Designed by John M. Lyle and commissioned in 1906 by on of the richest millionaires of the time, 21 year old Cawthra Mulock, the Royal Alexandra Theatre was to be Mulock's grand vision as the "finest theatre on the continent". Mulock purchased the King Street lot on May 8, 1906 and wasted no time in utilizing the talents of John M. Lyle telling Lyle that no expense was to be spared in the building and detailed completion of the theatre. Taking Mulock for his word, Lyle was to find the best of the best to install in the theatre. Such elegance as fine marble, hand-carved hard woods, silken wall coverings and crystal chandeliers were purchased for the project. A little over one year later in August 1907 the Royal Alexandra opened her doors to the public.
The "Royal Alex:" as it has become affectionately known, boasted a seating capacity of 1525, which was later reduced to 1497 when the seats were enlarged. It is the only theatre in North America to be deemed 'royal' by charter of King Edward VII, whose wife, Queen Alexandra; it was named for (the great-grandmother of Elizabeth II).
Such icons as Eddie Foy, Rod Steiger, Maurice Evans, Rex Harrison, Frederic March, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tyrone Power, Joan Bennet, Helen Heyes, Orson Wells and Gertrude Lawrence, amongst others, have graced the Alex's stage in the past century. The Royal Alex has seen a past to rival those of some of the finest theatres in New York City.
The Royal Alexandra theatre was built amid a park like setting on King Street West, which at the time was a beautiful well-treed boulevard. To the west of the theatre was the Upper Canada College campus, to the east was the mansion of its builder Cawthra Mulock and to the south was the residence of the Lieutenant Governor.
During the 1920's the neighbourhood surrounding the theatre began to change. The Lieutenant Governor's mansion was torn down and the land sold to the railway, which turned the lands into marshalling yards; the north side of the theatre became filled with industrial warehouses. The once beautiful park-like setting around the theatre was now gone and the area became a sooty, smoky industrial center. By 1950 the area was completely derelict and dark. The Royal Alexandra Theatre was no longer the "Edwardian jewel box" in had once been. By 1962 the theatre was slated for demolition. Immediately prior to its demise, Ed Mirvish purchased the theatre. He then closed the doors for a period of one year and began the elaborate restoration, which once again turned it into the elegant theatre it was meant to be.
Since the theatre and subsequent buildings were purchased by Mirvish, the King Street neighbourhood has once again been restored. With the opening of Roy Thompson Hall, the housing of the National Film Board around the corner, the restoration of the Princess of Wales Theatre, the headquarters of CBC and the many upscale restaurants, the area is now popularly known as the "theatre district". Over 3000 productions have been staged at the Royal Alexandra since its initial opening in 1907 and we can look forward hopefully to 3000 more. Currently running at the Royal Alex is the smash musical, Mamma Mia.
The Royal Alexandra Theatre is located at 260 King Street West, Toronto and if you have never experienced its acoustics and marvelous entertainment, now is the time.
Ticket information: (416) 872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
Our thanks to the night staff at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and our profound appreciation to John Karastimatis.
Upon arriving at the stage door of the Royal Alex, we were greeted by John Karastamatis, Communications Director, Mirvish Productions. The first order of business was to supply each team member with a clipboard and a list of questions to answer while we did an initial tour of the theatre. The team members were asked not to speak with one another and to quietly record their thoughts and impressions during the tour.
After the tour, we sat down in the green room to debrief and compare impressions, which had been previously written down during the tour. Surprisingly enough at least 3 members of the team (half) focused on the same area within the auditorium itself. All three members picked up on a presence in the upper balcony at house-right. The other focus by most of the team was at the original stage door, where some of us had felt a jovial presence, like a caretaker. Also while in the auditorium I approached a seat in the second row at house-right to sit down and reflect when I instead was drawn to sit in a seat that strongly attracted me. That seat was C8.
The dressing room of David Mucci (room 10) also seemed to be an agreed upon hot spot with everyone. The other area of concern was the fly deck wherein Anita wrote in her notes "eerie feeling-fall, injury, heart beating, panic, too late". There were impressions picked up on the paint room at the very top of the theatre,(the last room on our assessment tour) which is now used for storage and the stage itself. In the auditorium itself, Anita also had a strong impression of a man standing at the back of the theatre leaning on the break wall watching the stage and Lloyd witnessed a shadow near room 10.
After reading aloud our written notes, we asked John, Bob, Jeff and Brad who were also in attendance, if there were any stories to substantiate our impressions. Bob, who has been employed at the theatre for 10 years, informed us that he had watched us closely during the tour and had noted me preparing to sit in one seat then moving back a row to sit in C8. Bob informed us that a woman had quietly passed away in that very seat during a performance. He went on to tell us room 10 was an active room wherein actors and staff had reported shelves coming off the wall, voices, unusual noise and shadows.
John informed us of a story of a scenery painter that had fallen to his death from the paint room to the stage (5 stories). The story itself was just that; a story. There was no fact to substantiate it in any way, we were told. To this end we will research the time period and see if the story is based in fact or is one of the entertaining theatre stories that holds only fancy. Although Bob has had a multitude of experiences in the theatre, John admitted to having none.
Our debriefing continued later as Bob led us to the "old" stage door where we could get some air and the smokers could light up. While there Anita and I picked up on a presence. Anita described him as an older man with gray hair and a wonderful disposition, quite jovial, in fact. I had to agree. Bob stood there and listened to us first, then intervened and showed us a photo of Vic. Vic had worked at the theatre for over 40 years and it was essentially his life. He had passed away approximately 5 years before and hung out around the old stage door quite a bit. The sense we received from Vic was quite uplifting. He definitely felt like the theatre guardian.
