One of the most popular and beloved Christmas traditions in Chicago is celebrating its 31st anniversary this year. Celebrate the holidays at the Music Box Theatre with a sing-a-long double feature beginning December 11.
Who could have predicted on that snowy Christmas Eve in 1983, when the operator of a vintage movie theater in Chicago decided to show two old holiday movies and sing a few Christmas carols during the intermission, that 30 years later the Music Box Christmas Show would become a 9-day extravaganza that grows more popular with each passing year? People from all around Chicagoland have made this terrific, old-fashioned event part of their family’s holiday tradition.
Each year, holiday revelers are greeted by none other than Santa Claus, live and in person. Santa welcomes the audience and, accompanied by the theater organist, leads them in the singing of the most cherished Christmas carols of all time. The lyrics are projected onto the theater’s screen so no one misses a chance to sing their hearts out.
Then the audience sits back and enjoys a Christmas movie classic. Some folks like to keep the music going and opt to see White Christmas so they can sing the timeless lyrics of Irving Berlin along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kay and Rosemary Clooney. Others prefer to cheer for Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and hiss Mr. Potter during a showing of the heart-warming It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra,1946). And those truly filled with holiday spirit see both films!
If you and your family want to be part of the holiday fun, send a photo from past years at the Music Box Theatre with the names of those in the picture to [email protected] and they will add you to the pre-show slideshow on the big screen.
The Music Box Theatre opened on August 22, 1929, a time when the movie palaces in downtown Chicago each had seating capacities of around 3,000 people. The Music Box, which sat 800, was considered an elaborate little brother to those theatres. Theatre Architecture magazine noted in 1929 that the theatre “represents the smaller, though charming and well equipped, sound picture theatre which is rapidly taking the place of the ‘deluxe’ palace.”
Between 1977 and 1983, the Music Box was used sporadically for Spanish language films, porno films and lastly, Arabic language films. In 1983, management reopened the theater with a format of double feature revival and repertory films. Eventually, foreign films were reinstated, and independent and cult films were added to the roster. The Music Box Theatre now presents a yearly average of 300 films.
In 1991, management decided to add a second screen. Rather than split the main theater in two, a small theater was built in an existing storefront adjacent to the lobby. The ambiance of the theatre was designed to echo the architecture of the main auditorium. The feeling is still atmospheric but because of the 13-foot ceiling, the feel is that of sitting under a garden trellis with stars in the night sky beyond.
For the last two decades, the Music Box Theatre has been the premiere venue in Chicago for independent and foreign films. It currently has the largest theater space operated full time in the city.
Today, the Music Box Theatre retains its original architecture and design. With a dark blue ceiling, “twinkling stars” and moving cloud formations suggesting a night sky, and walls and towers suggesting an Italian courtyard, patrons are made to feel as if they are watching a film in an open-air Tuscan palazzo.