Remember the 90s Toronto Theater Scene?

Yeah, Phantom, Miss Saigon, Crazy For You, Show Boat, Tommy, Forever Plaid....playing at the same time....those glorious days... Look at Toronto theater scene now? What happened? So sad and depressing now.
fashionguru_23 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
I believe a big thanks for the 1990's theatre scene in Toronto has to go to Garth Drabinsky and Livent.
"The 54th Street[theatre] had a rep as. . .where old musicals went to die." -Smaxie
adam.peterson44 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
Saw Phantom and Crazy for you in 1994 when visiting Toronto as a tourist. Didn't move here until a few years ago, and certainly wish that there were more musicals and standing open-ended productions here in general.
frontrowcentre2 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
It actually started in the 1980s with CATS. But it was an exciting time, when Toronto could support long runs of LES MIZ, MISS SAIGON, CRAZY FOR YOU (all Mirvish), PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, SHOW BOAT, RAGTIME (Livent) in addition to various tours playing week-long runs at the elephant-sized O'Keefe (now Sony) Centre and at the Elgin/Winter Garden. The Elgin re-opened with a production of the RSC version of WIZARD OF OZ, while the Winter Garden hosted SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM.

Toronto also got to see Tony winners much more quickly: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA opened here just 15 months after its Tony Award win. LES MISERABLES was here within 2 years of its Broadway debut. These shows were playing here at the same time as playing in New York and London..the properties were hot.

Now, Toronto gets stale shows that arrive long after their buzz has died away. A delay in opening THE PRODUCERS here a few years back meant that the buzz had faded and the production did disappointing business.

1980 EVITA - Tour played a summer long run at the O'Keefe
in 1982 (and several times thereafter)

1981 42ND STREET - tour played O'Keefe several short engagements.

1982 NINE - NEVER done in Toronto until Community Theatre productions years later

1983 CATS - Toronto production opened 1985

1984 LA CAGE AUX FOLLES - Tour played summer season at O'Keefe in 1985

1985 BIG RIVER - Never played in Toronto

1986 DROOD - Tour with Jean Stapleton as Princes Puffer played one week at O'Keefe in summer 1987

1987 LES MIZ - Mirvish presented several lengthy engagements staring in 1989

1988 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - Livent launched with this one in 1989.

1989 JEROME ROBBINS' BROADWAY - Never played Toronto

1990 CITY OF ANGELS - 2 weeks at O'Keefe summer 1992

1991 WILL ROGERS FOLLIES - Not seen until Community production years later

1992 CRAZY FOR YOU - Mirvish 1994

1993 KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN premiered in Toronto prior to B'way

1994 PASSION - CanStage gave Toronto premiere in 1997

1995 SUNSET BLVD. Livent presented in Toronto 1996/97

1996 RENT - Mirvish presented 1997/98

1997 TITANIC - Not seen in Toronto until community productions years later

1998 LION KING - Mirvish presented in Toronto 2001/2002

1999 FOSSE - Premiered in Toronto Summer 1998

2000 CONTACT - Mirvish brought tour in for 2 weeks in 2002

2001 PRODUCERS - Mirvish did Toronto production in 2003

2002 THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE - Not seen in Toronto until Randolph Academy student production long after Broadway run ended

2003 HAIRSPRAY - Mirvish 2005

2004 AVE Q - Dancap brought in Tour in 2006

2005 SPAMALOT - Mirvish brought in tour in 2007

2006 JERSEY BOYS - Dancap presented 2008

2007 SPRING AWAKENING - Mirvish brought tour here in 2008

2008 IN THE HEIGHTS- Dancap brought tour here in 2012

2009 BILLY ELLIOT - Mirvish produced in 2010

2010 MEMPHIS - Dancap brought tour here in 2011

2011 BOOK OF MORMON - Mirvish to present in 2013

Curiously Mirvish opened the tour of FULL MONTY here timed to open just weeks after the 2001 Tony Awards, clearly expecting the show to win Best Musical. It didn't, and the hoped-for buzz never materialized. The production closed earlier then anticipated. So booking expected winners in advance is a risky business.

Cast albums are NOT "soundtracks."
Live theatre does not use a "soundtrack." If it did, it wouldn't be live theatre!

