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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.

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A Tour of the Princess of Wales Theatre

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.