In 1906, the Majestic Theater opened in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. In 1945, it was renamed the Shubert. In 2005, it was renamed the LaSalle Bank Theatre and closed for major renovations. And here we are in the theater’s centennial year and it’s still closed; those renovations have been massive indeed.
I have soft spot for the Shubert Theatre (it's going to take me a while to get that new name down), which I hope will be transferable to the LaSalle Bank Theatre. Compared to the other major Loop venues – the Oriental, the Auditorium, the Cadillac Palace – the Shubert is something of a scrawny ugly duckling. I’ve always known it as a drab, cramped place, a little more run-down than it ought to be, especially considering that some pretty major shows have played there – Spamalot, pre-Broadway, to name a recent example. I sat high up in the balcony for The Will Rogers Follies a few years back, and the steep pitch of the floor up there was positively vertigo-inducing. I don’t know whether they can do much about that, but I do know that they’re making a lot of improvements, and even making a few interesting discoveries. According to an article in today’s Chicago Sun-Times (you can read it yourself if you click right here), there was some heavy ornamental plaster work that has turned out to not be plaster at all, but actually brass! It was painted over heavily and made to look like plaster so that it wouldn’t be stripped and melted down during World War II. I love stuff like that!
I know it’s a little late in the game, but I do have one item I’d like to add to the renovators’ to-do list. It has to do with the front row of the balcony. I sat there once for a Mandy Patinkin concert, and the foot room was nasty! Note that I didn’t say “leg room” – forget about your legs; the floor actually pitched upward there, forcing my feet and knees up into a dreadful posture. I could barely walk when I got up at the end of the night. To top it off, Mr. Patinkin was losing his voice and did very little singing that night, opting instead to regale us with stories about growing up in Chicago. He sincerely apologized for his inability to sing, and he’s a very entertaining storyteller, though it wasn’t what I’d forked over the big bucks for. But I digress. I just want them to fix the floor and I’ll gladly sit there again.
For the record, the LaSalle Bank Theatre is scheduled to reopen in May. The first show scheduled to play there will be Golda’s Balcony, a one-woman show about Golda Meir starring Valerie Harper.