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Life Span: 1900-1936
Location: 85 E. Jackson
Architect: Wilson & Marshall (Benjamin Marshall)
Chicago Tribune October 16, 1900
An audience paid $9,000 for the privilege of being in an adulatory mood dedicated the Illinois Theater last night. Julia Marlowe aided in the rite by unfolding before the audience the picturesque and touching story of that Barbara Frietchle whom Clyde Fitch gave dramatic existence. The actress and the play, however, were incidents to the house-warminging celebration. through both lIberal applause. For once the theater was the thing above the play performed under its root. And the excuse was ample.
A theater like the Illinois is not opened once a year or once in a decade. No playhouse its equal ever has been opened in Ch!cago. and the entire country contains few of its peers. Miss Marlowe, whose honor it was to give honor to the house, has asserted that it is the finest theater in the land. She might not be an unprejudiced person, but there are many others who hold opinions which differ little. In every mind the preeminent merit of the theater is that it is a theater and nothing else. The sentiment was passed from mouth to mouth last night by those who promenaded between acts up and down the brilliantly lighted foyer. But it was heard most often at the entrance. where the carriages emptied their repeated loads. Inside there were other beauties to attract, but without the building itself did not have the rivalry Gf its contents. Chicago, indeed, can pride itself on setting an example which other American cities may follow. Its acceptance will make the theater the home of an art and not the odd space of an office building.
Praise was not lavished alone on the exterior. It found occupation in doing justice to the foyer and beautiful auditorium. WVhlte and gold and crimson were the colors which blended into the attractive scheme of decoration. Yet they hardly blended, for the white and gold did rot leave the circle of the boxes and the line of the first gallery. Everywhere else the crimson ruled, from carpets to chairs, and from walls to ceiling. The red velvet drop curtain harmonized with the color arrangement, but scarcely as much could be said for the painted asbestos curtain, which was hurriedly raised when it was seen to be somewhat in conflict with its surroundings.
Calls for Niss Marlowe.
The audience gave hearty curtain calls at the end of the first and second acts, but Its determined efforts were reserved for the fall of the curtain after the third act. Miss Marlowe was bid forth, and when she only smiled, bowed, and retired she was summoned with renewed energy. After the lapse of several minutes, during which the hand-clapping was uninterrupted, the curtain was lifted again and she stood forth.
“I thank you,” she said; “I thank you deeply, and can assure you that I and my company feel more grateful than we can express for the honor of giving the first performance in your beautiful theater.”
Manager Davis Responds.
With a smile she ended, but the applause did not subside. There were calls for “.Davis,” “Davis.” Manager Will J. Davis at length rose from the box he occupied, but the criers in the gallery could not see him, and the noise did not subside. “Go on the stage.” some one shouted, and in obedience to the direction he stepped from the railing of the box to the stage.
“For myself,” he said. “and the gentlemen with us here. I want to thank this audience. And particularly because this is more than a representative audience. I can feel that this audience knows what I want to say, but I cannot say it. I can assure you of this, however, we are grateful to you for this magnificent ovation. We have banked on you and you are good.”
The architect, Benjamin Marshall, was called for, and Mr. Davis almost dragged him from the box to the stage.
“I want to introduce to you,” said the manager, “the young man who has been with us from the start to this magnificent finish.”
Mr. Marshall did not want to say anything for himself, but he was able to blurt out. “I thank you very much.” Then he hurried to his box.
Stage and Interior
Play a Promising Work.
Now to the play, which really deserves a better usage than the cavalier kind meted out to it in the preceding introduction. It Is not saying too much to say it is the most promising work which has yet come from Clyde Fitch, for it has a virility which has not been observed in his other plays, although the quality leans far this time toward melodrama. Mr. Fitch is a clever young man and he possesses a facility of expression beyond that of any of his fellow-workers in this country today, but somehow he has failed hitherto to Instil vigor in sufficient measure into any of his plays. “Barbara Frietchle” has enough, but strange as it may seem every attempt is made to conceal the fact. One may be Judged a heretic for saying it, but the performance last night brought the belief that Julia Marlowe, delightful as she was at every moment, was a little out of place in the piece. The sanity of her acting, the ease of her utterance, and the gentleness of her demeanor made her Barbara an epitome of the artistic, but did not help the play to show its stalwart points. Once or twice one had the feeling that rousing and poorer acting would have brought the appeal home stronger to the audience—at least that of last night. The play cannot be made altogether logical by any restraint of acting, so it might be the gainer if played with more of romantic exaggeration. Yet no one would care to have Miss Marlowe sacrifice herself. Plays like “Barbara Frietchie” are good to have, but perhaps Miss Marlowe’s level is somewhat higher.
Perhaps, on the other hand, the naturalness she forces upon unnatural scenes will be more appreciated by the audiences she is yet to face in this engagement, Her hearers last night were in a strange, new playhouse, and they were too much engaged in getting fitted to novel surroundings to have much faculty for close attention left. They were puzzled, too, and in a certain sense they lacked a leader, for the first night element which generally rules the manner of the reception of an important new play was not in attendance as a body.