It was now time to set up equipment. Camcorders were set up on the stage, first balcony on house left, the David Mucci dressing room, and the fly deck over the stage. An audio recorder was set up by the old stage door and the digital audio recorder was set up in the David Mucci dressing room. All videos were reviewed and nothing unusual was noted on any of them. We got the same results from the audio recordings.
1:50 a.m.On the stage itself we set up a portable CD player and played 'The Best of Al Jolson throughout the night to see what kind of reaction we would receive. There were times throughout the night that while standing center stage near the back I would feel physically sick as did Anita. Our only clue was a story that is known to the theatre employees, of a painter who supposedly fell to his death on the stage from approximately 50 feet up. As we have mentioned above we have yet to confirm this story as fact, however we will search old news reports etc. to see if there is any truth to it.
2:00 a.m. Krystal and Brian were on the second balcony, house left picking up an odor of heavy sweet cologne which was heavy enough to be tasted. It was at that time that Alison noted a large orb floating just below Krystal and Brian in the balcony below.
2:05 a.m.Anita and Steve reported camcorder problems in the David Mucci dressing room (room 10). The camcorder battery was showing that it was completely dead although it was fully charged just prior to leaving for the theatre. To rectify the problem they plugged the camcorder directly into the wall.
2:10 a.m.A few minutes later, Alison's camera quit although it had brand new batteries in it. Alison replaced the batteries with more new ones and turned her camera on. It quit again. After approximately 4 minutes the camera started working again and was fine for the rest of the night. At this point, while in the auditorium, I relayed to Alison, my impression of a lady in period dress that, I feel must be a costume and whom I feel has performed here as a singer*.
2:21 a.m.Room 10 has been left vacant since 2:05 a.m. When Anita left the room she noted a man with a light cream coloured textured jacket in the hall, wearing a black fedora type hat. When she came downstairs to where we were gathered she asked the employees there if anyone owned a cream coloured jacket. As it happened there was an employee who happened to have one, however he had not been up on the third floor. He and Anita went to look at his jacket and it was darker and of a different cut than the one she saw on the third floor. The figure she saw was definitely solid and not ghostly in appearance, which is still causing her to find it difficult to believe that whoever it was, cannot be accounted for.
Krystal and Brian, finding a sudden odor that came up, called Alison, Bob and me to the aisle behind Balconies C & D where we experienced the most putrid smell, almost like rotten eggs. It was at that time that Bob informed us that the odor appears on a regular basis and that they have yet to find any source for it. After about 3 minutes the odor vanished.
2: 27 a.m.Bob informed that on many occasions he has sensed a man at the back of the upper most balcony (see diagram) and this night was no exception. Bob explained to us "I can't keep my eyes off there, up at the top there, right there" pointing to the spot. Shortly after that we turned on the EMF meter to see what would develop with it and found the readings within normal range (1.5 or lower), however on standing near seat C8 to C11 the reading bounced as high as 8.5. We decided we had to start looking for electrical interference. Although we found no wiring to account for the reading, we did discover that if you set the EMF meter on the floor of the auditorium the readings went off the scale (31.5), so we can only assume that under the floor there must be some kind of wiring to send the meter into overdrive. So it remains that we have yet to see the EMF meter earn its keep as a dependable tool.
2:45 a.m. While talking during break at the old stage door, Bob relayed to us that he had seen shadows and that others had reported seeing a unknown man on the third floor. Jeff, an employee told us about a story of a figure *"in fancy dress, as in an opera in the auditorium, a singer" that witnesses have reported seeing. Sounds very much like the figure I relayed to Alison earlier. Upon reviewing the hundreds of framed photos in the theatre, I did not find anyone that resembled what I had seen in my mind's eye, so the woman I picked up on is still a mystery.
Getting close to 4:00 a.m. it was time to start packing up equipment. We did indeed experience the jovial guardianship of what we believe is Vic and the team as a whole also picked up on certain things we could confirm and some things that we could not. We are disappointed that nothing turned up on either the audio or video recordings but if every reported haunting produced such easy evidence we wouldn't be doing what we do.
The delightful thing about this job is the history and beauty that we are able to experience in such locations as the Royal Alex. Even if absolutely nothing happened on an investigation such as this, the time is never wasted.
The Royal Alexandra circa 1907
The room just inside the old stage door. There were hundreds of photos in this room, of actors in this room who have performed here.
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Steve preparing equipment for use during the investigation.
The Green Room, just like sitting in a dinner and they have a KING size coffee machine; a necessity.
This shot was taken from the fly deck. The level that the painter fell from, according to an unconfirmed story, is further up on the upper most floor.
An orb that Alison picked up with her camera, however we feel that this is a light reflection from the light hanging in the lower balcony.
We do admit it is very remarkable that the glowing figure near the bottom of the photo resembles a human shape and could very well be authentic. We just don't know. It could also be a light reflection. Our brains are programmed to associate a known pattern to anything we do not visually understand, hence the appearance of a human form, regardless of what it actually is.
The photo above was also captured during the investigation, but we can't figure out what this could be yet. See close up to the right.
Mr. Mirvish's portrait hangs in the lower level of the theatre.
Above: The team standing on stage. We caught numerous orb photos but could account for almost everyone due to dust and light reflection.