Sony Centre for the Performing Arts | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

A landmark modernist design by architects Earle C. Morgan and Peter Dickinson of Page and Steele of Toronto, with Eggers and Higgins of New York as consultants and V.L.

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

 Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts 1960-96; Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts 1996-2007). Toronto multi-purpose entertainment venue. Home 1961-2006 of the Canadian Opera Company and 1964-2006 of the National Ballet of Canada. Located on 2.5 acres on Front Street between Yonge and Scott streets, the centre was built in 1960 at a cost of $12 million and was owned until 1968 by the O'Keefe Brewing Co. In 1968 ownership was transferred to Metropolitan Toronto; in 1996 the facility was renamed the Hummingbird Centre after its sponsor, Hummingbird Communications. It became the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in 2007.

Original Theatre Design

A landmark modernist design by architects Earle C. Morgan and Peter Dickinson of Page and Steele of Toronto, with Eggers and Higgins of New York as consultants and V.L. Henderson as acoustician, the fan-shaped theatre was built to seat more than 3,200 people on two levels facing an 18 metre wide proscenium stage. Moveable panels were attached to the wall and an acoustic shell (added in 1961) was lowered from the stage tower for band and orchestra performances. Though intended as a multi-purpose entertainment centre for opera, ballet, drama, and touring productions, the theatre's size and limited natural acoustics (an aspect criticized in later years) suited it primarily for large-scale productions. Conventional amplification was necessary until 1998, when a $600,000 digital enhancement system was installed to improve sound clarity and flexibility.


The O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts opened 1 Oct 1960 with a pre-Broadway production of Camelot starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Robert Goulet. Seldom dark, the centre was host to productions of Anne of Green Gables, Johnny Belinda and Cliff Jones's Kronborg: 1582; leading Broadway shows and stage plays; and performances by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens; the Royal Winnipeg, Bolshoi, Royal, and Kirov ballet companies; Twyla Tharp; the Metropolitan, Peking, and D'Oyly Carte opera companies; the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic; the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras; the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis; rock groups Jefferson Airplane and Steppenwolf (Sparrow); the Harlem Gospel Choir; and entertainers Harry Belafonte, Leonard Cohen, Céline Dion, Elton John, Tom Jones, k.d. lang, Anne Murray, and Sonny and Cher, among many others. Hugh P. Walker, the centre's first managing director, was succeeded in 1976 by Thomas Burrows. John P. Kruger was interim general manager 1979-80, followed by Charles S. Cutts 1981-9, Martin H. Onrot 1990-5, Elizabeth Bradley 1995-2001, and Daniel Brambilla as CEO beginning in 2002, a position he retained in 2012.

Major Upgrades

In 2008 the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts was closed for major renovations; its original tenants, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, moved to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in 2006. The facility remained closed for 2 years, re-opening on 1 Oct 2010, exactly fifty years to the day of its original opening date. The work was led by renowned American architect Daniel Libeskind. Many original features were preserved, among them The Seven Lively Arts mural by artist Ronald York Wilson, the 189 solid brass doors, and 1,700 cherrywood panels. There were major upgrades to the stage, sound system and comfort (seats, lobby, food amenities, art gallery). The building incorporated a tall residential space some fifty stories high, known as the L- Tower.

The 2010 opening programme featured the contemporary dance/circus Cirque Eloize in iD (with hip hop, breakdance, BMX bikes, acrobats, contortionists and more). Meant for use by Torontonians of all ages, ethnicities and musical tastes, the venue no longer caters primarily to Broadway musicals as it did in the past. Shows have now included the Shaolin Warriors (China), Bharati (India), The Merchants of Bollywood and works by Robert Lepage among many other diverse spectacles. The venue is also available for special events.

A second phase of capital improvements to include exterior landscape and design is planned for 2012-2021.

See alsoToronto Feature: 1 Front St. E.

Further Reading

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