Sunday September 7 – Wicked and Some Toronto Theatre History

Alun likes musical theatre in general and Wicked in particular.  He often listens to the soundtrack on his phone.  When we learned that Wicked was coming to Toronto we asked him if he would like tickets for his birthday and he did.  So back in May, when tickets first went on sale, he and I sat down at the computer and purchased tickets for the two of us for September 4.  Wednesday evening I got out the ticket envelope and put it in my purse so I wouldn’t forget the tickets.  We arranged that I would pick Alun up after school and drive straight downtown.  Thursday after lunch I realized I didn’t know which theatre Wicked was playing in.  So I got out the envelope, pulled out the tickets and discovered that we had purchased matinee tickets.  The show started at 1:30.  It was 1:40.  Oh, no!  I sat there stunned.  I didn’t recall purchasing the matinee tickets, but the proof was in front of me and we were too late to get to the show.  I texted Alun to tell him what had happened and that I would make sure he got to see the show, but that it wouldn’t be that afternoon.


I phoned the box office and explained.  They told me the policy is that if you miss the show, you are out of luck, however, they encouraged me to write to Customer Service immediately and explain what had happened.  I did so.  I got an automatic reply saying my note had been received and that they would respond in three business days.  A couple hours later I received a note from an actual person telling me they would look into the situation.  Friday afternoon I received another email saying, “Thank you for taking the time to write in, We are very sorry to hear that you missed your scheduled performance of Wicked.  Please note that all sales are final and this productions is owned by the producers and not Mirvish Productions (they are merely renting our theatre) and as a result we would not control the distribution of complimentary tickets.That being said I did forward your email to the company manager who is willing to offer you a location pass that can only be picked up by you for two tickets to see the show this Sunday September 7 at 7:00pm. If you are available and would like to take us up on this offer we need to hear back from you before 4.30pm today”.  Wow, impressive customer service.  I had hoped for a partial credit but feared they would do nothing.  We were free Sunday so I wrote back to take them up on the offer.

We headed down about 4pm and parked at the Eaton Centre.  We grabbed dinner at the Urban Eatery in the basement there.  Alun had his usual Subway sandwich and I had beef udon noodles. Then we headed over to the Ed Mirvish Theatre box office at 6pm as instructed.


I told the clerk there were tickets waiting for us.  He looked in the will call file and found nothing.  He then asked for the order number and I gave him the original tickets showing the order number.  He disappeared for many minutes.  I was starting to get worried.  I pulled up the email to show him when he returned.  However it turned out to be unnecessary as he returned with hand written tickets.  I guess that is why it took so long.  Turns out the seats were nine rows closer to the stage than the ones we had ordered.  We originally had Row N, seats 135 and 136.


With almost an hour to curtain time we went to Tim’s for dessert which we took to Dundas Square to eat.



Once we finished we returned to the theatre to use the bathroom before they got too crowded and take our seats.  The usher was a bit confused by our hand written tickets but allowed us in.

The theatre looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t recall specifically why.  When I got home I looked it up and it has been called the Pantages Theatre, the Imperial Theatre and the Canon Theatre.  The Pantages Threatre opened in 1920 as a combination vaudeville and movie house.  It was the largest cinema in Canada with 3373 seats and one of the most elegant.  It was part of the large Pantages organization which included over 120 theatres.  However, when Alexander Pantages was convited of the rape of a 17 year old chorus girl and sentenced to 50 years in prison the Pantages empire fell.  The conviction was overturned on appeal but Alexander Pantages was forced to sell for pennies on the dollar most of his assets in 1930.

In 1930 the theatre was renamed the Imperial and became a cinema only.  My mother remembers going to the movies there when she was young.  In 1972 the Imperial was divided into six theatres and re-opened as the Imperial Six.  I remember going to movies there when I was a teenager.


It was operated by Famous Players.  The theatre sits on three lots running longways north-south along Yonge Street with a entrance with a grand staircase on Yonge Street and a smaller entrance on Victoria Street. Famous Players owned the Yonge Street entrance and the front half of the main theatre building, from the centre of the dome to the back wall of the stage house. The other half of the main theatre building, from the centre of the dome to the north wall of the main lobby, was leased from an elderly lady in Michigan, whose family had owned that property since before the theatre was constructed in 1920.  During lease re-negotiations in the mid-80s Famous Players decided to play hard ball with the elderly lady.  When the lease expired without an agreement she mused about approaching Famous Player’s rival Cineplex Odeon.  Famous Players called her bluff believing Cineplex Odeon would have no use for half a theatre.  However, Garth Drabinsky, CEO of Cineplex Odeon flew to Michegan and signed a lease the day he was contacted by the owner.  The following day with the help of a bailiff Cineplex Odeon locked Famous Players out of the north half of the building which caused them to lose control of their flagship theatre in Toronto.

Cineplex Odeon opened an 800 seat cinema after a costly renovation, the opening of which was disrupted by a construction crew with jackhammers 5 feet behind the Pantages screen, on the other side of the drywall partition between the two companies’ halves of the property. Famous Players also called in a complaint about the fire exits; less than an hour before the scheduled gala event, a Toronto Fire Department inspection confirmed that the fire exits were still incomplete, with wet concrete, and the gala was moved to the Varsity Cinemas.

Crews worked around the clock to finish the fire exits and the cinema opened the next day. Following the opening, Famous Players removed the doors from every fire exit on their half to allow freezing cold winter air to fill their portion of the building. The partition wall between Cineplex Odeon and Famous Players had been constructed as a fire wall but was not insulated as an exterior wall.  Eventually, after a protracted legal battle Famous Players agreed to sell their half to Cineplex Odeon with the caveat that the latter could not operate the site as a movie theatre.  This led to the theatre being restored to its 1920s splendor and being opened as a 2200 seat live theatre where The Phantom of the Opera ran for ten years.  Michael and I saw the Phantom there in 1995.


When Garth Drabinsky’s company Livent filed for bankruptcy in 1999 the theatre changed hands again and became The Canon Theatre due to a large donation from Canon.  In 2008 the theatre was sold to Mirvish Productions and renamed the Ed Mirvish theatre in honour of the company’s founder.

Alun thoroughly enjoyed the show.  The staging and costumes were quite good.  I am not overly fond of the music however, I had a lovely evening out with my eldest son which is something to be treasured.



About Lisa Stokes

I am a stay-at-home mother of four whose hobbies include photography, quilting and cycling. I have recently started to advocate for better cycling infrastructure in my community. I am the photographer at the Brampton Quilters' Guild.
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