Stage Struck: 100 Years At The Royal Alex, a free exhibition commemorating the Royal Alexandra Theatre’s centennial, opened yesterday at the Toronto Reference Library. Torontoist was at the opening to oggle at the rare playbills, posters and other paraphernalia that would make any theatre geek weak in the knees.
Organized by the Toronto Public Library, the Stage Struck exhibit features photos, design sketches, scripts and souvenir books that highlight the long history of the theatre. Among the more interesting pieces on display are six original silk programmes from the Royal Alex’s first season in 1907, snapshots of the auditorium being stripped and renovated in the 1960s, and the script for My Fur Lady, a 1957 satirical revue from McGill University featuring a musical number called “Teach Me How To Think Canadian” (“Be and ski and skate Canadian/Teach me how to mate Canadian!”).
The Royal Alexandra Theatre is the oldest theatre in Toronto and indisputably the city’s finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture. Modelled after the 19th-century jewel-box playhouses of New York, the Royal Alex opened in 1907 and was immediately celebrated for its modern comforts, such an “air conditioning” system that used giant ice tanks to cool air that was subsequently blown into the auditorium. The Royal Alex fell into hard times in the 1950s and was set to be demolished, when in 1963 Ed Mirvish bought it for a quarter of a million dollars and then spent three times that amount restoring the theatre to its original condition. The restoration of the Royal Alex also kickstarted the renewal of King Street, resulting in the present Entertainment District.
The Royal Alex celebrates its 100th birthday on August 26th. According to Heritage Toronto, there will be a special ceremony at noon in front of the theatre, where a Heritage Toronto plaque will be presented and the public can join a backstage tour. Torontoist will post more information as it becomes available.
Stage Struck: 100 Years At The Royal Alex runs until Saturday, September 30 at the Toronto Reference Library. Photo by undomestic in the Torontoist Flickr Pool.