WIN: Landmark Biograph Theater Reopens After Being Shuttered for Years

“After a long fallow period, the landmark Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., once again opens its doors for regular patronage this week, thanks to twin touring productions from Los Angeles-based Theatre 68. The unifying factor is Ronnie Marmo, the company’s artistic director, who finds inspiration in these very different biographies.

“It’s a welcome reopening for the venue, initially a cinema house that opened in 1914. In 1934, the Biograph was the setting for the last stand of notorious bank robber John Dillinger, who was shot dead by FBI agents upon emerging from the venue. (A mural in the nearby alley commemorates the event.) In the 1980s, the Biograph hosted weekly midnight screenings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“In 2004, after nine decades as a movie house, the Biograph transformed into a theater venue under the auspices of Victory Gardens. But the pandemic plus turmoil within the company has kept the space dark for the past several years. (It did recently host one weekend of performances by the International Puppet Theater Festival in January.)

“Marmo told Block Club he hopes his dual productions can kick-start a return to glory for the venue, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“‘They’ve treated our coming as an opportunity to freshen up the whole place,’ he said. ‘They’re refurbishing the entire marquee, literally changing out every one of those bulbs. There’s brand-new paint on all the walls. … They’re creating a gorgeous space that will be available for producers in the community to come do their shows.’

“‘I’ll go out on a limb and say Chicago honestly, genuinely has been the most supportive city I’ve performed in. That’s why I keep coming back,’ he said. ‘You have this really savvy theater audience who has an expectation of you, but they’re also really rooting for you. Maybe it’s the Midwest mentality? I don’t know. But there’s an energy — you get the sense that they’re on your side, and that’s not true all around the country.’

“For one thing, he’s well aware of the venue’s historical importance. ‘As an Italian-American, especially with this face, I’m supposed to know the history of guys like Dillinger,’ he joked.

“On a more serious note, he added, ‘I think Chicago is hungry to get back into theater,” he said, “and I’d love to be a part of some revitalization.’ (Behrens, Block Club Chicago, 3/5/24)

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago

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