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Iconic Auditorium Theatre Celebrates 50 Years Since Grand Reopening

The venue’s CEO discusses its spectacular history and aspirations for its future.

The venue’s exterior on the night of its grand reopening in 1967. An estimated 4,000 people attended.   Photo: Courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Auditorium Theatre CEO Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, who curated Sunday’s A Golden Celebration of Dance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the theater’s reopening.

The event on Sunday toasts 50 years since the theater reopened. Why did it close in the first place?

The Auditorium opened in 1889, and it was the original home for the Chicago Symphony and Chicago Opera. Then in 1942, during World War II, it was turned into a center for GIs. They turned the stage into a bowling alley, and I’ve heard there was even a baseball game played inside—that’s how big the space is. It didn’t open again until 1967, and that’s what we’re celebrating.

Why was the reopening such a big deal?

The people of Chicago felt it was on par with greatest theaters in the world. When the theater was built, it received incredible attention for its architecture. (The original fundraising documents for the reopening talk about the importance of the theater as an economic driver, and also as a place that brings people together.) The philanthropist Ferdinand Peck, who had the idea for the building, wanted a theater to serve all of Chicago. He thought that if all people, regardless of their station in life, could come together under one roof, we would have a better city.

Who are some notable artists who’ve performed at the theater?

Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, the Who, the Doors, Prince. Anna Pavlova, a famous Russian ballerina, and Isadora Duncan. Booker T. Washington spoke here on October 16, 1900, about the schools he was building in the South. Then when Broadway came to Chicago, they came to Auditorium. Phantom premiered here, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon.

You’re celebrating the reopening with an evening of dance. Why that art form?

Dance is such a strong part of what we do and will continue to do. The works we chose represent the past and future of the Auditorium as it relates to dance. For the reopening in 1967, the New York City Ballet performed and were here for the entire week. The night the theater reopened they performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was like the theater had been asleep for years and then reawakened. In the lead roles were Edward Villella and Suzanne Farrell. 50 years later, they both agreed to be honorary co-chairs of the evening.

The night is also a nod to things we’d like to do in the future. We’re bringing in some companies that have never performed here, as well as a young dancer, Madison Penney, who represents the future of dance. She’s only 13, but she’s the winner of the Youth America Grand Prix, which is the world’s largest youth ballet competition. What I really want people to come away with is what a jewel this theater is to the city.

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