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JUL-AUG 2017

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Page 14 of 67 15 J U L Y / A U G U S T 2 0 1 7 T hey've done their research, and based on the number of theaters and ticket sales, "London is the biggest theater capital in the world," said Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre. Why London is so well known for its live theater is "partly heritage, partly funding, partly that we have these historic buildings," he said. In the United Kingdom, the theater tradition dates to William Shakespeare and before, and central London is home to theaters that can be traced back hundreds of years. That culture has only grown in contemporary times. Today, London's famed West End theater district is home to 52 main theaters, and there are many more throughout the city. Theaters range from small operations to large opera houses, and the buildings range from 200-year-old historic landmarks to modern theaters with flexible spaces. WEST END In the West End, the two biggest and oldest theaters are the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the London Palladium. The 1812 Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which is now showing "42nd Street," is "absolutely an extraordinary building," Bird said. It's also one of the most famous because it's owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had the front-of- house areas extensively restored in 2013. Although the current building is 205 years old, it is the fourth theater to be located on that site; the first dates to 1663 but was destroyed in a fire in 1672. The 1910 London Palladium opened a new production of "The Wind in the Willows" in June, but the theater also puts on a range of concerts and other performances. World War I delayed the opening of the St. Martin's Theatre until 1916, but the St. Martin's claim to fame isn't its building. It holds the world record for the longest continu- ally running show in the world: Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" opened there in 1974 and is still going strong. "It's an extraordinary production and hugely popular, even today," Bird said. "It's kind of amazing, really, that it's still there." The Dominion Theatre, another large house, is showing "An American in Paris," and "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" opened at the 1891 Palace Theatre in July 2016. INVESTING IN THEATER In London, old theaters are being restored, and new theaters are being built because of "investment both in refurbishment and in new theaters," Bird said. In the West End, the 1911 Victoria Palace Theatre is being completely renovated, and the hugely popular U.S. hit "Hamilton" will make its U.K. debut there in November. The brand-new Bridge Theatre is due to open October 18 with "Young Marx." The theater's main entrance is on Potters Fields Park, overlooking the Thames River at the base of the iconic Tower Bridge. H T T P : / / S O L T . C O . U K chica c o n d t o n o n e T The Chicago Shakespeare Theater put on its first production, "Henry V," in 1986. Above a bar. The Steppenwolf Theatre Co. got its start in the mid-1970s with three friends performing in the basement of a church. Part of the reason Chicago is such a haven for live theater is that the city has always championed "these small, storefront theaters," said Deb Clapp, executive director of the League of Chicago Theatres. But, at the same time, Chicago "had some really excellent institutional theaters develop," she said. Chicago has more than one theater district, among them the Belmont Theater Dis- l theate r 's g r a n d d a m e THEATER and ENTERTAINMENT

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