Colonial Theatre (Boston)

The Colonial Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts, opened in 1900, is the oldest continually-operating theatre in the city.[citation needed] 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.

Colonial Theatre
The Colonial Theatre, Boston, 2009
Address106 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts
United States
OwnerEmerson College
OperatorATG Entertainment
OpenedDecember 20, 1900 (1900-12-20)
Rebuilt1960, 1995



The Colonial Theatre was 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 with a sold out show and Winston Churchill attending.[1] 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.

George Bernard Shaw's play Too True To Be Good received its world premiere at the Colonial Theatre on February 29, 1932.

Recent history


In the 1990s, Colonial president Jon Platt led a renovation of the Colonial.[2] 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.[3]

In 2006, Emerson invoked its purchase option with the intent of using the upper floors for dormitories.[4] In 2008, Key Brand Entertainment purchased most of Live Nation's theatrical assets, including its lease on the Colonial Theatre.[5] When KBE's lease ended, the Citi Performing Arts Center assumed operation of the venue and continued booking in partnership with KBE.[6]

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 Boston 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.[7] After protests from faculty, alumni, historians and theatrical personnel, and over 7,000 signatures on a petition, including playwright/composer Stephen Sondheim and New York Times theatre critic, Frank Rich, Emerson President M. Lee Pelton announced on 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.[8]

In September 2016, Emerson College administration announced it was 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.[9]



In January 2017, Emerson College announced a deal with the London-based Ambassador Theatre Group (now ATG Entertainment) to operate the Colonial Theatre under 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.[10] It reopened in July 2018 featuring the premiere of a new musical, Moulin Rouge!, based on the film by Baz Luhrmann, prior to its Broadway run.[11][12][13][14]



The Colonial has long been a home to both touring productions of Broadway shows, and to previews of shows prior to their Broadway debuts. Notable shows which previewed at the Colonial before opening on Broadway include:[8]


  1. ^ Tepper, Jennifer Ashley (January 10, 2016). "10 Important Colonial Theatre Events Every Theatre Nerd Must Know". Playbill. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  2. ^ Clay, Carolyn (December 6, 2001). "Lobby hero: Jon Platt books the Colonial". Boston Phoenix. Archived from the original on November 20, 2012. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
  3. ^ Reidy, Chris (August 22, 2003). "Emerson College, Colonial Theatre Link". The Boston Globe. p. D2.
  4. ^ "Emerson College to add dorm to Colonial Building". Boston Business Journal. February 4, 2006.
  5. ^ Robertson, Campbell (January 25, 2008). "Live Nation Finds a Buyer for Its Theater Business". The New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  6. ^ Collins-Hughes, Laura (September 30, 2011). "Deal near to reopen the Colonial: Citi Center has plan with Broadway group". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on January 18, 2013.
  7. ^ Gay, Malcolm (October 8, 2015). "Emerson College may turn Colonial into student center". The Boston Globe.
  8. ^ a b Viagas, Robert; Clement, Olivia (March 3, 2016). "Emerson College Withdraws Plan to Convert Boston's Colonial Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  9. ^ Gay, Malcolm (September 12, 2016). "Emerson considers reopening Colonial Theatre". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  10. ^ Siegel, Ed (June 13, 2016). "Commentary: The Walsh Administration's Success Story With The Huntington And The Colonial". The ARTery. WBUR-FM.
  11. ^ Kilgannon, Maddie (July 30, 2018). "Emerson Colonial Theatre can, can, can at 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' reopening gala performance". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  12. ^ Gay, Malcolm (January 9, 2017). "Emerson College strikes deal to reopen Colonial Theatre". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  13. ^ Garcia, Maria (November 1, 2017). "Colonial Theatre To Reopen In June With Pre-Broadway World Premiere Of 'Moulin Rouge!'". The ARTery. WBUR-FM.
  14. ^ Paulson, Michael (November 1, 2017). "'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' to Open in Boston With Broadway Hopes". The New York Times.

42°21′08″N 71°03′56″W / 42.352296°N 71.065428°W / 42.352296; -71.065428