The stage is set for Boston’s historic Colonial Theatre to reclaim its place as one of the city’s leading theatrical venues. Owner Emerson College has reached a long-term agreement with Ambassador Theater Group to return “first-class productions” to the space, says College president Lee Pelton.
“Bringing ATG to Boston as a partner with Emerson is," Pelton said, "the theater’s version of bringing GE to our city. This is an unprecedented partnership, there’s nothing like it in the world."
The Colonial is one of the nation's most historic theaters. Lavishly decorated, it opened in 1900. It’s where numerous legendary shows including Porgy & Bess, Oklahoma, and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies made their debut.
But Emerson College closed the theater in 2015 saying there were no longer enough events to keep it open. The college then drew epic backlash when it considered turning some of the Colonial into a dining hall.
Going back to the drawing board, Pelton says his mission for the theater was clear: “It will animate the streetscape. We hope that will inspire and, embrace, and celebrate our city’s, emerging diversity through remarkable theatrical productions.”
The College has signed with ATG, an international theater organization with 46 venues around the world including two on Broadway.
Chief Executive Mark Cornell says the company has long had its sights on Boston. “There is only one theatre that really stands out as having been the great jewel in the crown, and that is the Colonial. And as luck would have it, our stars have somewhat aligned,” Cornell said.
ATG has also produced shows like Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the Tony winning revival of The King and I, and the massive West End hit, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Cornell says his mission is to bring high quality theater, music, and even comedy to the Colonial.
More than that, Cornell wants the Colonial to return to its famed roots as the premier, pre-Broadway venue for drama.
The agreement also offers ample opportunities for Emerson students and a potential home for Boston Lyric Opera that has been without a permanent space since ending its lease at the Boch Shubert Theatre last year.
Said Pelton: “We’re very mindful of this as an opportunity to support the BLO, and to support this city in this particular way.”
The College already has a theater organization called ArtsEmerson, which has a strong emphasis on shows by international theater groups. Pelton does not see a conflict.
“It’s our belief,” said Pelton, “that will effect the programming in a very positive way. And I hope there will be opportunities for joint productions, or various kinds of partnership arrangements between ATG with their vast resources of theatrical productions and live entertainment with Arts Emerson.”
Emerson College and ATG expect to open the theater’s inaugural season in January of next year.
In the meantime, the Colonial will undergo millions of dollars in renovations and restoration.