Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre Will Get a $2.5 Million Facelift

News   Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre Will Get a $2.5 Million Facelift
The 1907 landmark will decrease the number of seats to create more leg room.
Royal Alexandra Theatre
Royal Alexandra Theatre Edward Burtynsky

Ontario, Canada's venerable Royal Alexandra Theatre will get a $2.5 million renovation courtesy of its owners and managers, Mirvish Productions, which has owned the property since 1963.

The Toronto-area theatre will close its doors May 15 after Kinky Boots ends its 11-month run, to undergo “a major renovation and restoration,” according to statement from Mirvish. The theatre will reopen November 15 with the Canadian premiere of Come From Away, the Canadian-written, Broadway-bound musical about the people of Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11/01.

Along the way, facilities will be upgraded to “offer modern audiences enhanced comfort.” To create more leg room, seating capacity at the 1,497-seat playhouse will be reduced to 1,244 seats. The orchestra will lose 75 seats, the dress circle 70 seats, and the balcony 108 seats.

”All the beautiful and elegant elements of its gracious interior, including the beaux-arts influenced plaster mouldings on the balcony fronts and ceiling, will be lovingly cleaned and restored to their original look. Architect John Lyle’s revolutionary design of the auditorium— that introduced the concept of cantilevered balconies so that no audience member’s sightline of the stage was blocked by pillars—will remain.”

Locally nicknamed the “Royal Alex,” the beaux-arts-style theatre opened in 1907 and was scheduled for demolition in the early 1960s when the Mirvish family rescued it and gave it its first renovation. Several landmark productions played there over the years, including the landmark 1972 production of Godspell that launched the careers of comedy masters Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Andrea Martin and Victor Garber. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1982.

Here are more details on the refurbishment from Mirvish notes on the project:

• New seats will be installed. These will look identical to the original 1907 seats—with their distinctive RA insignia brass seat-end plates (called end standards, in the trade) and wire hat-racks under the seats—but will be made with the latest technology and cushioning to provide excellent comfort and support. The seats will be upholstered in a fabric that recreates the original’s striped mohair design.

• The new seats will be much wider than the original ones, with many 23 inches wide (compared to 19 inches of the old ones).

• The rake of the orchestra level, which has been altered over the years, will be restored to its original angle.

“What we are doing at the Royal Alex is significant in many different ways,” said David Mirvish. ”Not only will we restore an auditorium of historical importance, both in architecture and in the legacy of the thousands of artists who have graced its stage; we will also do something that theatre owners never do. Theatre owners always want to increase seating capacity so as to maximize their revenue. We are doing the opposite: we are decreasing the seating capacity so as to increase the audience’s comfort and to create the best circumstances in which an audience can enjoy and appreciate the artists’ work onstage.

“It may sound counterintuitive in terms of revenue, but we believe in the long term a happier, more comfortable audience will lead to greater loyalty and return visits, which in turn will lead to a more profitable theatre. In fact, we are spending $2.5 million on this renovation; that’s how important we believe it is.

“Our goal is to continue to build Toronto’s reputation of being a great theatre city. The Royal Alex has always been the jewel of the city, and we want to ensure it always will be.”

Here is a short documentary on the project, produced by the Mirvishes:

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