Oriental Theatre (Chicago)

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Oriental Theatre
The Oriental Theatre in Chicago.jpg
Former names The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre
Address 24 West Randolph Street
Location Chicago, Illinois
Coordinates 41°53′5″N 87°37′43″W / 41.88472°N 87.62861°W / 41.88472; -87.62861Coordinates: 41°53′5″N 87°37′43″W / 41.88472°N 87.62861°W / 41.88472; -87.62861
Public transit State/Lake station, Lake station
Owner Broadway in Chicago
Type Theatre
Capacity 2,253
Opened 1926 (1926)
Renovated 1996-1998
Architect Rapp and Rapp
New Masonic Building and Oriental Theater
Location 24 & 32 W Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois
Architectural style Late Gothic Revival, Art Deco
NRHP Reference # 78003401[1]
Added to NRHP September 26, 1978

The Oriental Theatre is a theater located at 24 West Randolph Street in the Loop area of downtown Chicago, Illinois. Opened in 1926 as a deluxe movie palace, today the Oriental is operated by Broadway In Chicago, a subsidiary of the Nederlander Organization. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as New Masonic Building and Oriental Theater.


The Oriental Theatre opened in 1926 as one of many ornate movie palaces built in Chicago during the 1920s by the firm Rapp and Rapp. It was built on the same location as the former Iroquois Theatre (later the Colonial Theatre) site of a disastrous 1903 fire that claimed over 600 lives, although the façade looks identical, and despite statements to the contrary, the Oriental retained nothing from the building that once stood on the same site.

The Oriental continued to be a vital part of Chicago's theater district into the 1960s, but patronage declined in the 1970s along with the fortunes of the Chicago Loop in general. Late in the decade, the theater survived by showing exploitation films. It closed in 1981 and was vacant for more than a decade.[2]

The Oriental is one of several houses now operating in Chicago's revitalized Loop Theater District. According to Richard Christiansen, the opening of the Oriental spurred on the restoration of other theaters in The Loop.[3]

The district is also home to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, PrivateBank Theatre (formerly The Bank of America Theatre), the Goodman Theatre, and the Chicago Theatre. Randolph Street was traditionally the center of downtown Chicago's entertainment district until the 1960s when the area began to decline. The now demolished United Artists Theatre, Woods Theatre, Garrick Theater, State-Lake Theatre and Roosevelt Theatre were located on or near Randolph Street.


A front view of the marquee.
Interior pillars

The architects of the Oriental were George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp, who also built the Palace and Chicago Theatres. The Oriental features decor inspired by the architecture of India. The 3,250-seat theater was operated by the city's dominant theater chain, Balaban and Katz (a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures).[4][5]


On January 10, 1996, Canadian theatrical company Livent announced it acquired the property and would renovate the structure with an anticipated completion date of 1998.[6] The city of Chicago pledged $13.5 million toward the restoration and Ford Motor Company entered into a sponsorship agreement with Livent for a reported $1 million annual fee.[7]

In November 1998, Livent filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US and the Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of its assets to SFX Entertainment.[8]

The restored theater reopened October 18, 1998, with a reconfigured seating capacity of 2,253.[2] The restored venue now hosts touring Broadway shows. The theater's full name is The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre; however it is commonly called simply the Oriental Theatre.

During the restoration, architect Daniel P. Coffey created a design plan that would increase the theater's backstage area by gutting the adjacent Oliver Building while preserving one-third of its original steel structure, as well as the building's Dearborn façade and a portion of its alley façade.

SFX's corporate successor, Live Nation, sold the Oriental Theatre to the Nederlander Organization in 2007.[9]

General Interest[edit]

Looking northwest with sunlight casting a shadow on the marquee in mid-afternoon

The venue presented both movies and vaudeville acts during its early years, but by the 1930s it became predominantly a movie house, though live performances and concerts continued. Duke Ellington and his orchestra made frequent appearances at the Oriental.

In October 1934, 12-year-old Frances Gumm and her sisters performed at the theater but received laughs when George Jessel would introduce them as The Gumm Sisters. At his urging, they changed their name to The Garland Sisters after his friend, Robert Garland, critic for The New York Times. "Frances Garland" would later change her first name, to become Judy Garland.

The Oriental Theatre is referenced at the beginning of the 1958 film Auntie Mame.


Many other stars also performed at the Oriental including: Fanny Brice, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Alice Faye, Stepin Fetchit, Ella Fitzgerald, Ana Gasteyer, Jean Harlow, Billie Holiday, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, The Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, The Three Stooges, Sophie Tucker, Sarah Vaughan and Henny Youngman.

Notable productions[edit]

The theater re-opened in 1998 with the Chicago premiere of the musical Ragtime. From June 2005 through January 2009, the theater housed a sit-down production of Wicked, making it the most popular stage production in Chicago history. Wicked exceeded expectations, according to producer David Stone: "To be honest, we thought it would run eighteen months, then we'd spend a year in Los Angeles and six months in San Francisco."[10] The venue hosted the pre-Broadway run of The Addams Family, starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth from November 13, 2009 through January 10, 2010 and a production of the 2009 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Billy Elliot starring, among others, Cesar Corrales as Billy from March 18 to November 28, 2010. The theatre also hosted the pre-Broadway run of The SpongeBob Musical from June 7 to July 10, 2016. The theatre was also a stop for the 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT from March 9 to March 14, 2017.


  1. ^ National Park Service (2006-03-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b Newman, Scott A (May 1, 1926). "Opening of Big Loop House Only Week Away". Chicago Evening American. Chicago.Urban-History.org. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  3. ^ Christiansen, Richard (November 16, 1997). "Culture, Commerce and Entertainment: Downtown is Reborn". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  4. ^ Newman, Scott A. (January 12, 1997). "Oriental Theatre". Chicago.Urban-History.org. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  5. ^ Balaban, David (2006). The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 4, 60–62. 
  6. ^ "Livent Announces Proposal for Revitalization of Chicago's Historic Oriental Theater". Business Wire. January 10, 1996. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  7. ^ Woulfe, Molly (April 17, 1997). "Oriental Theater Goes Through the Ford Assembly Line". The Beacon News. Aurora, Illinois. Retrieved 2014-07-03. (Subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ "Oriental rehab payment OKd". Chicago Sun-Times. December 5, 1998. Retrieved 2014-07-03. (Subscription required (help)). 
  9. ^ Jones, Kenneth (November 12, 2007). "Nederlander Organization Buys Live Nation's Share of Chicago Tour Market". Playbill. Retrieved 2014-07-02. 
  10. ^ Oxman, Steven (January 22, 2007). "Touring shows stay in the loop: Broadway in Chicago boost economy". Variety. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 

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