A “new” theatre for Broadway in Chicago — but will it work?

Inside the former Drury Lane Water Tower

Broadway in Chicago announced today that they’ve expanded their theatre network to include a new venue: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.  

Actually, it’s not entirely a new venue, but actually the old Drury Lane Water Tower theatre – a cozy space unfortunately tucked behind the ugly Water Tower Place shopping conglomerate.  

I’ve seen a handful of shows at this plushly decorated spot, which featured a sea of red velvet, gold-leafed whatnots, and chandeliers a-plenty. It was, after all, a (former) sister theater of the tackyglam suburban Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace (where Ragtime is currently playing).  

And with 549 seats, it’s an ideal venue for an audience member – not a bad seat in the house.  

There, I’ve seen the Chicago sit-down productions of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (my thoughts here) and Xanadu (thoughts here) as well as Drury Lane’s grand staging of Grand Hotel (some (brief) thoughts here).  

The common thread between all these shows? Fantastic productions in empty houses. Spelling Bee, though having a respectable run of a little over a year, and Xanadu, which ran only a few months, both closed prematurely. Grand Hotel had more people onstage than in the audience the afternoon I saw it. From what I understand, this was a common problem.  

Can Broadway in Chicago drive audiences to this happy little flophouse? We shall see. It doesn’t hurt, though, that they are renovating the venue for a “fresh and inviting look.” Translation? Bye-bye red velvet and chandeliers! And, more importantly, the entrance will no longer be tucked away. (Though, I’m not sure where it will be relocated — information I’ve read hasn’t made that entirely clear.) I’m also not sure if there will be any major changes to the actual performance space, other than cosmetic.

It also doesn’t hurt when you have the sparkling Sutton Foster rechristening the place. The Tony-winning Broadway sweetheart will reopen the theatre with her one-woman show, set for September 23 – 26.

In addition to Ms. Foster, some other shows have been announced for the venue, including a “newly imagined” production of Stephen Schwartz’s 1978 musical Working.  

What else could work at the new Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place?  

I’m a broken record — I know this — but transfer Drury Lane’s Ragtime! Though, perhaps Drury Lane wants to distance themselves from their former venue? However, if the roaring response this production received at curtain call both times I saw it is any indication, audiences will arrive in droves.

Or perhaps Next to Normal

What would you like to see?

10 thoughts on “A “new” theatre for Broadway in Chicago — but will it work?

  1. “Next to Normal” would be an ideal choice, of the current crop, and “Rock of Ages” would make a lot of sense. I’m just sad it wasn’t available for “Spring Awakening”, “Avenue Q”, “August: Osage County”, or the upcoming “The 39 Steps.”

    1. While ideal for an audience member to increase the intimacy of these smaller shows, Ave Q, Spring Awakening, Aug: OC and Rock of Ages are (probably) top-sellers, and I bet BIC wouldn’t want to put them in a smaller-capacity house.

  2. Oh, I know the economics, but I also think they could have gotten months out of some of them, particularly Spring and August, and in the end made more money. Wishful thinking, maybe.

  3. I would love to see “Next to Normal” in this space because it is a smaller venue and I think it would work better for that show. Same thing goes for “Rock of Ages,” which I mostly say because of the premise of the show. I’m also pretty sure that the “Next to Normal” tour isn’t stopping in Chicago, so maybe this will peak the producers’ interest.

  4. This is great news. I’d love to see “Next to Normal” there for sure. Despite being a fan of the music since the off-Broadway run, I haven’t been able to make it out to New York since it opened last spring. But from everything I’ve read, a production like that would lose a lot of its impact in a theater as large as The Palace for example. My seat for “Xanadu” was great so I look forward to seeing more productions at the space.

    1. Love the cast recording for N2N, but, like you, Jennifer, I’ve never seen it — and would love to.

      Monica: Maybe I missed something, but I haven’t heard about N2N coming to Chi, either. Which makes me wonder if they were planning some sort of sit-down production. Who knows.

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