The History of the Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater (no relation to New York City's Apollo Theatre) is a lush venue with a prestigious reputation, located in the heart of Chicago's fashionable Lincoln Park neighborhood. Built in 1978 by theatre producers Jason Brett and Stuart Oken and twice renovated, the Apollo boasts a dramatic glass and concrete design conceived by Chicagoan Michael Lustig. Its three-quarter thrust stage has 440 plush seats configured in just eleven rows, allowing audiences a theatrical experience unparalleled in intimacy and accessibility.
The Apollo Theater has a rich theatrical history. For its inaugural engagement, producers Oken and Brett chose Albert Innaurato's Gemini,which featured the production's original Broadway director, Peter Schifter. David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago became a smash hit at the Apollo, starring Jim Belushi in his dramatic stage debut and directed by former Second City Artistic Director Sheldon Patinkin.
The Apollo's second season brought Clifford Odet's 1930s American classic, Waiting for Lefty, also directed by Sheldon Patinkin. The subsequent production, Stephen Wade's Banjo Dancing, established a trend of long-running hits at the Apollo. Other long-running productions of the 1980s include Harry Chapin: Lies and Legends, Steel Magnolias,and Pump Boys and Dinettes, which set a Chicago longevity record for a musical by running five years.
In August of 1996, producer Rob Kolson and his company Rob Kolson Creative Productions took over control of the Apollo. Since then, the theater's track record for acclaimed hits has remained unblemished. The Apollo hosted two phenomenally popular musicals, Always...Patsy Cline and Buddy...The Buddy Holly Story, followed by Robert Dubac's long-running one man show The Male Intellect: an oxymoron?
Following was the Jeff-recommended production of the hilarious musical comedy Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! based on Allan Sherman's Grammy-award winning hit, which ran for the entire season. Beginning July, 2000, Neil Simon's timeless classic The Odd Couple (Female Version) starring Barbara Eden and Rita McKenzie played for a summer run.
On September 26, 2000, the critically acclaimed smash hit The Vagina Monologues made its Midwest premiere at the Apollo with author Eve Ensler starring in the production for a limited five-week run. The Vagina Monologues then continued its run with a three-cast version, starring an array of renown local and national stars, including Loretta Swit, Kim Fields, Mayim Bialik, Dawn Wells, Judy Tenuta, Maureen McCormick, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed. The show, which enjoyed a nearly three year run at the Apollo, quickly evolved to become the fastest-selling show in the history of the Theater
On July 25, 2003, the Smash Hit Menopause the Musical made its Chicago Debut on the Apollo main stage, becoming the highest grossing show in Apollo History, and entertaining nearly a quarter of a million people from Chicago and surrounding states. Menopause recently closed its doors after a three and a half year run.
During the summer of 2005, a smaller, second stage was added to the Apollo Theater. In the space formerly occupied by the Act One bookstore, the Apollo Studio was born. The 50 seat studio space has quickly become one of the most sought after venues for comedy, sketch, upstart theater companies, and improv. In Fall of 2006, the popular sketch group Baby Wants Candy moved their improvised musical to the Apollo Studio for an open ended run after 9 successful years at IO. Other artists and groups included Comedian/Political Satirist Aaron Freeman, Tracy Egan, WNEP and Rubicon Theaters, Triplette, Grandma June's Sewing Circle, Sketchcore, and many many more.
The Apollo is also home to Emerald City Theatre Company, Chicago's largest Children's Theater Company dedicated solely to families. Now in their 7th season at the Apollo, Emerald City Theatre Company draws nearly fifty-thousand patrons annually, and has been called "Chicago's most innovative theater for families" by the Chicago Sun-Times.