The Great Fire Lights Up the Stage at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre.

The Great Fire Lights Up the Stage at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre.
The Great Fire features Ensemble Member Thomas J. Cox, Artistic Associate Kevin Douglas, Artistic Associate Troy West, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Stephanie Diaz, Lindsay Noel Whiting, and Gary Wingert. Photo credit: Sean Williams.

Chicago, Thursday, October 6, 2011. One hundred and forty years ago this week, on October 8, 1971, one of the hottest, driest autumns on record the “Great Chicago Fire” began.  It started with a whimper–a small blaze on the city’s southwest side–that rose to be one of the largest disasters of the 19th century, killing hundreds and destroying most of what was then Chicago.

The first mounting of the original The Great Fire by Lookingglass ensemble member John Musial was produced in 1999 at the Jane Addams Center on Broadway, four years before Lookingglass moved into their permanent home at Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works.  The revival has been updated to include current Chicago references as well as showcase the theatre’s location in the Water Tower which ironically was one of the few buildings to survive The Great Fire.

Musial sees The Great Fire “as the creation myth of our city, in it, he says, “is the origins of our identity as a city, as a people, as a community.”

The “myth” of the fire that most Chicagoans know puts the blame on an unnamed cow that kicked over a lantern in a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary at the corner of DeKoven and Jefferson Streets.  In this scenario Mrs. O’Leary is singled out as being responsible for the start of The Great Fire.

The Lookingglass production includes this popular “myth” in their fiery portrayal of the disaster which, in typical Lookingglass fashion, is highly physical, visual and imaginative. The story is told through a series of  personal experiences by the seven actors  engulfed in the disaster playing multiple roles.  A Chicago, not so different, people-wise, from today is portrayed with the rich, the poor, and the corrupt all playing out their roles.

The fire itself was presented through physical illusions of fire personified by Lindsey Noel Whiting (The Fire). In increasing powerful scenes, Whiting illustrates the growing intensity of the fire. Fire Marshal Robert A. Williams (Gary Wingert), keeps the story in perspective with his reminders of other disasters including the Iroquois Theatre; the disaster of the wooden buildings, roofs and streets in pre-1871 Chicago that caused the uncontrollable spread of the fire; and why today’s city fire codes exist.

Other Great Fire cast members include: Ensemble Member Thomas J. Cox (Arthur Tree, Mayor, Mr. O’Leary); Artistic Associate Kevin Douglas (Frenchy); Artistic Associate Troy West (Mr. Tree, Mistress Hobson), Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Hildreth, Babcia) and Stephanie Diaz (Mrs. Lemos/Tree, Archivist/Puppet Design).

Designers include John Dalton (scenic); Alison Siple (costume); Ben Spicer (lighting); Josh Horvath (sound); Ray Nardelli, (sound); and Joel Lambie (properties).  Stephanie Diaz is the puppeteer and Kathleen Petroziello is the stage manager.

The Great Fire is a highly creative, artistic production with all the bells and whistles that should attract  theater lovers and history buffs alike in this one of a kind production.

Dates, Times and Ticket Information.
Tickets (regular run tickets are $30 – $68) are available online; by phone, 312 337-0665; or at the Lookingglass Theatre box office, located inside Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.  Through October 23, 2011. Running time 90 minutes, no intermission.

Parking.                                                                                                                                                            Discounted parking is available for Lookingglass patrons at both the nearby John Hancock Center and Olympia Centre Self Park (161 E. Chicago Ave.). To purchase tickets, call the Lookingglass Theatre box office at 312 337-0665 or visit


Filed under: Theater in Chicago

Tags: The Great Fire.

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