Broadway in Chicago tours celebrate theaters’ history

Rachel Yang, Reporter


Stepping into one of the historic Broadway in Chicago theaters is like stepping into the past.

The ghosts of stars like Mae West and Humphrey Bogart haunt the expansive and ornate interiors and the era of silent films and screen sirens seems to have never come to an end.

The theaters, which include Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, the Oriental Theatre and the Bank of America Theatre, offer audience members and history buffs an look at relics of the past.

For Richard Anton, an usher at Broadway in Chicago and a tour guide of the organization’s historic theater tours, reliving the illustrious beauty and history of theater is exactly what the tours are all about.

“You get to appreciate the beauty of theater and learn a little bit about the show history and architectural history,” Anton said. “I hope people see what they usually don’t and think, ‘Oh yeah, I never noticed this.’”

Because tours groups usually range from five to 20 people, Anton said, visitors have an opportunity to absorb the details of the theaters without the obstructing crowds typically present before a big show. For example, at the Bank of America Theatre, which first opened in 1906 as the Majestic Theatre, visitors have ample time to marvel at the ornate golden adornments framed on the ceilings and the vaulted ceiling from which dazzling chandeliers hang.

The Cadillac Palace Theatre opened in 1926 as the New Palace Theatre and was designed after the luxurious palaces of Fontainebleau and Versailles. It was first established as an upscale vaudeville theater, although its focus has changed through the years. The theater has hosted runs of hit musicals such as “Les Miserables” and “Mary Poppins,” and was home to the 1999 premiere of Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical “Aida.”

Architecture enthusiast Aaron Giese, 19, said theaters are his favorite examples of architectural achievement.

“Theaters are very interesting to me because they’re so ornate and large,” said Giese, who attended the historic theater tour on Jan. 31, along with his brother Josh.

“It’s like a piece of art,” Josh Giese, 22, said. “A really large piece of art.”

He also said he admired the craftsmanship involved with the construction of the theater. “I was looking at (the dome in the Palace Theatre), I’m like, ‘How on Earth do you get the scaffolding to get in there to paint that?’… It just all amazes me.”

Besides those interested in architecture, people whose passions lie in musical theater can gain insight into the production and behind-the-scenes aspects of the Broadway in Chicago shows. The tour of the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Saturday, for example, included stops such as a performer’s currently unused dressing room and the exclusive suite theater-goers usually have to pay extra to use.

Visitors were also treated to numerous stories Anton has collected from more than 10 years of working at Broadway in Chicago.

“I have a catalog of stories where I can go, ‘What am I going to pull out today?’” Anton said.

For instance, Anton said the actress who played Mary Poppins had to make a mad dash from the catwalk near the ceiling of the theater to the elevator for a costume change, and then sprint down a walkway in order to take a bow for the end of the show, all in the span of three minutes.

From architectural history to sneak peaks of the behind-the-scenes action of Broadway, visitors who choose the historic theater tour of the Broadway in Chicago theaters will discover some aspect of the tour that caters to their respective interests. The Giese brothers, for instance, had nothing but positive words about the tour.

“The guys are really knowledgeable about the theater, and they’re passionate about it too,” Josh Giese said.

He also said even though he doesn’t follow musicals, because of the tour, “I’d probably splurge on a Broadway show sometime.”

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