Chicago, IL

Chicago Theatre: a Legendary History of Building American Entertainment

Roxana Anton

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Anyone else passionate about live theatre, concerts, and shows, besides myself?

On the Chicago Theatre official site, we can see a few events that are "hoping to happen", from April this year.

The most interesting for me so far would be BRIT Floyd: the world's greatest show, by Pink Floyd.

That, I would love to attend and hope it's going to happen.

While we wait, I accidentally found some fascinating facts about the Chicago Theatre and America's Theatre, Film and Show Industry.

The Chicago Theatre, originally known as the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theatre, was built in 1921 as a miniature of the Versailles Palace in France and is one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Chicago.

Along with the other B&K theaters, from 1925 to 1945 the Chicago Theatre was a dominant movie theater enterprise.

The theater is also known for its grand Wurlitzer pipe organ. At the time it was installed it was known as "The Mighty Wurlitzer" and could imitate the instruments of an orchestra. (Wikipedia)

The Chicago Theatre was "the first great movie auditorium in the United States", and an inspiration to all others. (urbanmatter.com)

It was one of the earliest theatres to be built in Neo-Baroque French style and the oldest building - masterpiece to testify for this, in Chicago.

"The exterior of the theatre features a miniature replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, while the grand lobby was modeled after the Royal Chapel of Versailles. The grand staircase is reminiscent of the Paris Opera House." (source:compassorg.com)

The last restoration happened in 1986, after that the theatre was reopened with a gala performance by Frank Sinatra.

The Chicago Theatre was built to be one of the largest luxury movie places in the country and was promoted as a wonder theatre of the world.

The 3,880-seat theatre was initially designed to host movie productions.

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Now, a few words about the founder of the theatre company Balaban & Katz, who built the 50 incredibly successful theatres in all USA, in flourishing districts convenient for the middle-class population.

They were the first to include air conditioning in the theatre, together with amazing stage shows.

Today, most theatres are only dedicated to theatre plays, while cinemas are only for movies, operas for operas plays, bigger stages are usually used for larger music concerts and dancing shows.

Abraham Joseph Balaban, known as A. J. Balaban or Abe Balaban was an American showman whose particular influence on popular entertainment in the early 20th century led to enormous innovations in the American movie.

He integrated live performers into themed stage extravaganzas with full orchestras and forever changing vaudeville, and inspired numerous ideas for theatre management. (Wikipedia).

According to "Variety", the Chicago-born A. J. Balaban whose parents were Russian Jewish "did more than any individual to glorify the cinema setting".

Among Balaban's many show-business innovations were large theatres where thousands of people could seat in opulent architectural palaces that resembled "fairy-lands"; the integration of movies and stage shows, alternating throughout the day; the presentation on movie-theatre stages of many of the giants of American show business, including The Four Marx Bros., Sophie Tucker, Gladys Swarthout, Ginger Rogers, among many others; stage bands for every theatre, each with its own master of ceremonies.

The style of alternating movies with elaborated stage shows was a highly successful strategy at the time, and probably worth spending an entire afternoon watching.

In the end years of his amazing career, A. J. Balaban was the Executive Director of Roxy Theatre in New York.

"During this time, Balaban installed an ice rink on the Roxy stage and instigated the first-ever "four-a-day" by the New York Philharmonic for two weeks in September 1950." (Wikipedia)

During its first 40 years, The Chicago Theatre presented the best in live and film entertainment, including John Phillip Sousa, Duke Ellington, Jack Benny, and Benny Goodman. (msg.com)

The Theatre was mainly focused on premiere films and live entertainment.

Throughout its existence, many of the top performers and stars of their day made live appearances at the theater.

One of its biggest discoveries and promoted stage shows was live jazz.

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It proved so successful that jazz bands became a stable feature of the Chicago Theatre's programming between the 1920-1930s.

Among the stars who performed on its stage, are the world's greatest names of showbiz: Liza Minnelli, grand ballet with Alexander Godunov, jazz great Sarah Vaughn, Blues Traveler, Kelly Clarkson, Harry Connick Jr, Ellen DeGeneres, Aretha Franklin, Kathy Griffin, Gipsy Kings, Indigo Girls, Alicia Keys, David Letterman, Lyle Lovett, Oasis, Dolly Parton, Prince, Diana Ross, Van Morrison, Widespread Panic, and Robin Williams.

The Chicago Theatre remains one of the landmarks of the great American Film and Showbiz industry and will be a true honor to step inside again, to assist another show, and make its grandeur from the Twenties and the Thirties live again.

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