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Explore Chicago’s theater scene

By Marla Cichowski

Your trip to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the city’s theater scene. Lucky for you, the options are endless.

Broadway in Chicago
Credit: Illinois Office of Tourism

Best of Broadway

You can find the best of Broadway right here in the heart of Chicago. Broadway in Chicago offers the latest and greatest award winning musicals in Chicago’s vibrant and bustling theater district. Traveling on a budget? Take advantage of last-minute discounts to your favorite shows.

For a more intimate experience arrange for a behind-the-scenes tour at three of the city’s most historic theaters, including the Cadillac Palace Theater, James M. Nederlander Theatre and the CIBC Theatre which dates back to 1906.  Soak in the stunning architecture of these Chicago landmarks while learning about the famous musicians and actors who graced the stages decades ago.

Authentic acting

For an authentic Chicago theater experience step inside Steppenwolf Theatre in Lincoln Park and watch the masters perform on stage. This critically acclaimed theater ensemble, which began in the basement of a church forty years ago, has grown to become the “premier ensemble theater” in the country.

Steppenwolf delivers powerful performances featuring Chicago’s top talent. The Steppenwolf ensemble includes actors Tracey Letts, Joan Allen, John Mahoney and Gary Sinise. After the performance be sure to stick around for the thought provoking Q&A sessions with the show’s producers. The theater describes its vision as “an artist-driven theater, whose vitality is defined by its sharp appetite for groundbreaking, innovative work.”

The Goodman Theatre is where classic meets contemporary. A true Chicago landmark, the Goodman is the oldest and largest not-for-profit theater in the city. It has won international acclaim for its productions and received the Special Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Prepare to laugh, cry and feel inspired as you watch well-known Chicago artists shine on stage.

Comedy clubs

If comedy is more your style, then Chicago is your playground. No visit to Chicago is complete without taking in a show at Second City in Old Town. Second City has been making audiences laugh out loud since the doors opened in 1959, and is considered by many to be the birthplace of improvisation. The number of famous comedians and Saturday Night Live alums who have performed at Second City is too long to list. Even if the mainstage performances are sold out, don’t worry. Check out the shows on the ETC stage or their comedy training center performances and discover up-and-coming talent.

UP Comedy Club also features stand-up comedians and improv shows like Improv All Stars and The Best of Second City.

Improv Olympic, known as the iO Theater, in Lincoln Park delivers nonstop comedy focused on long form improvisation. You’ve heard of Amy Poehler, right?  Well this is where she, Tina Fey, and Seth Meyers and many others crafted their killer improv skills before hitting the big time. iO features nightly shows in its four theaters and, yes, there’s a bar (and plenty of food) to keep the fun flowing before and after the show. One of iO’s most popular and longest running shows is Whirled News Tonight improv comedy inspired by weekly news headlines. Catch the show on Saturday nights or check out free shows every Wednesday night.

If you’re looking for laughs in the heart of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, head to ComedySportz and Annoyance Theatre where you’ll find high-energy interactive comedy. ComedySportz is the longest-running, game-based, short-form improv comedy show in Chicago where a referee emcees an improv battle between two teams relying on the audience (aka, YOU) for suggestions throughout the show. You’ll be cracking up in no time. Just down the street on Belmont, the Annoyance Theater features a range of improv sketch teams and shows with prices that will make your wallet smile.

Dance & music

Chicago’s theater scene wouldn’t be complete without the performing arts. The Joffrey Ballet is a world-class ballet company presenting classic, cutting-edge and breathtaking works. All Joffrey Ballet performances take place at the historic Auditorium Theatre in Chicago’s Loop. The Joffrey’s annual Nutcracker performance is a must-see during the holiday season.

Contemporary dance has a long history in Chicago thanks to the Hubbard Street Dance Company. The dance company tours the world and performs on a seasonal schedule at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance bordering Chicago’s Millennium Park.

If classical music is your passion, then don’t miss a visit to Symphony Center on Michigan Avenue to see the acclaimed Chicago Symphony Orchestra and legendary conductor, Riccardo Muti.  If you’re visiting during the summer months, jump on board the Metra train north to Ravinia Park and take in a symphony performance under the stars at Ravinia Festival.