Even before the Colonial Theater opened in 1903, vaudeville had emerged in America as a professionalized and more respected version of minstrel and burlesque shows. By the time the first act hit the Colonial Theater's stage, variety shows had grown tremendously successful as they evolved into 'polite vaudeville.' Like other Cleveland playhouses, the Colonial Theater embraced this style of entertainment.
Entertainers who appeared on opening night at the Colonial included Ida Fuller, "the greatest woman illusionist in the world"; Alcide Capitaine, who demonstrated her strength through acrobatics and other feats; a singing comedian; a ventriloquist; and an acrobatic comedy given by the Lavine Cameron trio. Not long after opening night, trick-performing animals, including dogs, monkeys, and a pig named "Connie," also appeared at the theater.
Beginning in the 1890s, large theater business began to control theaters across the country. Like other Cleveland playhouses, the Colonial Theater changed hands a number of times to both local and national big business owners. In the case of the Colonial, the switch meant a substantial change in the theater's productions. In early 1904, the Drew & Campbell Theater Company was able to secure a lease over the Colonial. In order to get control of the theater, they were obligated to sign a contract stating that they would not allow vaudeville to continue there. Two days shy of the once independent theater's one-year anniversary, Drew & Campbell surrendered the Colonial's stage to the Vaughan Glaser Stock Company.
After five years under Vaughan Glaser, the Colonial was back in the hands of an independent manager who was neither part of the big-business theater trusts nor connected to any outside stock company. F. Ray Comstock leased the theater in 1909. A year later, however, Ray Comstock leased the theater to the Shuberts — major business owners who controlled theaters across the country and who had showed interest in the Colonial since the fall of 1903. In the fall of 1918, the Colonial Theater's success under Shubert led to a name change. From that point on it was advertised as the Shubert Colonial.
Performances continued at the theater until 1930. Although Clevelanders at the time were unaware of the fact, "Mysteries of Love" was the Colonial Theater's last show. The show featured artist models and was advertised as being "For Men Only." It turned out, however, to be nothing more than a lecture-show. Because the show did not fulfill the expectations for risqué entertainment, Police Inspector George J. Matowitz put a stop to it, saying that the theater was "obtaining money under false pretenses." After Matowitz kept the theater from reopening the show, no other performances were given at the Colonial. In 1932, the long-empty theater was torn down to make way for a parking lot.