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Patch Passport Video: Venture Out to Genesee Theatre

Broadway musicals, comedians, corporate events and weddings all are held in the historic Genesee Theatre in Waukegan. The $23 million renovation to the classic building restored the facility to its former glory.

The Genesee Theatre in Waukegan hosts Broadway shows, big name comedians and corporate events. It has undergone a $23 million renovation to include every modern convenience while still maintaining the look and feel of a grand movie palace from nearly a century ago.

The stage, in fact, once was home to vaudeville performers. The street outside the lobby was once filled with people, eager to see and hear the first "talkie" movies. Ushers impecably dressed in black suits once showed audience members to their seats.

It was the place to go. When the theatre originally opened on December 25, 1927 with four sold-out shows of The Valley of the Giants, there were reportedly 8,000 people eager to attend. Tickets cost 60 cents for adults and 25 cents for children, according to a Genesee Theatre spokesperson.

The building fell into decline in the 1950s, however, when the big movie complexes opened. It sat vacant and in disrepair for 20 years.

Thanks to a painstaking renovation effort that lasted from 1999 to 2004, the Genesee Theatre has been given a second life. The theatre reopened in 2004, with Bill Cosby headlining the event. The Genesee Theatre now attracts 50 to 60 live stage events per year, plus corporate events, class reunions and 250-person sit down weddings.

"The theatre has been restored to nearly its original magnificence," said Gary Zabinski, general manager. "We actually feel that it is much more magnificent than it was in 1927."

The restoration impacted every area of the theatre.

"The most striking thing about the restoration was how it modernized the building," Zabinski said. "We now have a larger stage, more expansive seating, wider aisles and more bars and lounges. So now, it really can compete with a 21st century performing arts space."

On the second floor, a corner filled with historical memorabilia pays tribute to the storied past of the theatre and its city.

The Genesee Theatre has become a modern regional attraction, offering entertainment options that are both reasonably priced and close to home.

There is great diversity in the shows, from Jerry Seinfeld or Bob Newhart, from country music to opera. The Genesee Theatre attracts guests from throughout Lake, Cook and McHenry Counties and beyond.

Guests entering the main lobby must look straight up. The $100,000 chandelier hanging overhead is a sight to behold.

"If you come here once," said Zabinski, "we have found that—more often than not - you will return."

Sara Bott July 03, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Excellent video!
Korrina Grom July 04, 2011 at 05:57 AM
The Genesee Theatre is indeed a treasure for all of Lake County! They show movies occasionally. Most recently, I saw "Back to the Future" there, and it was really awesome! They're showing "Apollo 13" on July 22! Great movie in a beautiful theater - what more could you ask for?
Tara May Tesimu July 04, 2011 at 06:05 PM
This is awesome! Thanks for sharing, Mick!
Catherine July 10, 2011 at 03:06 PM
This is a Great theater! I travel from Palatine at least 2 or 3 times a year to attend events at the Genesee. The quality is just as good as theaters in Chicago and easier to get to.
KPC July 13, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Did anyone look at the recent schedule of the Genesee Theatre before writing this article? On Genesee Theatre's website I see 5 live acts and 2 movies for the rest of the year. And in your article you say 50 to 60 live events each year? Maybe in past years. I think the theatre is absolutely beautiful especially compared to all the number of theatres I have attendee across the country but as a Waukegan resident I still find myself going to Highland Park to see movies I like and Chicago and Milwaukee to see quality live entertainment. The Genesee Theatre is just another example of Waukegan having a good idea but not having the expertise to do anything with it. I predict the theatre will be sold in the next ten years as the number and quality of the live acts have slowly dissipated. At this rate there is no way they will get the $23 million back. So in the end was it a good business decision? Maybe for the next buyer.

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