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Keeping Up with the Auditorium

Arts & Culture

by Lily Oberman

The Auditorium Theatre is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year!

“When the Auditorium Theatre was built, its founders hoped that it would serve as a place for all of Chicago and beyond to experience music, dance, theatre, speakers and beautiful architecture,” said Rich Regan, Auditorium Theatre CEO. “One hundred and thirty years later, we are honored to continue fulfilling this vision.”

The Auditorium Theatre was conceived by real estate tycoon Ferdinand Peck, who envisioned the theatre as a democratic venue that could serve as a place for all of Chicago to experience the performing arts. Peck contracted the architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan to design the theatre, which is world-renowned for its perfect acoustics, excellent sight lines and beautiful arches, illuminated by hundreds of golden carbon-filament lightbulbs.

The opening night performance on December 9, 1889 was attended by President Benjamin Harrison, Vice President Levi Morton and many other prominent figures of the day. Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked on the Auditorium as an employee of Adler and Sullivan’s firm, called the theatre “the greatest room for music and opera in the world — bar none.” The theatre was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1975 and was named the Outstanding Historic Theatre of 2019 by the League of Historic American Theatres.

In its early years, the theatre hosted speakers including President Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington; dance companies and artists including Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Isadora Duncan and Anna Pavlova; and musicians and performers such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sarah Bernhardt, John Philip Sousa and the theatrical revue Ziegfeld Follies. The Auditorium also served as the original home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Civic Opera.

In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, performers including Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell, among many others, all graced the theatre’s stage, beginning a musical legacy that continues today. The Auditorium also has hosted numerous Broadway productions, including the long-running Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and more recently The Color Purple and Jersey Boys.

Since 2014, when the theatre celebrated its 125th anniversary, the theatre has hosted the NFL Draft; speakers including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Sedaris and Eric Holder; and musicians and singers such as Kathleen Battle, Bernadette Peters, Neil Young, Death Cab for Cutie, Chance the Rapper and David Byrne. The theatre is home to visiting resident companies the Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theatre, and also presents dance companies including Ballet Folklórico de México, Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg and Giordano Dance Chicago.

Here’s to another 130 years of the beautiful Auditorium Theatre!


While the Auditorium Theatre is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, the theatre has been posting special content online to keep audiences connected to the performing arts and the theatre. The weekly performance series At Home with the Auditorium, airing every Sunday at 6 p.m. CT on Facebook Live, highlights singers (such as the soloists from Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah), musicians and dancers from the Auditorium’s community.

The #AudTalk series (posted on the theatre’s website, podcast platforms and social media every Wednesday at 1 p.m.) focuses on the theatre’s history, performers, programming initiatives like the Hearts to Art summer camp, and theatre staff.

To keep up with the Auditorium, visit


The Auditorium Theatre will be announcing its exciting 2020-21 season in the months ahead! You can be among the first to learn about the new season if you sign up for the theatre’s newsletter. With something for everybody in 2020-21, there’s never been a better time to purchase an Auditorium Theatre gift card, which can be redeemed on any upcoming performance.

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