Whether it was Oklahoma!, Carousel or A Little Night Music, Boston’s Colonial Theatre was fertile ground for pre-Broadway shows in the 20th century. And if Moulin Rouge! The Musical is any indication, the group behind the theater’s rebirth is hoping to live up to that storied history when, after three years, the curtain again rises at the Emerson Colonial this summer. The musical, adapted from the 2001 Baz Luhrman film and directed by Alex Timbers, will run July 10 through Aug. 19 before it heads to Broadway for an already planned engagement.
The world premiere starring Tony winner Karen Olivo is just one of the many productions the Ambassador Theatre Group plans to have in the refurbished space. It reached an agreement with Broadway in Boston to host several touring shows, while it continues conversations with Boston Lyric Opera about staging performances, according to Colonial general manager Erica Lynn Schwartz. The group also reached out to local theater companies about creating new partnerships in the future.
“We can also easily accommodate a comedian or small band. We feel like every type of programming should happen here,” Schwartz says.
Three improvements were made on the production end of the theater. The dressing room suite was gutted and replaced with more flexible spaces that will change with each production. Additionally, the old wooden grid was swapped with a steel one and lowered to better accommodate stagehands. (A construction issue with the new grid pushed back the reopening originally scheduled for June.) And the final touch was updating the hemp system that relied on pulleys and sandbags with a double-purchase counterweight system that will better control the lights, scenery and curtain.
But you won’t have to peek backstage to see all the changes. The entire orchestra level was redone with wider seats, while the balcony and dress circle feature new railings on the aisles and comfier seat cushions. The former women’s lounge was converted to the Orchestra Bar to reduce the crowd crush, while the Ordertorium app will allow guests to skip the line entirely and get pre-show and intermission drinks delivered to their seats. Those looking for an even higher level of service can secure a spot in the Ambassadors Lounge, which includes access to a private room with food, cocktails, a complimentary coat check and a separate bathroom.
“We talk a lot about history-meets-modern,” Schwartz says. “We made modern improvements so the building can function in 2018. But we’re also keeping the historical beauty of the building and highlighting that as much as we can.”
With wood panels, ornate crown molding and mirrors that are more than 100 years old,
the Colonial has plenty of spots where you can soak up the beloved theater’s history. We learned a little more about what went into restoring some of the features inside the 1,624-seat playhouse.
The ticket counter was lowered to an ADA-compliant height and the glass window separating the customer from the attendant was removed to allow for a more personal interaction. To the right of the counter hangs an old wooden box-office sign touting admission prices for the theater a century ago. “How can you not look at that and think about the fact that’s been there for such a long time?” asks Schwartz.
A team of artisan painters restored the murals and scenes that adorn the Colonial’s ceilings in the lobby, auditorium and elsewhere in the theater. They spent months fixing up the wear and tear that had accumulated over the years. “It’s stunning how much more saturated the colors are now after they came in and repaired it,” Schwartz says. “It’s very vibrant.”
The famed table, where Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote and upon which Bob Fosse tap-danced, is a centerpiece of the Orchestra Bar room. Now that the space is open to all theatergoers and not only women, the table will be enjoyed by a larger swath of people. “It is a huge nod to American theater, and all that has been in the building, that we’re proud to have kept,” Schwartz says.
Emerson Colonial Theatre 106 Boylston St., Boston emersoncolonialtheatre.com