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LaSalle Bank Theatre Gets Closer to Opening

LaSalle Bank Theatre

It was born the Majestic Theatre in 1906, reincarnated as the Shubert Theatre in 1945, and will continue life as the LaSalle Bank Theatre, the Chicago flagship property of the Nederlander Organization, following a yearlong renovation and historic restoration. The Nederlanders purchased the 20-story Majestic Building, which includes the theatre, from the Shuberts in 1991 but declined to spend the money for a new marquee with the Nederlander name.

Now the Nederlanders are investing more than $6 million of their own money in the LaSalle Bank job, as the cost has escalated from $8 million to $14 million. Most of the original $8 million cost was covered by $2.5 million in tax increment funding from the city of Chicago and the long-term purchase of naming rights by LaSalle Bank (a division of ABN Amro) for an estimated $5 million.

The Nederlanders will earn back their investment not only through the sustained -- and enhanced -- life of the playhouse, but also from the conversion of the Majestic Building into a 135-room Hampton Inn hotel. The Nederlander Organization has partnered with two Chicago-based companies with experience in hotel development and management. The partners have put up all or most of the cash for the conversion -- $26 million -- but the Nederlanders will retain partial ownership of the hotel as well as full ownership of the theatre.

The LaSalle Bank Theatre is one of four Chicago houses booked under the banner of Broadway in Chicago, of which Nederlander executive Lou Raizin is president. Along with chief architect George Halik (of the firm Booth Hansen), Raizin recently took the press on a hardhat tour, demonstrating that the theatregoing public will benefit from vastly improved amenities in a house restored to jewellike architectural beauty. The semi-gut renovation has allowed for the installation of new mechanical and electrical systems, the pouring of a new auditorium floor, the installation of a fire sprinkler system throughout the house, the doubling of lobby space, and the tripling of restroom size. All of the site's ancient asbestos-clad wiring and lead-based paint have been removed.

Restored historic elements -- some hidden for half a century -- include mosaic floors, barrel vault ceilings in plaster bas relief, solid brass embellishments, and a two-story atrium lobby with classical columns. The building's exterior decorative terra cotta is also being restored or duplicated. The new interior color scheme will feature deep-red carpeting and walls, cream trim, and plentiful gold lacquer and gold leaf highlights. It will have 2,016 new seats, about 80 fewer than before. Raizin says the memorial photo of Sam S. Shubert in the lobby will remain.

The business end of the LaSalle Bank Theatre is being redone as well. New rigging, a new stage floor, and dressing rooms with new drywall and plumbing should all make life better for the backstage inmates. The stage dimensions, however, will remain unchanged. Unlike the renovations to the Ford Center/Oriental and Cadillac Palace theatres in the 1990s, there are no adjoining buildings that can be cannibalized to enlarge the LaSalle Bank Theatre's stage and house. Raizin says that's an advantage, citing pre-Broadway productions that might want to try out in a house with dimensions close to those of most Broadway theatres, such as Spamalot, the last show to play the Shubert before it closed.

The LaSalle Bank Theatre, located at 18 West Monroe St., reopens with a May 20 special event. The first show booked in the theatre is Golda's Balcony, starring Valerie Harper, May 30-June 11.

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