Many of Chicago's neighborhoods are home to multiple theaters, but only the Loop has the officially designated Chicago Theater District—so declared in 2000 by then Mayor Richard M. Daley to mark the Goodman Theatre's move from the Art Institute to Dearborn Street and the unification of several of the downtown houses that host touring musical theater productions under the Broadway in Chicago banner. These theaters and more make the Loop an inarguable destination for live performance and family-friendly theater.
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The best Chicago theater downtown
A standard-bearer among the nation’s regional theaters and the downtown grand pooh-bah of Chicago’s professional scene, the Goodman is helmed by Tony-winning director Robert Falls. Falls’s hallmark productions of American classics (Death of a Salesman, Long Day’s Journey) are indicative of the Goodman’s mainly deluxe-but-traditional fare. Yet a commitment to ethnically diverse programming, in particular the trailblazing biannual Latino Theater Festival curated by artistic associate Henry Godinez, sets it apart from its contemporaries. There’s also a doozy of A Christmas Carol every winter.
For a list of shows at the Goodman Theatre, click here.
The Loop’s 5,000-seat Chicago Theatre was the opulent French baroque-style flagship of the Balaban and Katz movie-palace chain when it opened in 1921. It’s still a beautiful venue (you’ve probably seen the famous illuminated “Chicago” marquee even if you’re from out of town) that’s surprisingly cozy for its large size. It has also hosted some phenomenal shows: We’ve caught everyone from Eddie Vedder to Coco O'Brien here, and we’ve never been disappointed.
The gorgeous, Rococo Oriental, like the Cadillac Palace down the street, was designed by the Rapp Brothers in the 1920s. It fell into disrepair by the ’80s before being restored as part of the second Mayor Daley's initiative for a downtown theater district and reopening in 1998. The Oriental was locked up not too long ago with a four-year run of Wicked, but it's now back in the regular rotation for Broadway in Chicago's touring shows.
The 1926 Palace Theatre was originally the Chicago home of vaudeville's Orpheum Circuit. The 2,500-seat venue alter spent time as a movie house, a hotel banquet hall and a rock venue before being refurbished and restored in 1999 as one of Broadway in Chicago's lead theaters for tours and tryouts.
For a list of shows at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, click here.
The coziest of Broadway in Chicago’s downtown houses, the former Shubert Theatre (and, more recently, the former LaSalle Bank Theatre and Bank of America Theatre), has been spectacularly renovated. Although it mainly features national tours of shows that have already played New York, it occasionally hosts pre-Broadway tryout engagements such as Spamalot and Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out. Because of its intimacy, it’s also the downtown house most likely to host the occasional touring straight play.
For a show list of The PrivateBank Theatre including Hamilton, click here.
The city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events runs this well-appointed space, putting a Loop-sized spotlight on work by Chicago's best small theaters.
Part of the Loop’s landmark Auditorium Building and overseen by Roosevelt University, this theater is a stunning piece of architecture (it was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler) with great acoustics, and puts on shows of all genres, from cabaret and Broadway to jazz to the occasional major act such as R. Kelly or My Morning Jacket.
For a list shows at the Auditorium Theatre, click here.
As the architectural centerpiece in Chicago’s classical-music landscape, Symphony Center is appropriately multifunctional. Its primary role, of course, is as the home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which performs in Orchestra Hall every weekend from autumn to early summer. The CSO’s main program is supplemented by occasional visits from touring soloists, small ensembles and orchestras; Saturday morning family concerts; sporadic pop and jazz shows; and occasional concerts from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the CSO’s training orchestra for young musicians) and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. Also on site is Buntrock Hall, an auxiliary space for chamber music; the elegant Grainger Ballroom, which stages lectures and small ensemble performances; plus a learning center, a restaurant (Tesori) and a shop selling gifts and CDs, including many from the CSO’s own Resound label.
For a list of shows at the Symphony Center, click here.
The sleek Harris Theater prides itself on being the area’s least pretentious theater for brand-name acts. The home of numerous forward-thinking new music groups (Fulcrum Point New Music Project, eighth blackbird), the Chicago Opera Theater and the Chicago Symphony’s MusicNOW series, the Harris is the city’s best mainstream-alternative hall, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
For a list of shows at the Harris Theater, click here.
This 1,325-seat proscenium theater was designed by Chicago architects Marshall & Fox in 1910. Under its original name, the Blackstone Theatre, it served as a home for the Federal Theatre Project in the 1930s and hosted the premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in 1959, in addition to scads of touring shows. In 1988, it was sold to DePaul University, which renamed the theater in honor of donor Reskin in 1992; it now serves as the main public performance venue for DePaul's Theatre School.