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Chicago Gets Top Billing as Popular Destination for Theater Lovers

Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Theatre, Chicago, Illinois

From store­front the­aters in the neigh­bor­hoods and Tony-award win­ning regional com­pa­nies to major Broadway shows, Chicago is known through­out the world for its exten­sive selec­tion of critically-acclaimed the­ater. On any given day, vis­i­tors can ven­ture out into Chicago’s diverse com­mu­ni­ties for a pro­duc­tion at one of the city’s many off-Loop the­ater com­pa­nies or see a musi­cal in the bustling his­toric down­town the­ater district.

With more than 250 the­ater com­pa­nies, 115 per­for­mance venues with 5 mil­lion tick­ets sold annu­ally, and 800 pro­duc­tions a year, Chicago’s rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity, inno­va­tion and a broad range of the­atri­cal offer­ings make it a pre­mier des­ti­na­tion for the­ater lovers of all ages and tastes.  In recog­ni­tion of its promi­nent posi­tion in the the­ater com­mu­nity, Chicago was selected as the first stop on the national tour of Billy Elliot the Musical, begin­ning March 18 at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre.

For more infor­ma­tion about Chicago the­ater in neigh­bor­hoods through­out the city, visit

Award-Winning Theater

Four Chicago the­aters have received the pres­ti­gious Regional Tony Award, more than any other city in the nation:

  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater – The plays of Shakespeare form the core of this company’s pro­duc­tions and are com­ple­mented by other dra­matic works, from tra­di­tional clas­si­cal the­ater to new classics.
  • The Goodman Theatre – Chicago’s old­est and largest not-for-profit the­ater pro­duces both clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary works, giv­ing voice to a wide range of artists and visions.
  • Steppenwolf Theatre Company – Created by a col­lec­tive of actors includ­ing John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, Steppenwolf is com­mit­ted to the prin­ci­ple of ensem­ble per­for­mance through the col­lab­o­ra­tion of a com­pany of actors, direc­tors and playwrights.
  • Victory Gardens Theater –This mid-sized pro­fes­sional the­ater com­pany, one of the country’s most respected, is ded­i­cated solely to pro­duc­ing new plays.

Among numer­ous other acco­lades, two Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to plays gen­er­ated in Chicago – Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County (Steppenwolf Theatre) and Lynne Nottage’s Ruined (The Goodman Theatre).

A record num­ber of New York pro­duc­tions have had a strong Chicago influ­ence. Plays that pre­miered in Chicago by Chicago play­wrights and went on to enjoy suc­cess­ful Broadway runs include, among many oth­ers, A Steady Rain by Keith Huff and Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts.

Theater in the Neighborhoods

A thriv­ing res­i­dent the­ater com­mu­nity is at the heart of Chicago the­ater. Located through­out the city’s many eclec­tic neigh­bor­hoods, some com­pa­nies have their own venues while oth­ers per­form in non­tra­di­tional spaces. Many are ensemble-based. They offer a wide vari­ety of the­atri­cal expe­ri­ences from new plays and orig­i­nal musi­cals to adap­ta­tions and revivals.

Professional the­ater com­pa­nies that pro­duce their own sea­sons include:

  • A Red Orchid Theatre (Old Town) – Presents new plays from all over the world and revives insight­ful works from the past.
  • Black Ensemble Theater (Uptown) – Stages orig­i­nal musi­cals that high­light the his­tory of African Americans while reach­ing out to a cross-cultural audience.
  • Court Theatre (Hyde Park) – Professional the­ater on the cam­pus of the University of Chicago that focuses on clas­sic the­atri­cal works.
  • Redmoon Theater (West Loop) – Creates the­atri­cal spec­ta­cles that trans­form streets, stages, and archi­tec­tural land­marks into places of pub­lic celebration.
  • TimeLine Theatre Company (Lakeview) – Dedicated to pre­sent­ing sto­ries inspired by his­tory that con­nect with today’s social and polit­i­cal issues.

Itinerant the­ater com­pa­nies that per­form in var­i­ous spaces through­out the city include:

  • BackStage Theatre Company – Ensemble of the­ater artists ded­i­cated to the explo­ration of family.
  • Congo Square Theater Company – Multicultural the­ater spawned from the African Diaspora as well as other world cultures.
  • Infamous Commonwealth Theatre – Productions illu­mi­nate diverse per­spec­tives around one topic each season.
  • Shattered Globe Theatre – Presents clas­sic drama as well as U.S. and world pre­mieres inspired by the story of “everyman.”
  • Teatro Vista – Committed to shar­ing and cel­e­brat­ing the riches of Latino cul­ture by pre­sent­ing the work of cutting-edge Latino playwrights.
  • TUTA Theatre Chicago – Ensemble that pro­motes the work of European play­wrights, employ­ing rad­i­cal stag­ings of both mod­ern and clas­si­cal texts.

