A new look for the Biograph

  • By TARA KILACHAND
  • Medill News Service
  • February 13, 2006 @ 5:42 AM
Curious tourists searching for some of the historic mystery of the landmark Biograph Theatre will be hard-pressed to find any when it reopens its doors this September.

Aside from the flashing neon pink marquee, the theatre at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. will bear scant resemblance to the infamous movie house outside whose doors mobster John Dillinger was gunned down in a pool of blood in 1934.

Instead the 229-seat theatre, new home to the Victory Gardens Theatre, will have muted walls, exposed brick facades and a swanky concession stand -- but no woman in red.

"It's a theatre of our time, not of the past," said architect Daniel Coffey, director of the new renovations.

In keeping with this ethos, the theatre will have wingspace, added stage height and a trap room below the stage. Seats will be wider and leg room will be increased.

Though plans to install a balcony were scrapped, Artistic Director Dennis Zacek said he hopes the tiered seating will maintain a sense of intimacy between the performers and audience.

Plans for a second 135-seat studio theatre space were also shelved when costs went above the initial budget of $9 million.

However the owners plan to raise additional money once the theatre opens for its first performance later this year.

"We're on schedule, within budget and we're going to open this fall," Zacek said, hopeful the company will remain within the new $11.3 million budget. "We've raised almost $10 million," he said.

In 1999, the Biograph Theatre was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places and was named a city landmark by the City of Chicago's Commission of Historic Places.

Audiences can expect to attend the Biograph's first show on Sept. 29, when it will stage a performance of "Denmark" by playwright Charles Smith.

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