The Royal Theatre is turning 100
It would be significant enough if one of Victoria’s beloved theatres was turning 100, but both? Well, that calls for a party!
To celebrate, the Royal McPherson Theatre Society has created the Centennial Festival, May 18 to 25, honouring the “landmark buildings and the extraordinary impact they have had on Victoria’s cultural life.”
The Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
The Victoria Opera House Company began construction of the Royal Theatre in the spring of 1913, but when cost estimates of $250,000 soared to $400,000 – with $100,000 for the opulent interior alone – $5 shares were offered and the community rallied with donations of cash and supplies, the society notes.
The exterior is an exceptional example of Rococo/Renaissance revival architecture with four storeys of multi-coloured brickwork, glazed terra cotta tiles and decorative and whimsical ornamentation. Opening Dec. 29, 1913 with a performance of Kismet starring Otis Skinner, the original house held 1,558 patrons and offered a fully functional orchestra pit. The ornate interior featured marble, blue brocade wall panels, scagliola and allegorical murals and frescoes, designed by Paris-born C.E. Dorisy.
War and motion pictures brought challenges and various owners over the coming years, but also the debut of the newly formed Victoria Symphony Orchestra in 1943, and the Victoria Opera Society in 1944. In 1943 the Royal began showing films in addition to live acts, thanks to a removable screen, but as decades passed, a movement emerged to return it to its former role as a performing arts centre.
When building upgrades of the 1980s damaged much of the plasterwork both inside and outside, research and hours of detailed restoration returned cherubs and other creatures to the theatre, designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.
The McPherson Playhouse, Centennial Square
Local lawyer R.T. Elliott began construction of what would become the McPherson Theatre in 1913. Early in construction, when Alexander Pantages was looking for a substantial venue for touring vaudeville shows and motion pictures, the project took a dramatic turn. T.S. McPherson and the Fullerton Brothers joined Elliott in creating a grand performing arts theatre.
The Italian Renaissance-style exterior featured fenestration designs and overhanging boxed eaves, while inside the Baroque revival décor included marble and rich wood paneling. Unusually advanced construction included steel and concrete materials and state-of-the-art fire safety equipment, the society notes. It even boasted electric hair curlers for the performers!
Touring shows referred to the Pantages as the “Golden Barn,” which over the years hosted performing lions, a swimming act complete with a canvas pool, famous troupes such as The Dumbells, The 3 Plunkett Brothers and Al Jolson, and even prizefights including “Gentleman Jim” James J. Corbett. Name and ownership changes followed war and the Depression, and while live theatre and films kept the facility afloat, it was struggling. At his death, Thomas McPherson left the theatre to the City of Victoria, including a substantial sum for renovations, and on July 24, 1964 city council renamed it the McPherson Playhouse.
An army of craftsmen readied the new McPherson for opening night Jan. 26, 1965, when Lt. Gov. George Pearkes cut a ribbon of McPherson tartan draped across the stage. Lights Up – A Gay Musical Revue of Hit Broadway and London Shows was the inaugural performance and the following evening saw a sterling line-up of actors, dancers and singers from the community. The McPherson Playhouse received heritage designation in 1995.
For more information about these venues and their coming events, visit www.rmts.bc.ca
COME JOIN THE CENTENNIAL
Acres of Lions perform at Rock the Royal! May 24
May 18 – 100th Birthday Party, 11am to 4pm in Centennial Square – Free, family-friendly concert event, including tours, storytelling, displays, music and of course, birthday cake!
May 21 – Crystal Pite’s The Tempest Replica, 8pm at the Royal Theatre – Enjoy work from the renowed choreographer, dancer and former Victorian.
May 22 – Victoria Conservatory of Music & Vox Humana, Then and Now, 8pm, McPherson Playhouse – A unique pairing of choral masterworks: The Magnificat by J.S. Bach, and the Berliner Messe (Berlin Mass) by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
May 23 – Victoria Symphony & Pacific Opera Victoria with Ben Heppner, 8pm at the Royal Theatre – The VSO hosts a gala performance with Pacific Opera Victoria and special guest Ben Heppner, “a tenor titan who has sung heroic Wagnerian roles in the world’s greatest opera houses.”
May 23 – A West Coast Roots Celebration, 8pm at McPherson Playhouse – Enjoy music from Victoria’s vibrant roots scene, ranging from folk to alt-country.
May 24 – Rock the Royal! 8pm, Royal Theatre – From early punk and new wave to the grunge-inspired sounds of the ‘90s, Victoria has a rich musical history…hear some of the city’s finest.
May 24 – Victoria Operatic Society Celebrates the American Musical, 8pm, McPherson Playhouse – Enjoy 100 toe-tapping tunes (including medleys) from classics such as Oklahoma and contemporary shows like Wicked, Grease and Billy Elliot.
May 25 – Raffi, 2pm, McPherson Playhouse –This family concert offers a rare opportunity for fans-turned-parents to introduce their own children to this beloved entertainer.
May 25 – Chris Botti with the Victoria Symphony, 7:30pm, Royal Theatre – One of the most beloved performers in contemporary
jazz, Chris Botti returns to perform his acclaimed “orchestral” show with the Victoria Symphony.