The Shubert Theater will always be a very special place for me. My Fair Lady was the first live performance musical that I had ever seen, and it was right here that I saw it. What an experience! I was in my late teens, already a film buff, and had fallen in love with musicals through their screen versions. I already had a love affair with Musical Comedy, and had original cast recordings of most of the major plays to date. And then it happened. The curtain went up, and the magic began.
When the Music Man opened at the Shubert, I was fortunate enough to run into Forest Tucker's valet, who was looking for a cheap source of photographs that Chicago's Professor Harold Hill could autograph. Why not? I took the job. It meant several wonderful trips backstage and an opportunity to meet many of the cast members. Thanks to Mr. Tucker, I not only got to see the play as a courtesy, but I was able to take my date backstage to meet the stars and get some very precious autographs. It was a really neat time.
The marquee of the Shubert Theater is probably one of the least impressive in my Chicago series, belied by a beautiful and intimate interior that is rare in more modern venues. The sight lines are excellent from just about any vantage point in the theater, unless you are unfortunate enough to wind up behind one of the pillars that support the mezzanine. Actually, they never sold those seats, but would give them away if needed. The theater is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough to accomodate most of the musicals that have toured Chicago through the years. In later years, McCormack place and the Auditorium Theater began to attract the larger musicals, simply because of their expanded seating capacities. McCormack Place had almost taken over the Chicago base for musicals (before the Auditorium was restored) and this was sad, since the sight lines, distances and acoustics were all inferior to the Shubert.
When Rex Harrison brought the revival of My Fair Lady to Chicago, it played at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormack Place rather than the Shubert. I can tell you from my own experience that the Shubert experience was far superior. (and that was without Harrison, as Michael Evans played the Chicago lead) Yet, for a while it looked like the best performances were finding other venues. The Shubert Theater went through a period where it was dark for many weeks at a time.
The Shubert Theater has been revived in recent years with new ownership and an intentional look to the future. Nancy and I recently saw revivals of "Chicago" and "Cabaret" there and they were terrific. We expect to be back there when we can.
Here's a link to a picture of the Shubert as it looks today.
The following history has been ported over from Chicago-citysearch.com.
"Originally entitled the Majestic Theatre, the million-dollar palace opened on New Year's Day 1906 as the city's largest building and its first new theater since the tragic Iroquois Theatre fire three years before. (Naturally, it incorporated numerous fire safety precautions stemming from that disaster.) Operating as a first-class vaudeville house, it also booked musical and dramatic attractions. In the 1920s, the Majestic, under the same management as the Chicago Opera House, Olympic Theatre and Haymarket Theatre, joined the famous Orpheum "aristocratic vaudeville" circuit to present the likes of Harry Houdini, Eddie Foy, the George M. Cohans, and English star Lillie Langtry. The Depression ended that golden age and in 1931, like many theaters across the country, the Majestic closed its doors and remained empty for 15 years."
"In 1945 the Shubert brothers, Lee and J.J., bought the Majestic, renamed it the Sam Shubert Theatre (after a late elder brother) and redecorated it while retaining much of the sturdy original design. The theater's second life brought it virtually all the major Broadway musical hits of the '40s, '50s and '60s. But the decline of new musical ventures in the '70s, combined with competition from the burgeoning off-Loop theater scene, ensured that the theater was dark for weeks at a time over too many seasons."
"In 1991 the Nederlander Organization purchased the Majestic building and the ground lease from the Shubert Organization. Nederlander's varied subscription seasons have alternated Broadway plays ("Master Class," "Barrymore" with Christopher Plummer), with musicals ("Grease!," "Chicago," "Damn Yankees" with Jerry Lewis), solo shows (Jackie Mason, Lynn Redgrave), classical and popular musical concerts (Mandy Patinkin), dance recitals ("Tango X 2") and even sporting events. As "Rent" proves, a new generation of theatergoers are willing to wait for hours outside the grand old theater to buy tickets to see the latest prize-winning musical."