Filed Under Entertainment

Colonial Theater

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.

Images

The Colonial Theatre The Colonial first opened on 16 March, 1903 with a spectacular lineup of vaudeville performances. The price paid for a box at the Colonial is a testament to vaudeville's growth in popularity and appeal to Cleveland's upper class. The highest amount paid at an auction for a box for the theater's opening night was $35, a hefty sum in 1903. Furthermore, all 1,472 seats that night were filled and the Plain Dealer was able to print a lengthy list of Cleveland's "society" who attended that night. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
The Colonial Theatre Building, early 1900s On March 14, 1904, the theater changed hands from Drew & Campbell to the Vaughan Glaser Stock Company which successfully ran the theater for several seasons. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Summer Ticket, 1910 The Colonial Theatre's typical season lasted from fall until the late spring months. During the summer months, however, the Colonial continued to entertain Cleveland with legitimate theater such as local and national plays. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Examining the Ruins By the time it gave its last performance, the Colonial had put on a wide range of productions, including vaudeville, comedic dramas, Shakespeare plays, musicals, and more. In 1930, the Colonial Theater hosted its last show, called "Mysteries of Love." Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Demolition of the Colonial, 1932 The Colonial Theater sat empty for two years until it was finally torn down in 1932. The long-empty theater was torn down to make way for a parking lot. The Superior Building, 815 Superior Avenue East, took the place of what had once been the Colonial Theater's location. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Vaudeville Advertisement, ca. 1899 This advertisement from Cincinnati, Ohio depicts "the epitome of vaudeville" in the late 1800s. Although derived from 19th-century-style minstrel shows - a form of variety entertainment that included sketches, dance, and music - 20th-century vaudeville was typically well structured in its acts. Divided into two parts, the productions began with a "dumb act" and ended with headliner performances. Image Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, LC-USZ62-24428 (b&w film copy neg.)

Location

Metadata

Heidi Fearing, “Colonial Theater,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 19, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/461.