source : WIKIPEDIA
The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre is a Chicago theatre now owned by the Nederlander Organization and is operated by Broadway In Chicago. The theatre auditorium is located at 24 West Randolph Street while the office portion of the building is addressed to 32 West Randolph Street in Chicago, Illinois's Chicago Loop area downtown.
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.
The Oriental continued to be a vital part of Chicago's theatre 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 theatre was showing exploitation films. It was closed in 1981 and sat vacant for more than a decade.
The Oriental is one of several houses now operating in Chicago's revitalized Loop Theatre District. According to Richard Christiansen, the opening of the theatre spurred on the restoration of other theatres in the loop, "This is a tad premature, since it will be at least three years before all the new or restored theaters making up the North Loop theater district are in place. Still, the omens are there. On the façade of the Oriental (to be rechristened the Ford Center for the Performing Arts) a sign already is up for "Ragtime," the first musical to be presented in the restored movie palace".
The district is also home to the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Bank of America Theatre (formerly The Shubert Theatre), the Goodman Theatre, and the famous 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, and Roosevelt Theatre were located on or near Randolph Street.
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 theatre was operated by the city's dominant theatre chain, Balaban and Katz.
In the late 1990s, the Oriental was renovated and restored, and it was reopened on October 18, 1998 with a reconfigured seating capacity of 2,253. The restored house now hosts the visiting companies of Broadway shows. The theatre's full name is The Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre; however to locals it remains known as the Oriental Theatre.
During the expansion, architect Daniel P. Coffey came up with a design plan that could increase the theatre's back stage 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.
Both movies and vaudeville acts were presented during its early years, but by the 1930s it had become predominantly a movie house, though it continued to present live performances and concerts. 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 theatre 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, New York Times critic Robert Garland. "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 stars (besides the ones aforementioned) performed at the Oriental including The Three Stooges, Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Stepin Fetchit, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Fanny Brice, Danny Kaye, Billie Holiday, and Alice Faye.
Notable Productions :
The theatre re-opened in 1999 with the Chicago premiere of the musical Ragtime. From June 2005 through January 2009, the theatre 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."
The Ford Center is currently showing Billy Elliot, which opened on March 18, 2010.