I host a weekly one-hour radio program featuring cast album selections as well as songs by cabaret, jazz and theatre artists. The program, FRONT ROW CENTRE is heard Sundays 9 to 10 am and also Saturdays from 8 to 9 am (eastern times) on

Robbie3 Profile Photo
Chorus Member
If I may interrupt these paeans to the good old days of the '90s, please remember that Garth Drabinsky's PHANTOM, SHOW BOAT and RAGTIME lost $500 million. And it wasn't his own money. Livent was less a theatre company than a front for a Ponzi fraud. That's why Mr. D. is now in a Canadian prison.
Showboat was a money maker and the profits from it were being funneled into Ragtime, which was losing money. Phantom was a cash cow until the last year or two, playing to almost-empty houses by the end - even the final performances.

Theatre in the 90's in Toronto is the source of great debate. Many point out (The Globe & Mail's J Kelly Nestruck being the loudest) that Livent was a giant scam and therefore the 'Glory Days' of theatre here wasn't real. I guess that's a valid argument but it doesn't take into account all of those other Livent shows that were a success on their own, or Mirvish's successes, or the media attention and tourism visits that Toronto was receiving that it's not getting now. How things are being run now, Toronto is unable to support a long running production. The business model in Toronto needs to change but that won't happen with only one commercial theatre company in the city.
tourboi Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
For that business model to change, for commercial theatre, a few factors to producing in Toronto need to change:

The Mirvish monopoly must be prevented.

Venues that are ideal for bigger commercial shows (like the Elgin/Winter Garden) need to actually be AFFORDABLE (it's very difficult to make money in those spaces) for longer runs.

Updated On: 5/27/12 at 04:49 AM
sabrelady Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Well the Sony Centre is up for grabs now as is Toronto Cenre for the Arts, & the St Lawerence Centre.

Just a few monthe 2 late for Aubrey Dan to finally get his hands on a theatre.

Yes I do remember the TO theatre scene of the the 80's/90's but nothing tops the energy and creativity of the 70's- The Farm Show , Ten Lost Years, Hey Rube....
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I honestly think what should happen is some for of tax break for buildings that host cultural events. It would be a win-win situation to all. The "landlords" would charge less, tickets would be cheaper, more people would visits, it would worth to put on shows, more tourist would arrive,, more money would be spent, more actors could be employed, and the city would make more money indirectly than simply from the high taxes on buildings.
Avabe - a tax break would in no way impact ticket prices, tourist visits or the number of actors employed. Landlords would just use that tax break to help their bottom lines at the end of the year.

Not sure what the sale of the three theatres will mean. The Sony Centre is too large (over 3000 seats) for traditional musical theatre, especially in Toronto. The Toronto Centre is outside of the downtown core and has a hard time attracting an audience despite the show being staged (even Jersey Boys had to heavily discount to attract folks up there) and the St Lawerence is too small (and damned ugly). It would need a complete overhaul.

Tourboi - The Mirvish Monopoly can't be prevented, it has already happened. Started with the fall of Livent and was solidified with their purchase of the Pantages/Canon/Mirvish and Panasonic. The Elgin/Winter Garden is incredibly expensive to rent, and considering how much they sit empty every year you would think they'd re-examine their costs. Perfect venues though.

But what good is having another company if all they do is bring in two-week tours like Dancap (and Mirvish) have been doing? Any new company (and Mirvish as well) need to look past booking tours, booking a new show to rush off to NYC as soon as possible, and/or spending too many millions attempting to stage a great big carbon copy show that hopefully will last for years. Sure, all of those things are great once in a while, but none of those bring tourists into the theatre or the city.
This has nothing to do with monopolies, competition, quality or quantity of shows or expensive rent. It is all about tourism and the dollar.

In the 80s and 90s the dollar was .75-.85 cents. Americans were, in effect, getting a 25%-30% discount on tickets just because of the exchange rate. Getting across the border was easy and Americans came to the city in bus loads.

Now there is no discount because of the exchange. Getting across the border isn't as easy. There is no incentive to come to Toronto to see a show.

The lack of shows is a direct result of the market demand for them. 60% of the audience for these shows was from the States. Now you're luck if it's 10%.

And the locals didn't replace the 50% of the audience that went away. So, the best we can get now is one or two big shows limping along for about 18 months before they pack up.

