Lots of people come to Chicago to see the touring Broadway shows. And not to knock it, but that's not the real Chicago theater experience. Broadway theater tours hit lots of big cities (and they're usually pretty expensive too). But Chicago has a theatrical spirit all its own, which can be experienced in the many small theaters scattered throughout the city. Below is a small sampling for you to explore.
SUPERNATURAL CHICAGO takes place in a space that only seats 50 guests, tops. It's not even a theater in the traditional sense of the word, but Excalibur nightclub, a dance club and bar in the middle of downtown Chicago. But it's also in a landmark building—and reputedly haunted. And on Friday nights, this long-running one-man show (in its seventh year of performances) introduces audiences to Chicago's paranormal past through the well-researched stories and baffling interactive psychic magic presented by the show's host and resident "necromancer." 632 N. Dearborn, Chicago. http://SupernaturalChicago.com
THE NEO-FUTURISTS create an interactive and exciting atmosphere in their second-floor space, where experimental shows like "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind" pack locals and visitors in week after week. For that show, they even have a "sell out/order out" policy -- if it's a sold-out show, they order pizza for the whole audience. No, not a lot of pizza: just a single extra large thin-crust pie, which they cut into inch-square pieces so everybody gets a taste. Neo-Futurists, 5153 N. Asland, Chicago. http://neofuturists.org/
THE GIFT THEATRE is so small that no audience member is more than four rows from the action. This places audience members so close to the action that it can be truly frightening; for the current production of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," that action includes fistfights and electroshock therapy. The work is top-notch, and often features actors seen on the city's larger (read: more expensive) stages. 4802 Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. http://www.thegifttheatre.org/
REMY BUMPPO has been presenting challenging, thought-provoking, and artistically recognized productions in Chicago for over a decade. Its theater is an intimate 150 seats, and has provided guests with award-winning performances of Holiday, A Delicate Balance, The Best Man, and Man and Superman, among others. http://www.remybumppo.org/
PORCHLIGHT MUSIC THEATER has made a name for itself by bringing musical theater to intimate stages. The company has staged 36 shows including five world premieres and four Chicago premieres. Since becoming an equity contract theater with its 10th anniversary 2004-2005 season, Porchlight has merited 24 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations. PMT has also received 31 Jeff Citation (non-equity) nominations, 11 Jeff Citations and 28 After Dark Awards. http://www.porchlighttheatre.com
Go hear some authentic Chicago Blues!
2548 N. Halsted St. (Lincoln Park)
Voted Chicago's best blues club 8 years in a row by the Chicago Music Awards, this small little storefront (now 3 storefronts) is the place to go to rub elbows with the greats of Blues plus a few celebrities (Mick Jagger is reported to be a regular). The place is small and smokey but in a great location. Cover price $15 - you can also buy tickets online in advance. You can take the EL (Brown or Red) to Fullerton. http://www.kingstonmines.com
736 N. Clark St (River North)
This is the place to go if you want to dance. The line-up is heavy on generic blues performers. On weekends, the cover is higher and there's usually a two drink minumum. Cover Charge: $8 Sunday through Thursday. $10 Friday and Saturday. Take the El (Red) to Chicago. http://www.bluechicago.com/club/info.html
Buddy Guy's Legends
754 S. Wabash Ave. (Printers Row- Wabash & 8th)
Owned by a Blues great, this is the place to see nationally reknowned acts like Taj Mahal and Koko Taylor. It is often difficult to get a seat on weekends. From a historical perspective, Buddy Guy's Legends has been the setting for a number of blues documentaries, as well as the location for several live albums, videos, television shows and major motion pictures. http://www.buddyguys.com
Jammin' At the Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo puts favorite musical acts onto the wildest stage in Chicago (in front of the Lion House). The concerts are general admission (so bring a blanket) and are held on the South Lawn. Past performers have included The Jayhawks, Joan Osborne, Liquid Soul and The Robert Cray Band. No outside food or beverage allowed but they sell ice cold beers, wine and food. The Kovler Lion House, Flamingo Exhibit and Kovler Sea Lion Pool are all open during the event.
The show/club is called Chicago Underground Comedy. The show features a rotating group of comedians, and apparently there are alos guests sets of comedians who have left the city or are visiting. At any rate this is one of the coolest things i have been to. The night is laid back, the jokes are funny and smart, and not stuff you've heard before. They have got a cool thing going, and i hope more people check these guy's out before they get to famous and leave town. I highly recommend this show to people who love smart cool humor, and want to have a good time.
Downtown Chicago you can find numberous theatres and private stages, especially in the theatre district. Here is a list of the most famous ones:
THEATRE DISTRICT THEATERS
The Auditorium Theatre
50 E. Congress Parkway at Michigan Ave.
The Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 WEST RANDOLPH
The Chicago Theatre
175 N. State Street Chicago, IL 60601
312-462-6300, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place
Water Tower Place
175 East Chestnut Street Chicago, IL 60611
Ford Center for Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre
24 W. Randolph St.
The Goodman Theatre
170 North Dearborn Chicago, IL 60601
The Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance
205 East Randolph Drive in Chicago's Millennium Park, 312-334-7777,
The Shubert Theatre
22 West Monroe Street at State
Silk Road Theatre Project
The Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St. Basement Auditorium
312-236-6881 email: email@example.com
Chicago has many great local bands that the traveler might miss. Here are some links to their sites, enjoy:
Music Box Theater
3733 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, Il. 60613
phone (773) 871-6604
This is a really cool theater. They show lots of interesting movies, from old silent films to film noir to cult movies. It is an old theater with the red velvet curtain that rises at the beginning of the film and a starry night sky above the audience. They also have an organ to accompany the silent movies. It is definitely worth checking out. They list their movie schedule for three months at time. Check out the website!
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind -- This is theatre unlike any theatre I've ever seen before. A cast of about a dozen does 30 short plays in an hour. Or tries to. The audience picks the plays by number on a voice vote. It's cheap and it's very engaging. The cast serves sodas and homemade brownies in the lounge before the show. Seating is first-come first-served and the atmosphere is very intimate. It's on Clark Street just south of Foster Avenue. From downtown take the 22 Clark bus north to Foster or take the CTA Red Line north to Berwyn and transfer to the 92 Foster bus, and get off at Clark.
I'm still discovering things all the time, being a newcomer myself, but I'd say that most people would miss the Live Bait Theatre. I only use this as an example, as there are hundreds of other storefront theatres just like it. (Stage Left, Straw Dogs, etc.)
To get the real scoop on Chicago's theatre scene, check out some store front theatre. The Live Bait Theatre is at 3917 N. Clark St. Right across from a huge cemetary, and 2 blocks north of Wrigley Field.