Think you need to trek 800 miles due east to see Tony Award-winning theater? Think again. Chicago is home to the nation's best theater — and no less than five theaters have earned the industry's highest coveted hardware.
Competition for the annual Regional Theatre Tony Award is ferocious. Consider the "regular" Tony Awards that only take Broadway shows into account. The Regional Tony contest is open to every last regional non-profit Equity house from sea to shining sea. Moreover, Regional Tony winners are selected by a notoriously difficult audience: Critics. Members of the American Theatre Critics Association vote annually on which theater should get the coveted prize, selecting from a short list of finalists curated by ATCA's executive committee.
Chicago boasts an unprecedented 5 Tony Award-winning regional theatre companies. Visit one to ensure theatre is part of your Chicago itinerary:
Year Won: 1985
1650 N. Halsted in Lincoln Park
The story of Steppenwolf is the story every single solitary off-Loop theater start-up dreams of emulating. More than any other company in town, the ensemble that includes (among others) Amy Morton, K. Todd Freeman, Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, Joan Allen, Gary Sinise, Tracy Letts, and John Malkovich embodies the muscular, no-holds-barred, fearless brand of acting that screams "Chicago". In 2008, Tracy Letts cemented the company's indelible stamp on theater's cultural consciousness with his extraordinary, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama August: Osage County. In addition to that Pulitzer, August won the Tony Award for Best Play.
A three-theater colossus with a rough-hewn feel that pays homage to its scrappy off-off-off Loop beginnings. The Downstairs Theatre seats 515, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre hosts more intimate works, and the 80-seat Garage space hosts the next generation of off-Loopers by giving space to up-and-coming companies.
Looking for pre-theater dining? Vinci has been serving up fabulous Italian cuisine for over a decade. And it's not break-the-bank expensive.
Year Won 1992
170 N. Dearborn in the Loop
Goodman is the Grand Dame of Chicago theater, founded in 1922 and producing some of Chicago's most notable theater ever since. Along the way, the theater has hosted premieres by some of the best playwrights in the country including Rebecca Gilman, Regina Taylor, and David Henry Hwang, among others. It gave Philip Seymour Hoffman a shot at directing (The Long Red Road), and every year gives staged readings and workshop productions to a host of emerging playwrights. Goodman is a theater risk taker, whether it's mounting radically reimagined interpretations of Shakespeare or staging brand new musicals by Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, and Mary Zimmerman.
Deluxe two-theater complex with spacious lobbies and plushy seats. The Albert Theatre seats 856 and the flexible Owen Theatre seats up to 450.
Petterino's restaurant is a perfect pre-show dining spot. You can get to the theater from the restaurant without having to go outside, and the décor includes hundreds of caricatures of the artists who have worked at the Goodman.
Victory Gardens Theater
Year Won: 2001
2433 N. Lincoln in Lincoln Park
Victory Gardens is all about taking risks, encouraging new works, and producing shows that are a reflection of the city's widely diverse population. Artistic Director Chay Yew programs the season with an eye toward telling stories about people of varying cultures, races and genders. You'll find Edward Albee at Victory Gardens, but you'll also find brand new works by Sarah Gubbins, Lauren Yee and Ayad Akhtar. Yew has a knack for finding playwrights who go on to major success (Kristoffer Diaz, Samuel Hunter), so if you're into finding the next big thing, Victory Gardens is a fine place to start looking.
The 299-seat Biograph Theater houses Victory Gardens' mainstage subscription shows. Upstairs, the 109-seat Richard Christiansen Theatre is home to resident and rental companies.
Victory Gardens, in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, is a quick 20-minute trip from downtown. The Fullerton El stop is the closest train stop and it is accessible by the Red, Brown, and Purple lines.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Year won: 2008
800 E. Grand Ave. on Navy Pier
If you think Shakespeare is akin to algebra on stage, you've never been to the Bard's home on Navy Pier. Here, the world of William is as accessible as the lyrics to your favorite pop song. Artistic director Barbara Gaines has a gift for making Shakespeare's words resonate with literary scholars and Elizabethan newbies alike, and she does it without dumbing down the profundity of one of the planet's greatest playwrights.
The 500-seat Courtyard Theater is modeled in part on London's famed Globe Theatre where Shakespeare staged his works during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The 200-seat Upstairs Theatre often hosts productions from around the world as part of Chicago Shakespeare's boundary-breaking World's Stage series, which brings in shows form South Africa to South Korea.
Take the elevator up to the sixth floor and check out the view from the restrooms. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful lake-and-skyline panoramas in the city.
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Year Won: 2011
821 N. Michigan along The Magnificent Mile
Lavish, visually sumptuous and often slightly cheeky renditions of classics ranging from Ovid to Dickens to Scheherazade to Melville are a defining characteristic of Lookingglass Theatre. Friends' David Schwimmer is a company member, as is prolific character actor Joey Slotnick. The company is known for incorporating stunning circus arts into productions including Lookingglass Alice, Hephaestus, and Cascabel. There's heart as well as dazzle in Lookingglass productions, where storytelling and spectacle merge with consistently stunning results.
Inside the old pumping station just south of the Water Tower Place mall. You'll walk through the actual water works en route to the box office. There's room for 240 seats in the flexible space (it'll look different every time you visit), and every one of them offers a close, clear view of the stage.
Just across the street is the Historic Water Tower, one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It originally housed a 135-foot iron standpipe used to regular water pressure, but now it's a small art gallery (City Gallery, 806 N. Michigan) — free and open daily!
This theatre guide is brought to you by the League of Chicago Theatres. Visit ChicagoPlays.com to see what exciting productions are on stage while you're here. If you're looking to get the inside scoop on what's happening across the city, get recommendations from our resident culture vultures at the Chicago Like a Local blog. Plus, be sure to check Hot Tix online calendar or at the three downtown locations for half-price theatre tickets.