But over all obstacles Miss Marlowe’s way led definitely to success, and the play was her companion.
Modern ” Romeo and Juliet.”
Mr. Fitch intended “Barbara Frietchle” for a modern Romeo and Juliet,” and he wrote it around one of the most entrancing of stage Jullets. As the maiden of the Italian South who waked to love only to find that its ardent emotions led soon to sorrow and the grave. Miss Marlowe has won many a triumph; as the girl of our own Southland who loved as madly and as truly and who paid the same sad price, she has deservedly won many more. Chicago doubtless has its portion waiting her.
If “Barbara Frietchle” does not permit the actress to be tragically powerful it enables her to give pathos a force which is no less intense because quiet, and it allows her to reach that climax by easy advances from witching comedy through fervid love passages and scenes of vital human color. “Barbara Frietchie” is a beautiful pictorial play, illumined with romance, shaded rather than darkened by the unhappiness of the outcome, and Barbara is pictured as only an actress capable of portraying Juliet could picture her. But that is not saying the part Is wholly worth the picture.
Mr. Fitch owes more to the poet Shakspeare and to the actress herself than he does to the poet Whittier. One part of his debt he confesses graciously when he dedicates the play to Miss Marlowe, and says she inspired the part. Possibly she did more; she may have ordered it made, but of that we know not.
There hardly seems to be reason for essaying to be sarcastic at the expense of Mr. Fitch as a historical dramatist. In the place the playwright has entered disclaimer of any intention in that direction. He says he only tried to weave the spirit of a period into a play and none of its per- , either those of poetry or fact. Love has done so many strange things with this world and the people in it that it possibly may be conceded the power to make a rebel maiden forget for a lover a cause as well as a father. If that be allowed, “Barbara Frietchle” may be considered as within range of the period, even if she did try to run away with a Northern soldier at a time when battle was approaching her father’s house. In that event Mr. Fitch, creator, earns absolution. To charge him with as sailing an ideal set by Whittier is too fantastic a proceeding. Whittier’s Barbara, with her white hair and her waving flag, was as much an invention as Fitch’s Barbara with her black locks and another flag. The only Barbara Frietchle of record was an old woman of Frederick who used to beat confederate soldiers with a broom stick and offer cool water to the weary boys in blue.
The show and the tragedy of the play were for the last act. The first scene showed the entrance into the room in the morning, and the view of a dead man. Barbara took the union flag from his body—she had given it to him herself—and the scene ended. The second tableaux disclosed Barbara in the balcony, waving the flat above the marching troops. The order was given to spare her, but Jack Negley raised his gun and fired. The girl fell forward over the balcony. and as the curtain came slowly down Jack Negley was taken into custody at his own father s orders and marched to his own doom.
Actress Has Capable Support.
Miss Maartowe was given, capable support. As Captain Trumbull Bruce McRae was called, upon to be handsome and manly and to exercise some discretion. He did not lack in any direction. Donald MacLaren gave dash to the part of Arthur Frletchie and good drawings of the Southern gentlemen of story were given by Charles Harbury and C. F. Olbney as Mr. Frietchie and Colonel Negley. E. W. Morrison made Jack Negley as violent as madness called for.
The cast follows:
Ben-Hur Story Synopsis
Chicago Tribune January 14, 1936
BY AL CHASE.
The final curtain has been rung down in the Illinois, for many years one of Chicago’s leading playhouses. as a result of a transaction partly negotiated yesterday and to be concluded today. Wreckers will start to tear down the historic structure within a few days, and the premises at 61-65 East Jackson boulevard will be used as an open air parking station. The name of the lessee will be disclosed later.
The parking lease was made only a few days prior to an offer from the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, which had been negotiating for the building for many months. When the church board of directors authorized the transaction, which involved complete remodeling of the theater for religious purposes, it was found that the parking company already had closed a deal for it.
Powers Liquidating Property.
Harry J. Powers, veteran theater man, who has been one of the owners of the playhouse since it was erected in 1898, is one of the three liquidating trustees in charge of the property for the bondholders. The other two are Martin F. Colby and R. A. Mowat.
The Illinois theater was erected to take care of the bookings of the old Columbia theater (on the site of the present Monroe theater at 57 West Monroe street), which was destroyed by fire. Its opening was one of the spectacular events of Chicago theatrical history, and for many years it was the city s leading playhouse for musical shows, including Ziegfeld’s Follies.
Housed Many Famous Plays.
In addition, Powers, who also owned Powers theater (formerly Hooley’s), where part of the Hotel Sherman now stands, booked many famous dramas of the last four decades in his Jackson boulevard house, so that the Illinois footlights have shone on as glamorous and noted a galaxy of world stars as any American theater.
Title to the theater property was secured by the bondholders following foreclosure proceedings in 1932. A bond issue of $750,000 underwritten by the Continental and Commercial company has been paid down to $650,000-