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Auditorium Theatre Celebrates 125 Years With Anniversary Gala And Programming

By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 10, 2014 7:00PM

Photo Credit: Jessica Mlinaric/Chicagoist

The “eighth wonder of the world” will celebrate an exceptional anniversary in Chicago next month. The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (50 E. Congress Pkwy.) will honor its 125-year historic and cultural legacy with a star-studded performance and gala next month.

Featuring more than 200 performances and events each year, the Auditorium Theatre hosts over a quarter of a million people annually. In recognition of its contributions to the city’s cultural landscape, the National Historic Landmark was named a Fifth Star Awards honoree by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The opening of the Auditorium Building in 1889 was a milestone in many respects. Following the Great Chicago Fire, philanthropist Ferdinand Wythe Peck sought to revitalize Chicago’s reputation on the international stage and democratize high culture for all social classes. In what would be their landmark project, architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan designed a modern, distinctly American innovation. The Auditorium Building was the largest structure in the United States; the tallest in Chicago; one of the heaviest constructions in the world; and the first recorded multi-use structure incorporating a luxury hotel and office space. Known for its exquisite acoustics, the theater also featured advances such as the flow of air conditioning through Sullivan’s beautifully disguised ducts; the glow of bare carbon filament light bulbs arching the magnificent space; and hydraulic lifts to raise and lower sections of the stage. Those are still in use today.

The theater’s gala opening night performance was the grandest event Chicago had known. Along with the city’s elite, President Benjamin Harrison, who was rumored to have whispered to Vice President Levi P. Morton, “New York surrenders, eh?” was in attendance. The triumph of the Auditorium Theatre was an indicator of Chicago’s ability to produce a world-class sensation, and was key in the city winning the 1893 Columbian Exposition hosting honor.

Exactly 125 years after its inaugural gala, the theater will celebrate Living the History—125 Years of the Auditorium Theater on Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. Hosted by Chicago actor John Mahoney, the event pays homage to the diverse entertainment that graced the Auditorium stage, from John Phillip Sousa to Jimi Hendrix.

Recognizing the venue's rich theatrical ties, Broadway legend Patti LuPone will perform on the same stage that her great-grand aunt Adelina Patti sang from at the Auditorium’s 1889 opening. The Apollo Chorus of Chicago, who also performed at the original gala, will perform from Les Misérables. Honoring the first home for Chicago’s classical music, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform as well as Lyric Opera of Chicago stars Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi and Eric Owens. In tribute to the Auditorium's world-renowned dance programming, dancers from the Joffrey Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will take the stage.

Honoring the Auditorium’s history of hosting legendary rock shows, the “All-Star Band” will turn the event up to eleven. The group is composed of Chicago musicians Jim Peterik (Ides of March and Survivor) on guitar and vocals, Barbara Unger-Wertico (The Buckinghams and Pat Metheny Secret Story Band) on keyboard, Richard Patterson (Miles Davis and Michael McDonald) on bass and Paul Wertico (Pat Metheny Group and Larry Coryell Power Trio) on drums.

The gala festivities will also include a special salute to the veterans accommodated at the Auditorium during WWII. A little known aspect of the Auditorium’s history is its use for housing, feeding, and entertaining more than 22 million servicemen. The theatre’s stage and front row were even converted into a bowling alley for the servicemen! Currently, the Auditorium is seeking memories from veterans and volunteers who visited the theatre during this period.

The Living the History—125 Years of the Auditorium Theatre performance will be immediately followed by a Gala Celebration Dinner at the Palmer House Hilton (17 E. Monroe St.).

“A true Chicago icon, the Auditorium Theatre rose out of the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire as the nation’s first multi-use building, and has continued making history ever since,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “For more than a century, the Auditorium Theatre has undoubtedly strengthened the cultural fabric of Chicago with innovative programming and involved events that have considered community and involved both residents and visitors alike.”

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University will continue to celebrate its 125th anniversary with special programming throughout the 2014-2015 season. First Lady Michelle Obama is serving as Honorary Chair, with honorary co-chairs Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago First Lady Amy Rule. Features of the anniversary season include the International Dance Series, “Made in Chicago” Dance Series, “Made in Chicago” Music Series, “Made in Chicago” Film Series, and Creative Engagement Programming of free or low cost family and community events. For more information on the Anniversary Season visit the Auditorium Theatre’s website.

“When the doors of the Auditorium Theatre opened in 1899, the world was not expecting the grandeur that came along with Adler and Sullivan’s pioneering design and insightful forward-thinking,” said Auditorium Theatre Executive Director Brett Batterson. “What the people of Chicago as well as the rest of the world received, was a historic space where anything could happen.”

Performance Only Tickets: $35 - $125; Available online, by phone at (800)982-ARTS, or at the Box Office
Gala Celebration Tickets (includes performance): Start at $500; Contact Amanda Martinez Byrne at (312) 341-3825 or