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Visit These 4 Historic Chicago Theatres

Stage view of theatre's interior, composed of rows of red theatre seats and upper seating sections City & Venue Guides

Chicago, renowned for its deep-dish pizza and windy city streets, is a prime vacation spot. Whether you’re into sports, music or comedy, there are plenty of things to do and see. The city is also known for having a rich and diverse performing arts community, with more than 200 theaters showing classic Broadway hits and original theatre productions. Learn more about four historic Chicago theaters that have stood the test of time and helped sustain its thriving theatre district.

Auditorium Theatre 

Auditorium Theatre has been a landmark of the Chicago performing arts scene for more than 130 years. Designed by Danmark Adler and Louis Sullivan, this theatre opened its doors in December 1889, making it one of the oldest theatres in the Windy City. Auditorium Theatre was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, ensuring the preservation of part of Chcago’s Theatre district. Former tenants of Auditorium Theatre include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Grand Opera. Since 1998, the theatre has housed Joffrey Ballet, one of the world’s premiere dance companies. 

The building stands 10 stories high and has an official seating capacity of 3,877. The theatre is divided into an orchestra section and three balconies. More than 200 performances are shown each year, drawing in upwards of a quarter of a million visitors. People flock to this grand theatre to attend Broadway shows, music concerts, sporting events, comedy shows, and more. Notable past productions include Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, The Color Purple, and La Traviata, and memorable concerts from music greats like Jimi Hendrix, Elton John and The Beach Boys.

Cadillac Palace

New Palace Theatre opened in 1926 with a total construction cost of $12 million. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the theatre screened films, sometimes accompanied by live stage acts before showing only movies. Cadillac Theatre would book Broadway shows from time to time to draw in more patrons, but interest would continue to decline. With technological advancements like the television, people opted to stay at home and watch their programs. 

In 1984, the theatre was renamed Bismark Theatre and functioned as a rock venue. After a 1999 renovation, Cadillac Palace Theatre became a Chicago favorite site for pre-Broadway tours and other theatre productions. Mary Poppins, The Color Purple and The Lion King were among some of the classic theatre showcases. Cadillac Palace also featured more contemporary programs like Shrek the Musical and Aladdin

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Chicago Theatre

Originally known as the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theatre, this former movie theater opened its doors in 1921. Chicago Theatre was the forerunner of 28 movie theatres built in Chicago by the Balaban and Katz theatre company. With a 50-piece orchestra and a Wurlitzer pipe organ, Chicago Theatre was among the first of movie theatres to be built with lavish interiors and extravagant style. Fourteen French Baroque-influenced murals were commissioned during construction, with the same style seen throughout the venue. The theatre’s exterior was even made to replicate the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Many people can recognize the seven-story high theater by its grand ‘Chicago’ signage and marquee. An unofficial symbol of the Windy City, the theatre’s marquee has been featured in many TV shows and movies. The neon font was even in the 2002 film adaptation of the stage musical, Chicago (1975). Renovations in the 1980s restored Chicago Theatre to its former glory and in 2008, Madison Square Garden Inc., or MSG Inc., took control of operations at the theatre. Chicago Theatre has a seating capacity of 3,600 and its grand lobby can hold up to 800 guests. People have enjoyed theatre works and concerts from older artists like Duke Ellington as well as newer acts like Arcade Fire, Prince, Kelly Clarkson and Diana Ross. Get Chicago Theatre tickets to enjoy amazing stage plays, comedy shows and concerts. 

Nederlander Theatre 

The James M. Nederlander Theatre, formerly the Oriental Theatre, opened in 1926 as a movie palace as well as a vaudeville and concert venue. Architect firm Rapp & Rapp built the theatre at the former site of the Iroquois Theatre. The Iroquois Theatre caught fire in 1903, however, the exterior remained intact. The theatre reopened nine months later as music hall and then a theater, before being torn down in 1925. For more than 30 years, the Oriental Theater was a mainstay in Chicago’s theatre scene, screening movies and elaborate stage shows. By 1971, theatre attendance became so low that the Oriental closed its doors. In 1998, the Oriental-Ford Center for the Arts reopened as a modern theatre venue after undergoing a $13.5 million renovation a few years prior. The theatre was renamed in 2019 to honor James M. Nederlander, founder of Broadway In Chicago. 

The renovations included a newly designed marquee, vertical signage and increased backstage space. After renovations, the seating capacity dropped from 3,250 to 2,253. Since then Nederland Theatre has become a major touring Broadway space in Chicago. Nederlander Theatre has hosted many famous stars and theatre productions, including Frank Sinatra, Ragtime, Judy Garland, Pretty Woman – The Musical and more. With Nederlander Theatre tickets, you can see touring productions like Wicked and attend amazing concerts and comedy shows. 

Buy Chicago Theatre Tickets Today

Be dazzled by bright city lights and enjoy live performing arts showcases when you buy Chicago theatre tickets with TicketSmarter. For the non-locals looking for an easy way to sort out travel accommodations, check out these exclusive Chicago travel deals from HotelPlanner. Not a fan of the arts? Make the most of your time in the Windy City and browse our Chicago sports guide and see what game to catch live.