This theatre, originally named the Oriental Theatre, opened to much fanfare on May 8, 1926. Designed by the legendary George L. and Cornelius W. Rapp, it was one of the first motion picture palaces designed to create a complete experience for the theatre patron.
Still to this day, the décor is a virtual art museum including large mosaics of an exotic prince and princess, an inner foyer with elephant-throne lighting and multicolored glazed Buddhas, and an auditorium of “hasheesh-dream design.”
Over the years it presented popular first-run motion pictures, complemented by lavish stage shows. Among the many stars that played the theatre are The Three Stooges, Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Duke Ellington, and Danny Kaye. Although management changed hands several times the theatre continued to feature films and hosted live performances by such artists as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Little Richard.
Soon the theater fell into disrepair. In an effort to preserve the theatre, it was added to the Federal National Registry of Historic Places in 1978, but the building continued to crumble. The theatre was closed to the public in 1981, and the site was considered for a shopping mall and cinema. In 1996, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stepped in and announced that the venue would be restored to its original grandeur for the presentation of live stage musicals.
Renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997, the restoration was completed in October 1998 and opened with the Chicago premiere of Ragtime. Broadway In Chicago, formed in 2000, began to light the stage with the record-breaking run of Wicked for three and a half years and the long-run production of Billy Elliott, along with many Pre-Broadway World Premieres including: The Addams Family, Big Fish, On Your Feet!, The SpongeBob Musical, Escape to Margaritaville, Pretty Woman: the Musical, and The Cher Show with many more to come.
In February 2019, the theatre was renamed the James M. Nederlander Theatre, in honor of the legendary Broadway theatre owner and producer and patriarch of Broadway James M. Nederlander. As the founder of Broadway In Chicago, he championed theatre in Chicago having presented shows here for over six decades.