James M. Nederlander Theatre Information
About Nederlander Theatre
Located at 24 West Randolph Street in the heart of downtown Chicago’s Loop area, the James M. Nederlander Theatre, formerly known as the Oriental Theatre, opened in 1926 as a deluxe movie palace and vaudeville venue. Now, operated by Broadway In Chicago, it has evolved into a vibrant theater, with a seating capacity of 2,253, that showcases live Broadway shows.
The Oriental Theatre made its grand debut on the 8th May 1926, taking the place of the Iroquois Theatre. The Iroquois Theatre opened on the 23rd November 1903, and tragically became the site of the historic fire in December that year, which is known as the deadliest theater fire and the most fatal single-building fire in U.S. history!!
Over the years, the Oriental theater showcased popular first-run movies accompanied by lavish stage performances. Classic stars to grace the stage included: The Three Stooges, Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Duke Ellington, and Danny Kaye. Despite changes in management, the venue consistently featured films and hosted live acts, including performances by Gladys Knight and the Pips and Stevie Wonder.
Many other stars graced the stage, including Ann-Margret, Sebastian Arcelus, George Benson, Stephanie J. Block, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Eddie Cantor, Gavin Creel, Bing Crosby, Danny Thomas, Alice Faye, Stepin Fetchit, Ella Fitzgerald, Ana Gasteyer, Montego Glover, Jean Harlow, Billie Holiday, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Eartha Kitt, Jerry Lewis, Chico Marx, Hal Pearl, Penn & Teller, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, and Henny Youngman.
The theater closed its doors in 1971 after screening the action film “The Female Bunch.” While the theater was empty for more than a decade, the lobby was transformed into a retail TV and radio store. In an attempt to preserve its historical significance, the theater was added to the Federal National Registry of Historic Places in 1978, but it sadly started to deteriorate.
By 1981, the theater closed to the public, and there were discussions about converting the site into a shopping mall and cinema. In 1996, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley intervened and announced plans to restore the venue to its former glory for touring Broadway shows and premieres. The refurbished theater reopened on the 18th October 1998, with a seating capacity of 2,253.
In 1997, it was renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and hosted the Chicago premiere of “Ragtime.” Fast forward to the turn of the millennium, and Broadway In Chicago, brought a number of successful productions to the stage. From June 2005 through to January 2009, the theater showcased the record-breaking run of “Wicked,” which became the most popular stage production in Chicago history!!
Other award winning shows included the 2009 Tony Award-winning musical “Billy Elliot,” starring Cesar Corrales as Billy from the 18th March to 28th November 2010. The theater also showcased pre-Broadway runs of “On Your Feet!” from the 2nd June to 15th July 2015, as well as “SpongeBob SquarePants” from the 7th June to 10th July 2016. “The Cher Show,” a “bio-musical” exploring Cher’s life and music, was also a megahit which premiered on the 12th June 2018, for a five-week run. Other large productions include: “The Addams Family,” “Big Fish,” “Escape to Margaritaville,” and “Pretty Woman: the Musical.”
In February 2019, the theater was rebranded as the James M. Nederlander Theatre, paying homage to the legendary Broadway theater owner and producer, James M. Nederlander. As the founder of Broadway In Chicago, he played a crucial role in the evolution of theater in the city for over six decades. According to Richard Christiansen of the Chicago Tribune, the reopening of the Oriental Theatre sparked the restoration of other theaters in The Loop.
The Loop is a part of Chicago’s elevated rail system where several train lines (Orange, Green, Purple, Brown, and Pink) form a loop around downtown. It’s home to world-class cultural attractions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center, and the theater district.
Designed by the legendary George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp, the Oriental Theatre, stood among the first motion picture palaces designed to offer a complete experience for the theatergoer. Still to this day, the venue is a virtual art museum that is inspired by the architectural marvels of India. It features large mosaics, an inner foyer with elephant-throne lighting, vibrant glazed Buddhas, and an auditorium offering a design reminiscent of “hasheesh dreams.”