Livent would have gone under even quicker in this environment.
That's a great point that a lot of people forget and the dollar does play a big role on tourism in Toronto (and the country). However, every year American visitors to Stratford and Shaw are around 40% (I don't know what the percentage was for the theatres in Toronto, but I doubt it was as high as %60. All theatres, no matter where or how big, depend heavily on tourism but none that much) and they maintain that for the most part - even though it is more difficult when the US dollar is below parity. Also, Mirvish continues to not only survive, but thrive regardless of our currency's value and before the recession, when Canada's dollar was 75-85 cents US, Canadians still made 11 million trips a year to see Broadway shows. People are willing to travel to see quality theatre regardless of the value of the dollar. That being said, someone living across the border isn't going to travel to Toronto and potentially pay more to see a show that just had a tour stop in their own city (or a city nearby) nor are they going to pay more to see a show that they know will be on Broadway in a few weeks/months. Toronto needs more original, quality productions that are NOT tour stops to combat any potential deterrent the dollar might be. Stratford did it with Jesus Christ Superstar, and that went to Broadway because of it's success, not because it was pre-planned. Right now, we're just not doing that.
fashionguru_23 Profile Photo
Broadway Star
I believe it was somewhere on this board when talking about Jersey Boys, but I know with Phantom, the tour didn't come near Toronto while, our sit-down production was here. Therefore, many tourists from the US had to come to Toronto if they wanted to see the show. I believed someone said that there were commercials in Cleveland for the Toronto Phantom. I also understand that the dollar played into it, but this is also true.

So many shows go through Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, etc. and then the only people seeing the shows in Toronto are people from Southern Ontario.

I've been thinking the last little while about getting a subscription to the Buffalo theatre series at Shea's, because while they get things sometimes after Toronto, each season I look, and there is nothing I wouldn't want to see. With Mirvish, there is always something I'm not excited for. And, Buffalo gets some of the smaller tours, that don't play many cities.
"The 54th Street[theatre] had a rep as. . .where old musicals went to die." -Smaxie
littlebro2 Profile Photo
Remember the 90s Toronto Theater Scene?
Posted: 11/26/12 at 10:51pm
As someone who did not live in Toronto during the 90s, I am wondering how Livent worked? Did they have a subscription series and present touring shows as well or did they focus on sit-down productions and incubating new shows?
As well, does anyone have a full production history of Livent's shows in Toronto? I only know about Phantom, Show Boat, Ragtime, Spider Woman, Fosse and Sunset Boulevard being presented in Toronto.
frontrowcentre2 Profile Photo
Broadway Legend
Livent did not offer subscriptions. Sometimes they offered package deals (A weekend in TO including, hotel. restaurant and tkts to 2 Livent shows) They built most shows for Toronto runs, bringing in the occasional tour. Livent brought M.BUTTERFLY to Toronto not long after it won the Tony Award. ALso they brought the Julie HArris tour of LETTICE AND LOVAGE

They also presented the Toronto premiere of CITY OF ANGELS with the tour cast headed by Barry Williams. Later, they brought in the tour of the 1996 revival of KING AND I with Hayley Mills as Mrs. ANNA (Mills could not sing it!)

Garth Drabinsky's dream for Livent was to build a vertically integrated production company, building theaters to house their productions and touring the shows to each location. It was actually a fairly good idea but when he ran into financial trouble and began juggling the books he sent the company into a financial tailspin that destroyed it and many of the shows. The fact is that KISS, SHOW BOAT, and RAGTIME all lost money in New York and the Toronto production of SUNSET BLVD was also a fiscal fiasco. The only real money maker the company produced was the Toronto edition of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Late in the run, however, they were spending more on adverting than the show was generating in ticket sales.

The Livent productions were first-rate and produced with care. The fact that they were not financially sustainable is more realated to the commercial theatre scene both then and even now. Mirvish is losing money on every show. Dancap packed it in after presenting a series of unsuccessful touring shows. And after much fanfare, Theatre 20 seems to have quietly slunk away from the scene. No word on when of I their much-touted production of COMPANY will ever happen.

This is all very depressing to me, as I was always hoping Toronto could maintain its position as a leading theatrical city, but ticket sales are too underwhelming, whereas Buffalo with Shea's theatre having a huge block of subscribers can get excellent deals with tour presenters and lock in seasons of first rate touring shows. The days when Toronto was deemed a choice try-out city are long gone, and we can no longer create award winning shows here as we did with SHOW BOAT, SPIDER WOMAN, RAGTIME and FOSSE.

Cast albums are NOT "soundtracks."
Live theatre does not use a "soundtrack." If it did, it wouldn't be live theatre!

I host a weekly one-hour radio program featuring cast album selections as well as songs by cabaret, jazz and theatre artists. The program, FRONT ROW CENTRE is heard Sundays 9 to 10 am and also Saturdays from 8 to 9 am (eastern times) on