BROADWAY IN CHICAGO OFFERS HISTORIC THEATRE TOURS AT THREE THEATRES
Broadway In Chicago offers a public tour of our theatres every Saturday at 11 am. Each tour visits two of our three theatres: the Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace and the Bank of America Theatre. The tour showcases the glittering vintage décor inspired by the foremost theatre designers of our time, who created through their designs in the French Renaissance styling. You will also learn about the cutting edge technology that makes each theatre the home to today’s most complex theatrical productions and the recent restorations that brought beauty and elegance back to these century-old theatres.
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Cadillac Palace Theatre
The Palace Theatre opened at the corner of Randolph and LaSalle Streets in Chicago on October 4, 1926. Designed by legendary theatre architects the Rapp Brothers, the theatre’s interior featured a splendor previously unseen in Chicago – a breathtaking vision inspired by the palaces of Fontainebleau and Versailles. The theatre’s distinctive characteristics included a lobby richly appointed in huge decorative mirrors and breche violet and white marble, which swept majestically through a succession of lobbies and foyers; great wall surfaces enhanced with gold leaf and wood decorations; and 2,500 plush, roomy seats. The theatre was originally opened as the flagship of vaudeville’s legendary Orpheum Circuit, and among the stars believed to have played the Palace in its early years are Jimmy Durante, Mae West, Jack Benny, Sophie Tucker and Bob Hope.
Despite the popularity of such acts, audiences in the late 1920s and early 1930s had begun to lose interest in vaudeville, and in 1931 the theatre was converted into a movie palace, initially presenting films with live stage shows, and then eventually showing only movies. When movie audiences began staying at home to watch television in the 1950s, the theatre managers, hoping to attract larger audiences, booked occasional Broadway shows into the theatre, such as GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES starring Carol Channing.
During the late 1950s, the Palace was fitted with special equipment to show films in Cinerama. During the mid-1970s, the management of the Bismarck Hotel transformed the auditorium into a banquet hall by removing the seats on the orchestra level and bringing the floor flush with the stage. In 1984, the theatre, now renamed the Bismarck Theatre, was converted into a rock venue. Sporadically used during the 1990s, the venue was completely restored and renovated during 1999, and renamed the Cadillac Palace.
The renovated theatre was reopened during the fall of 1999, with the premiere of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA. Since then, the Cadillac Palace has been the home to several pre-Broadway hits including THE PRODUCERS – THE NEW MEL BROOKS MUSICAL and MAMMA MIA! as well as long-run engagements of Disney’S THE LION KING and Oprah Winfrey presents THE COLOR PURPLE.
As one of the first motion picture palaces whose décor was inspired by the Far East, Chicago’s Oriental Theatre opened to much fanfare on May 8, 1926. Also, designed by George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp for theater managers Balaban and Katz, the theatre, a virtual museum of Asian art, presented popular first-run motion pictures, complemented by lavish stage shows. Turbaned ushers led patrons from the lobby, with polychrome figures and large mosaics of an Indian prince and princess, through an inner foyer with elephant-throne chairs and multicolored glazed Buddhas, to the auditorium’s “hasheesh-dream décor.” Among the many stars that played the theatre are Paul Ash (billed as “the Rajah of Jazz”), The Three Stooges, Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Stepin Fetchit, Sophie Tucker, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fanny Brice, Danny Kaye and Alice Faye. During a record-breaking week in 1930, as many as 124,985 patrons visited the Oriental to see the hit film “Flight.” Although management changed hands several times in the subsequent decades, the theatre continued to feature films until the early 1970s, at which time the M&R Amusement Company briefly presented live performances by such artists as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Little Richard.
Soon the theater fell into disrepair. In an effort to preserve the theatre, it was added to the Federal National Registry of Historic Places in 1978, but the building continued to crumble. The theatre was closed to the public in 1981, and the site was considered for a two-story, 50,000 square-foot shopping mall and a 1,600 seat cinema. In 1996, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that the Oriental would be restored to its original grandeur for the presentation of live stage musicals by Livent, Inc. Renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997, the restoration of the theatre was completed in October 1998, at which time it was opened with the Chicago premiere of RAGTIME. The venue was acquired by SFX Theatrical Group in 1999, and its production of FOSSE debuted at the Oriental Theatre before embarking on a national tour. The list of hits goes on, including the pre-Broadway premiere of BLAST in 2000, the world premiere of SING-A-LONG Wizard of Oz in January 2003 and the record-breaking run of WICKED from 2005 to 2009.
Bank of America Theatre
The theatre that we now refer to as the Bank of America Theatre was opened on New Year’s Day in 1906 as the Majestic Theatre. The architects of the venue were Edmund R. Krause and George L. and Cornelius Rapp, and it was the first venue in Chicago to cost over one million dollars. The Majestic Building, the tallest building in Chicago when it was first built, became a Chicago landmark, and the theatre instantly became a popular destination for vaudeville acts. After the theatre’s stunning restoration in 2005 and grand re-opening in 2006, the Bank of America Theatre has continues to host a wide variety of live entertainment, long-running Broadway Blockbusters and Pre-Broadway World Premieres.