in the British touring production to Toronto.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
MARCH 27, 2018 - APRIL 29, 2018
McGee Maddox (National Ballet of Canada) stars in this George & Ira Gershwin classic. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.
THE LAST SHIP
In a rare theatrical engagement, the multiple Grammy Award® winner and superstar Sting starred in The Last Ship, his heartfelt and empowering new musical in an exclusive production created for Toronto alone!
SUMMER - THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
Summer opened March 10 and played thru March 13 before all performances were cancelled due to COVID-19. The run was originally scheduled to run thru March 22, 2020.
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical takes us through Donna Summer’s tumultuous life, tempestuous loves and mega-watt musical hits. Spend the night in her electrifying universe.
MISS SAIGON engagement
Producer Cameron Mackintosh closed the North American touring production due to the effects of COVID-19. The tour played its final performance on Sunday March 15, in Fort Myers, FL. Miss Saigon's Toronto engagement was cancelled. (May 5-24, 2020)
Miss Saigon has a special history with Toronto. A blockbuster in London and New York, the musical was the second one from French composing team Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, who had had a massive worldwide success with Les Misérables, which had a sit-down, record-breaking Canadian production in Toronto. Miss Saigon was so eagerly anticipated that David & Ed Mirvish built a new venue with a massive stage to house the musical. The Princess of Wales Theatre opened in May 1993; the Canadian production of Miss Saigon played there for two years.
The entire North American touring production was cancelled due to the effects of COVID-19. Les Misérables Toronto engagement was cancelled. (June 16-August 23, 2020)
Cameron Mackintosh presents the new production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon, Les Misérables.
Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens has adapted Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago’s dystopian novel Blindness as a sound installation on the stage of the Princess of Wales. Juliet Stevenson voices the Storyteller/Doctor’s wife in this gripping story of the rise and, ultimately, profoundly hopeful end of an unimaginable global pandemic.