The Second City & Comedy in Chicago

Chicago’s tra­di­tion of improv-based sketch com­edy is leg­endary due in large part to The Second City, which cel­e­brated its 50th anniver­sary last year. A Chicago land­mark and a national trea­sure, it offers the best in Chicago com­edy show­cas­ing the city’s bright­est tal­ent every night of the week. The Second City has launched the careers of such comic greats as John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and many oth­ers. Other com­edy clubs, venues and com­pa­nies include:

  • I.O. (Improv Olympics)
  • Chemically Imbalanced Comedy
  • Neo-Futurists, Annoyance Theatre
  • Lakeshore Theater
  • ComedySportz

Chicago Theater District and Downtown Theaters

Brightly lit mar­quees in the Loop along Dearborn and Randolph Streets mark an area span­ning four city blocks where mag­nif­i­cently restored the­aters com­prise the city’s famed down­town Theater District. See the best of Broadway hit pro­duc­tions at a vari­ety of com­mer­cial theaters:

  • Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre
  • Cadillac Palace Theater
  • Bank of America Theatre (for­merly the Shubert Theatre)
  • Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
  • Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place

Chicago the­ater goers fre­quently have the chance to see pre-Broadway engage­ments at these venues. Productions that have debuted in Chicago before head­ing to Broadway include Spamalot, Mamma Mia!, The Producers, and most recently, The Addams Family.

Broadway in Chicago offers Historic Theatre Tours that go behind the scenes, pro­vid­ing details about the the­aters’ restora­tion and the cut­ting edge tech­nolo­gies required for com­plex the­atri­cal pro­duc­tions. Check out to find out about tours and cur­rent and upcom­ing shows.

Productions fea­tur­ing top-caliber tal­ent can also be found at:

  • The Chicago Theatre
  • Harris Theater for Music and Dance
  • Merle Reskin Theatre
  • Lookinglass Theatre Company

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Downtown Theaters

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Theaters — the Storefront Theater and the Studio Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center — offer down­town audi­ences an off-Loop the­ater expe­ri­ence with an excit­ing look at the vibrant emerg­ing the­ater com­pa­nies that call Chicago home.

An anchor of the down­town the­ater dis­trict, the Storefront Theater presents pro­duc­tions by Chicago the­ater com­pa­nies such as:

  • Caffeine Theatre
  • Silent Theatre Company
  • The Hypocrites

The Studio Theater Incubator Series sup­ports the cre­ation of new work by emerg­ing Chicago the­ater com­pa­nies including:

  • Dog and Pony Theatre Company
  • LiveWire Chicago Theatre

Children’s Theater

Families can enjoy a lively the­ater scene in Chicago. Check out:

  • Adventure Stage Chicago
  • Chicago Kids Company
  • Emerald City Theatre
  • Blair Thomas & Co.
  • Chicago Children’s Theatre

Half-Priced and Discounted Tickets

Start your dis­cov­ery of Chicago the­ater with a visit to Hot Tix (Chicago Tourism Center, 72 E. Randolph St. and Chicago Waterworks Visitor Center, 163 E. Pearson, or online at for a large selec­tion of half-priced tick­ets rang­ing from Broadway shows to pro­duc­tions in neigh­bor­hoods through­out the city. In addi­tion, the League of Chicago Theatres
pro­vides infor­ma­tion about dis­counted tick­ets (

Visitor Services

The Chicago Office of Tourism (@explorechicago) pro­vides a seven-day-a-week Twitter Concierge Service offer­ing advice and sug­ges­tions about the city. Visitor ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives answer ques­tions and pro­vide infor­ma­tion with a focus on free and dis­counted events and activ­i­ties in neigh­bor­hoods through­out Chicago.

Visitors and Chicagoans plan­ning to enter­tain out-of-town guests can receive Chicago brochures, reserve hotel accom­mo­da­tions and receive trip-planning assis­tance by call­ing toll-free 1.877.CHICAGO (1.877.244.2246), or vis­it­ing Brochures and infor­ma­tion on Chicago’s events and activ­i­ties are also avail­able at the Visitor Information Centers. The cen­ters are located at Chicago Water Works, 163 East Pearson Street at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 East Randolph Street. The TTY toll-free num­ber for the hear­ing impaired is 1.866.710.0294.

Photo by eJourna

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