Stage Door News

Toronto: The marquee lights of the Royal Alexandra Theatre will be dimmed February 6 for Christopher Plummer

Friday, February 5, 2021

Christopher Plummer, one of the greatest actors of the 20th and 21st centuries, died today at the age of 91. In the great tradition of the theatre, to honour his extraordinary body of work the marquee lights of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto will be dimmed at the traditional curtain-up time, 8 pm, on Saturday, February 6th.

Born in Montreal, Plummer’s life reads like a history of the last 90 years. He worked as an actor on stage, radio, film and television. He was one of the early stars of the Stratford Festival, performed on stages in major theatres around the globe, starred in some of the most popular films of all times and was an ambassador for the artist riches of Canada.

At the Royal Alexandra Theatre, he starred in the title role of the musical Cyrano in 1973. An adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play, this musical version was written by Anthony Burgess, with music by Michael Lewis.

The idea of the musical began when Burgess was commissioned to adapt the French classic into a new English-language drama for the Guthrie Theatre. Michael Langham, who was the artistic director of the Guthrie at the time, thought Burgess’s version would make a great musical so he commissioned him to do it.

Langham, who knew Plummer well from his years at the Stratford Festival, where he was artistic director from 1956 to 1967 and where he directed Plummer in some of his greatest triumphs, approached Plummer about starring in the musical. The original production was staged at the Guthrie, with Langham directing.

The production was successful enough for commercial producers to want to take it to Broadway. Langham was replaced by a more experienced Broadway musical director, Michael Kidd, who began his career as a dancer and became one of Broadway’s most fabled choreographers and directors.

The Broadway production began life in Toronto at the Royal Alex, where it was a sell-out success. It then played Boston and eventually had its Broadway premiere at the Palace Theatre on May 13, 1973.  The production was not a success in New York, playing only five previews and 49 performances, but Plummer was unanimously praised for his performance and won his first Tony that season for Best Actor in a Musical.

Plummer would receive a second Tony for Barrymore in 1997. He also won an Oscar and two Emmys.

“Christopher was the consummate actor and gentleman,” says David Mirvish. “Although a brilliant film actor, he was first and foremost a man of the theatre. Everyone who worked with him had enormous respect for him, as did I. I greatly admired him for all he has done for the theatre in Canada and abroad."

Photo: Christopher Plummer as John Barrymore in Barrymore. © 2014 PBS.