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The Music Box Theatre's main 740-seat auditorium is set for a makeover that will enhance its old-school beauty

The Music Box Theatre’s main 740-seat auditorium is set for a makeover that will enhance its old-school beauty.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Music Box Theatre to close auditorium temporarily to update the aging beauty, but keep the charm

The 740-seat space will be closed from Aug. 12 to Sept. 6 while it gets, among other things, new seats ... with cup holders.

The main auditorium at the Music Box Theatre will close for almost a month this summer for a makeover that aims to modernize while maintaining the charm that’s endeared the space to audiences for nearly a century.

Theater owners said the 740-seat space will close Aug. 12 and reopen Sept. 6 to allow for a series of updates that include new carpeting as well as aisle lighting and, perhaps most importantly for regulars, new seats.

The replacements for the Music Box’s notoriously rickety and creaky seats will have cupholders (at long last) but will remain the fold-down type folks are accustomed to, not the reclining behemoths found at many modern theaters.

The decorative arch that frames the movie screen, known as the proscenium arch, will be touched up with plaster in spots where it’s crumbling, and be repainted by a company that employs artisans who also do restoration in churches.

Updates will also include a new cement floor that will be wired to send audio to hearing aids equipped with T-coil technology.

During the rehab, the Music Box will continue to show films in its second, smaller theater and its outdoor garden patio.

The $750,000 project is part of the theater’s REVIVE AT 95 campaign that seeks to complete the updates as the Chicago treasure turns 95 years old. It opened Aug. 22, 1929.

Fundraising is a key component to the project.

General Manager Ryan Oestreich said anyone interested in helping can sponsor a seat — $750 for a single seat or $1,400 for two. Each comes with an engraved nameplate that will be affixed to an armrest. Plates can contain messages of one or two lines, up to 15 characters per line (including spaces).

Most of the current seats have been in place since 1982.

“We have people who line up two hours early to get their exact seat, not because of sight line, but because they know a certain seat is more comfortable,” Oestreich said.

General Manager Ryan Oestreich who is overseeing updates to the Music Box Theatre

General Manager Ryan Oestreish who is overseeing updates to the Music Box Theatre.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The old seats, wobbly and worn as they may be, will be made available for purchase. Music Box arrranged with Rebuilding Exchange, a non-profit located in Evanston, to remove and resell them. (For more information, or to make a donation, visit:

Previous renovations carried out by Oestreich and Chicago owner William Schopf include work on the bathrooms, updating the air conditioning and replacing the theater’s distinctive marquee with a near replica.

Among the Music Box’s traditions is a live organist who plays before the red curtain goes up and the movie starts.

“What people want is, when they walk into this place, to be in a time capsule, almost like a museum of sorts, but not stuffy, not like, ‘Oh, I can’t touch anything?!’ No. It’s a lived experience in that way. Like, if I were here in 1929, I would have had that same experience as I am having today in 2024,” Oestreich said.

MUSICBOX-060424-36.JPG. The old seats from the soon-to-be-renovated auditorium at the Music Box Theater at 3733 N. Southport Ave. on the north side, Monday, June 3, 2024.  | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

These old seats in the soon-to-be-renovated auditorium at the Music Box Theater will be made available for purchase by the public.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“And that is what I need to do, ensure that we are not changing anything too drastically while we upgrade with the technology of the time.”

The theater has inspired a loyal following.

Two of its main events are the Music Box of Horrors, a 24-hour horror movie marathon each October that’s in its 20th year and features filmmakers, actors, an on-site tattoo parlor and spooky decorations. It draws attendees from across the country.

Another annual hit is the Christmas Sing-A-Long and Double Feature of “White Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the audience is invited to join in caroling.

“John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Tim Meadows, the Wachowskis, they’ve all been here as part of the public,” Oestreich said. “This place has a special place in everybody’s heart, no matter where it hit them.” Comedian John Mulaney was another low-key attendee a few years back.

Kenneth Branagh, Spike Lee, Ben Affleck and Ethan Hawke are among the actors and directors who’ve screened their films at the theater and discussed them with audiences.

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