Encompassing Wrigleyville, Boystown and the Southport Corridor, Lakeview is a prime area for all kinds of Chicago nightlife. That includes theater, which has thrived in Lakeview for decades—the Off Loop theater movement was launched, arguably, in the 1960s at the Hull House on Broadway; the same building later became an early home for Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Today, the neighborhood is home to some of the city's best and most thriving homegrown theaters, where you can see a show after a meal at a Lakeview restaurant.
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Best theaters in Lakeview
Having completed a gut rehab of Bailiwick Repertory’s former home next door to Stage 773, Theater Wit opened its doors in 2010 as a well-appointed three-theater facility. In addition to its own shows, the company also plays host to resident companies Stage Left Theatre, About Face Theatre, Shattered Globe Theatre and Kokandy Productions.
Formerly known as Theatre Building Chicago, this four-theater rental house has been the incubator to countless storefront companies since the late 1970s. Some feature the city’s top-shelf Equity actors; others are produced on a dime. (Translation: You’ll want to consult a few reviews to decipher what’s what.) Now under the management of Lukaba Productions, its former annual tenant as producers of January’s Sketchfest, the venue continues to play host; a major renovation was completed in 2012.
One of the storefront scene’s Little Theaters That Could, this modest company (cozily housed in a Lakeview church) regularly snags outstanding acting and design talent. The company mission—to present stories inspired by history—is simple but evocative, and malleable enough to stretch from A Raisin in the Sun to Lucy Prebble's Enron to the occasional musical like Fiorello! or Juno. TimeLine may not be a Lakeview resident much longer; 20 years into its life, its subscriber base and ambition have outgrown its current home, and a potential move to Andersonville as part of the redevelopment of the former Trumbull School is in the works.
This theater might look unimposing from the outside, but inside you’ll find it seats hundreds. It has to, as most nights it’s packed with crowds that thrill to the colorful techno antics of Blue Man Group, which has occupied the space for more than 20 years (and shows no signs of vacating soon).
This onetime nickelodeon reopened as a 292-seat live theater in 1996. Former owner Michael Cullen sold the Mercury to a group of investors led by former Porchlight Music Theatre artistic director L. Walter Stearns, who's reinvented the Mercury as a home for musicals ranging from adult fare like Avenue Q and The Producers to the family-friendly perennial The Christmas Schooner (a tradition the Mercury adopted after Bailiwick Repertory went under). Recently Stearns and company have dipped their toes into developing new works with the debut of The Man Who Killed Sherlock Holmes. Plans are underway to convert the former Cullen's restaurant, attached to the theater, into a cabaret-style performance space.
This antiquated, cathedral-like building was once an annex to a neighboring mammoth church. Now it has several studio theaters and a large proscenium mainstage that play landlord to companies of all shapes and sizes, including dance and performance art. Many theaters also maintain office space in the building.
Oracle's shown a recent knack for inventive storefront reimaginings of plays such as Brecht's The Mother and O'Neill's The Hairy Ape, with admission always free as part of the company's Public Access Theater initiative. The intimate space is also rented out to other small theater companies on occasion.
A one-stop shop for stereotype-based interactive comedy, this new theater on Belmont Avenue opened in 2015 as a home for We Gotta Bingo!, an interactive dinner-theater import from Minnesota that pits two rival parishes, one Irish, one Italian, against each other. In 2016, a revival of the Chicago-born, improv-laced interactive Flanagan's Wake was added to the mix.