Nederlander Theatre (Chicago)

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James M. Nederlander Theatre
Nederlander Theater
Former namesThe Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre; Oriental Theatre
Address24 West Randolph Street
LocationChicago, Illinois
Coordinates41°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 transitState/Lake station, Lake station
OwnerBroadway In Chicago
Opened1926 (1926)
ArchitectRapp and Rapp
New Masonic Building and Oriental Theater
Location24 W Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois
Architectural styleLate Gothic Revival, Art Deco
NRHP reference #78003401[1]
Added to NRHPSeptember 26, 1978
Auditorium of the James M. Nederlander Theatre

The James M. Nederlander Theatre is a theater located at 24 West Randolph Street in the Loop area of downtown Chicago, Illinois. The venue opened in 1926 as the Oriental Theatre, a deluxe movie palace and vaudeville venue. Today the Nederlander presents live Broadway theater and is operated by Broadway In Chicago. It currently seats 2,253. In 1978, the theater house and its office building were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as New Masonic Building and Oriental Theater. The office building is now a hotel. In 2019, the theater was re-named for impresario, James M. Nederlander, of the Nederlander Organization.


The James M. Nederlander Theatre opened in 1926 as one of many ornate movie palaces built in Chicago during the 1920s by the firm Rapp and Rapp. The Nederlander continued to be a vital part of Chicago's theater district into the 1960s, but patronage declined in the 1970s. Late in the decade, the theater survived by showing exploitation films. It closed in 1981 and its lobby was refitted as a retail TV and radio store, while the theater remained vacant for more than a decade.[2]

The Nederlander Theatre was originally the Oriental Theatre.[3] However, the first theater venue on the site opened November 27, 1903, as the Iroquois Theatre, which burned in the deadliest theatre fire in U.S. history. After the fire's recorded death toll reached over double the death toll of The Great Chicago Fire, city officials closed all theatres in the city for inspection. Following the incident, the city enacted news laws that addressed aisle-way and exit standards, scenery fireproofing, and occupancy limits.[4]

The newly renamed James M. Nederlander Theatre is one of several houses now operating in Chicago's revitalized Loop Theater District. According to Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Tribune, the reopening of the Oriental-Ford Center for the Arts, now James M. Nederlander, spurred the restoration of other theaters in The Loop.[5]

The district is also home to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, CIBC Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, and the Chicago Theatre. Randolph Street was traditionally the center of downtown Chicago's entertainment district until the 1970s when the area began to decline. The now demolished United Artists Theatre, Woods Theatre, Garrick Theater (originally constructed as the Schiller Theater and Building), State-Lake Theatre, Erlanger and Roosevelt Theatre were located near the intersection of Randolph and State Streets.

On November 13, 2018, Broadway In Chicago announced that the theatre would be renamed to honor James M. Nederlander, founder of Broadway In Chicago, Broadway theatre owner and producer, and champion of Chicago’s Downtown Theatre District, who died in 2016. The venue unveiled its newly renovated marquee, vertical blade sign and signage as the James M. Nederlander Theatre on February 8, 2019.[6]


Interior pillars

The architects of the Nederlander Theatre were George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp, who also designed the Palace and Chicago Theatres. The Nederlander Theatre features decor inspired by the architecture of India. The city's dominant theater chain, Balaban and Katz (a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures) operated the 3,250-seat venue.[7][8]


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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

The restored theater reopened October 18, 1998, with a reconfigured seating capacity of 2,253.[2] The restored venue now hosts touring Broadway shows.

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 venue to the Nederlander Organization in 2007.[12]

In 2015, a developer purchased the adjacent 22-story office building with the intent of converting the space into 230 apartments. However, the plan quickly changed to a 198-room hotel.[13] The hotel opened in October 2017.

General interest[edit]

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 Nederlander.

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.


Many other stars also performed at the Nederlander 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]

Detail beneath under the marquee during run of Billy Elliot the Musical (2010)

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."[14]

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 Cesar Corrales as Billy from March 18 to November 28, 2010.[15][16] The theatre also hosted the pre-Broadway runs of On Your Feet! June 2 through July 15, 2015 and SpongeBob SquarePants from June 7 to July 10, 2016.[17][18]

The Cher Show, a so-called "bio-musical" of Cher's life and music, opened June 12, 2018, for a five-week run before moving to New York's Neil Simon Theatre in the fall.[19][20]

In March 2019, James L. Nederlander announced that a musical based on the songs of Britney Spears Once Upon a One More Time would premiere at the venue October 29 and run until December 1 when it will move to New York.[21] In January, the Michael Jackson Estate and Columbia Live Stage had announced that Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, a bio-musical of Michael Jackson would play during that period, but they instead opted to premiere in New York City.[22]


  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. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  3. ^ Jones, Chris (November 13, 2018). "Chicago's Oriental Theatre is getting a new name". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  4. ^ Uenuma, Francine (June 12, 2018). "The Iroquois Theater Disaster Killed Hundreds and Changed Fire Safety Forever". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  5. ^ Christiansen, Richard (November 16, 1997). "Culture, Commerce and Entertainment: Downtown is Reborn". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
  6. ^ Di Nunzio, Miriam (February 5, 2019). "Chicago's Oriental Theatre marquee is history: PHOTOS". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  7. ^ Newman, Scott A. (January 12, 1997). "Oriental Theatre". Jazz Age Chicago. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-13.
  8. ^ Balaban, David (2006). The Chicago Movie Palaces of Balaban and Katz. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 4, 60–62.
  9. ^ Weiss, Hedy (January 11, 1996). "Return Engagement for Oriental Theatre". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 16, 2018. Retrieved 2018-09-16.
  10. ^ Woulfe, Molly (April 17, 1997). "Oriental Theater Goes Through the Ford Assembly Line". The Beacon News. Aurora, Illinois. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
  11. ^ "Oriental rehab payment OKd". Chicago Sun-Times. December 5, 1998. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
  12. ^ Jones, Kenneth (November 12, 2007). "Nederlander Organization Buys Live Nation's Share of Chicago Tour Market". Playbill. Retrieved 2014-07-02.
  13. ^ Gallun, Alby (December 2, 2015). "Hotel coming to Oriental Theatre building". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  14. ^ Oxman, Steven (January 22, 2007). "Touring shows stay in the loop: Broadway in Chicago boost economy". Variety. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
  15. ^ Jones, Kenneth (October 30, 2008). "Addams Family Will Sing in Chicago in Fall 2009, Prior to Broadway". Playbill.
  16. ^ Gans, Andrew (April 11, 2010). "Billy Elliot Opens in Chicago April 11". Playbill. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  17. ^ Gioia, Michael (July 5, 2015). "Gloria Estefan's On Your Feet! Packs Up Its Chicago Shoes; Broadway Is Next!". Playbill.
  18. ^ Viagas, Robert (June 20, 2016). "The Verdict: See How Chicago Critics Reviewed Broadway-Bound SpongeBob Musical". Playbill. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  19. ^ Frierberg, Ruthie (March 27, 2018). "Stephanie J. Block Will Play Cher in the Upcoming Cher Show". Playbill. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
  20. ^ Leight, Elias (September 27, 2017). "'The Cher Show' Debuts on Broadway in Fall 2018". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  21. ^ Evans, Greg (March 12, 2019). "Broadway-Bound Britney Spears Musical Fills Chicago Theater Vacancy Left By Canceled Michael Jackson Show". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  22. ^ McPhee, Ryan (February 14, 2019). "Michael Jackson Musical Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough Cancels Chicago Premiere, Will Open on Broadway in 2020". Playbill. Retrieved 12 March 2019.

External links[edit]