by Tony Frankel on June 16, 2020

in Theater-Chicago


Executive Director, L. Walter Stearns and partner Business Manager Eugene Dizon announced today the permanent closure of Mercury Theater Chicago after ten years and 25 productions, due to the uncertain future in the performing arts (and beyond) caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the incredible financial hardship that has come as a result.

Since re-opening in 2011, Mercury Theater Chicago has produced 25 plays and musicals including 4 world-premieres and 4 productions which were extended to over 100 shows, including the world premiere of The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes, and the long running hits Avenue Q, Spamalot, and Little Shop of Horrors (click on shows for Stage and Cinema‘s reviews). Mercury even took a musical I detested, The Addams Family, and turned it into a winner. They even managed to take that behemoth show, Barnum, and turn it into a delightful chamber piece.

The beautifully renovated Mercury Theater Chicago stands in the heart of the Southport Corridor at 3745 North Southport Avenue, within a sophisticated neighborhood of restaurants and boutiques just steps from Wrigley Field. Over the years, Mercury Theater Chicago has been enhanced with a new limestone façade, modern restroom facilities, a built-out restaurant (which is permanently closed as well), state of the art lighting, and sound systems. In 2018 Mercury unveiled its largest capital improvement, the Venus Cabaret Theater, an adjoining space offering entertainment with ‘bread and circuses’ — it was here they did Pippin.

The building that houses the Mercury opened in 1912 as a silent film nickelodeon called the Blaine Theater, named after former Senator and Secretary of State James G. Blaine. Around 1928 the popularity of “talkies” was on the rise, and the Blaine had become obsolete, so the much larger movie palace, the New Blaine Theater was built, which was shortly after named the Music Box Theater, still in operation today a few doors down from the Mercury. For most of the 20th century the original Blaine building served many retail purposes, including its operation as a carpet cleaning facility, using the rake of the seating area to lay rugs out and drain the water off. In 1994, veteran Chicago theater producer Michael Cullen organized the purchase and renovation of the building, re-dubbing it the Mercury Theater after Orson Welles’ famous troupe of War of the Worlds fame.

Though little of the Blaine still exists, you can see hints of what used to be inside, including decorative plaster pilaster busts flanking the house. The intimate theater now boasts warm exposed brick walls and 292 seats that were recovered and refurbished from a 1933 era Boston movie house.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of BARNUM, Mercury Theater Chicago

The four city-lot facility will now go dark until its next incarnation is determined. For more, visit Mercury Theater Chicago’s Facebook page.

Dan Zeff’s Stage and Cinema review of Freud's Last Session at Mercury Theater in Chicago

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