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Music Box Theatre celebrates its 30th anniversary

Music Box Southport. Phoby Steve Matteo for Red Streak  Feb. 2003.

Music Box on Southport. Photo by Steve Matteo for Red Streak Feb. 2003.

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The party lineup

Through Dec. 5, the Music Box is offering a special schedule of commemorative double-features including “Bonnie & Clyde,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Other special events:

» Nov. 22, 6 p.m.: Anniversary cocktail reception followed by double feature of “North by Northwest” and “The Big Lebowski.”

» Nov. 23, 7 p.m.: Winter Calendar Release Party with live jazz from the Fat Babies, vaudeville acts and a restored screening of Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman.”

» Dec. 4, 5:30 p.m.: Special pre-release screening of Tom Hanks’ “Saving Mr. Banks.”

» Dec. 5, 7 p.m.: The Chicago premiere of the new basketball documentary “Medora.”

Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

Call it a major motion picture milestone: The Music Box Theatre celebrates its 30th birthday this weekend. Along with the city’s official proclamation that Friday is Music Box Theatre Day, there may be more reason to celebrate.

According to general manager Dave Jennings: “The Music Box Theatre’s owner is planning to purchase 3735 N. Southport, the building next door to the Music Box Theatre, with the closing scheduled for January 2014. There are no current plans for expansion of the cinema yet. Options, including the possible addition of a third screen, will be explored after the sale is closed.”

The Music Box’s longevity is impressive, considering many small theaters across the country are challenged to keep their doors open.

“The thing that has always been unique about the Music Box Theatre is that its operations and programming have always been adaptive to the needs and desires of our audience,” says Jennings. With the advent of social media, there have been further opportunities for interactions, such as a recent Twitter campaign for a screening of a documentary on British band the Stone Roses, which the Music Box happily obliged.

Here are 10 more reasons to love the Music Box Theatre:

The real music box. Organist Dennis Scott provides old-fashioned musical accompaniment to the various singalongs as well as live scores during the Second Saturday Silent Cinema series.

cameo appearances. Most recently, “The Vow,” starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, shot a scene under the theater’s famous marquee. “High Fidelity” showed the marquee too. Yet it was Jim Belushi’s 1991 film “Curly Sue” that left its mark: The concession stand, built as a prop, is still used today for selling popcorn and Goobers.

The ghost of Whitey. “Whitey,” the theater’s “manager emeritus,” ran the place in its first phase from 1929 to its closure in 1977 when he fell asleep for the last time on a lobby couch. Whitey is said to pace around Aisle 4, if you so dare to sit there.

The film crusade. Although it has been updated to allow for digital formats (the second theater was upgraded to a digital projection system this year), Music Box remains committed to film. As one of the only cinemas around to still screen 70mm, Paul Thomas Anderson chose the theater as the spot for the first public screening of his 2012 hit, “The Master.”

A commitment to The classics. Rest assured Music Box won’t let classic cinema die. There’s probably no other place you’ll get to see midnight screenings of movies like “Citizen Kane,” “The Goonies” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Year-round film festival. From offering screenings straight from Sundance and the Chicago International Film Fest to playing host for Reeling, Noir City Chicago and the 70mm and Summer Music Film Festivals, Music Box hosts more than 150 special events each year.

The premiere parties. Plenty of red carpets have been rolled out at the Music Box, from the world premiere of Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn’s “The Break-Up” (2006) to the North American debut of 2009’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” with special guests Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener.

The holiday specials. Two of the theater’s most popular events are the 24-hour Music Box of Horrors fest and the Christmas Show double-header of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas.” The latter has grown into a two-week affair that will sell 15,000 tickets this year.

much-needed distribution. In 2007, the theatre launched Music Box Films. It has become one of the most recognized distributors of foreign language, indie and documentary films in the United States, including the release of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy.

The cinematic contributions. Each year, the theater provides $6,000 in ticket donations to schools and nonprofits. As well, Music Box has contributed to charities such as Vital Bridges, The Center on Halsted and Gilda’s Club of Chicago.

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