The Oriental Theatre, the lushly-designed 1926 movie palace in the heart of downtown Chicago’s North Loop, was rechristened Oct. 13, and Ragtime is waiting in its wings. A free public “open house” will be held 11 AM-5 PM Oct. 18. Complimentary refreshments, gifts and a ticket contest will be offered.
With city dignitaries including Mayor Richard M. Daley in attendance, Livent, Inc., formally dedicated the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre at 1 PM Oct. 13. A sit-down production of Ragtime starring Hinton Battle begins performances there Oct. 27, through at least the spring of 1999. The official opening is Nov. 8.
Rapp and Rapp designed the theatre as a garish Asian-Indian fantasia (leading to the “Oriental” moniker). Its exotic interior, which has been retained where possible, borrows motifs and mythic figures from India.
Under the management of Balaban and Katz, live musical performances and movies were presented (often complemented with lavish live shows) to a resident and tourist crowd for many years. Among stars who performed there were Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Sophie Tucker and others. The theater survived under different managements over the years and finally fell into disrepair in the 1970s. It was closed in 1981. The renovation, which retains much of the original design while adding bathrooms and widening some spaces, was funded in part by a $17 million grant from the City of Chicago.
The project reduces the original seating capacity from 3,238 to approximately 2,200 and adds 28 feet of stage depth, which required boring into the adjacent Oliver Building, whose facade remains intact.
The theatre’s program will be Showbill, a title owned and operated by Playbill. Showbill also services Livent’s Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Broadway.
The Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre, in Chicago’s North Loop, is within blocks of the Shubert Theatre, the Chicago Theatre, the Auditorium Theatre and the currently-under-renovation Palace Theatre. The Ford Center is at 24 W. Randolph between Dearborn and State Streets.
For group sales ticket information call (312) 782-2004.
-- By Kenneth Jones