Emerson’s Colonial Theatre Will Come Back to Life in 2018

An operator, London's Ambassador Theatre Group, has been picked to run the historic space.

Photo by Alex Lau

Photo by Alex Lau

Soon, Emerson’s Colonial Theatre will be dark no longer.

The ornate, historic—and in recent years, imperiled—theater finally has an operator poised to bring it back to life: London’s Ambassador Theatre Group, which oversees theaters around the world.

Emerson President Lee Pelton is clearly pleased. “It’s a game-changer,” he tells the Globe. “Bringing ATG to Boston as a partner with Emerson is the theater’s version of bringing GE to our city.”

The plan, which has yet to be formally finalized, is to begin putting on shows there at the start of 2018, and ATG has also been asked to incorporate student programming and youth programs. ATG, which also runs theaters on Broadway, tells the Globe it foresees the possibility of running tryouts of shows in Boston before bringing them to Manhattan, just like producers did back in the day. The college will now refurbish the theater, a process of updating the aging building that is slated to continue under its new management.

There were fears the beloved theater might be sacrificed for a student center and cafeteria, a prospect that Stephen Sondheim told Boston “would be not only a loss, but something of a crime.” There had also been a petition on Change.org called “Tell Emerson the Colonial Matters!” that garnered more than 7,000 signatures. Pelton, Emerson’s president, put those fears to rest in March, when he announced the theater would be preserved while administrators sought “a solution that meets both the fiduciary requirements of the college as well as continuing to provide quality arts programming.”

Other proposals considered for the space came from the Boston Lyric Opera, as well as a consortium of local arts groups, and a Pennsylvania venue management company called SMG. The Colonial’s new operators also say they will aid in the effort to help the Boston Lyric Opera, unmoored since it announced it was leaving the Shubert Theatre in 2015. “We are going to make every effort that we possibly can to support the Boston Lyric Opera’s search for a new home,” says Mark Cornell, ATG’s chief executive.

The past few years have been challenging, tumultuous ones for the local theater scene, and Colonial isn’t the only local theater to be recently pulled from the brink. When the nonprofit overseeing the Wang and Shubert theaters lost its chief sponsor, Citigroup, car magnate Ernie Boch Jr. swooped in to help, lending somewhere around $1 million, and his name, to the newly formed Boch Center. After Boston University announced it would sell its BU Theatre, its buyer declared that the Huntington Theatre Company, which had been there since 1982, could stay.