The Rhapsody Theatre, a longstanding resident of the Rogers Park community, matches its outer grandiosity with an inner community of love and dedication to the arts.
Rhapsody Theater: A Magical Neighborhood Experience
Despite donning various names in its lifetime, Rhapsody Theater has stood with grandiosity on West Morse Avenue since 1912. After its most recent transformation, the theater now hosts various magic shows, live music and comedy.
When it was first established, Rhapsody Theater was titled the Morse Theater, according to Dona Vitale, a member of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society.
“Part of the time it’s been a theater, part of the time it’s been a movie house, and part of the time it’s been just retail space or empty or a synagogue,” Vitale said.
The building itself has experienced many modifications in the last century, but the spirit of Rhapsody has proven to be everlasting. Aesthetically, the theater encapsulates the enchanting and glamorous ambiance of a posh performance venue with lavish seating, gold-accented furniture and an art deco exterior.
However, the soul of the theater lies not within its physical characteristics but within the people who manage it. Ricardo Rosenkranz, the owner of Rhapsody since 2021, said the theater’s mission is to “bring the arts to the neighborhoods.” While he loves downtown Chicago, he acknowledges it’s not accessible for everyone pricing or transportation-wise.
“Even when the Loop is doing well, I think a lot of balance in a vibrant city has to be what happens downtown and what happens in the neighborhoods,” Rosenkranz said. “The arts should be everywhere, and they should be in the neighborhoods.”
In addition to being a doctor and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, Rosenkranz is vocal about his passion for magic.
“I fell in love with magic later on in life,” Rosenkranz said. “I was 35 years old.”
Rosenkranz has his own show at Rhapsody, going by the name Physician Magician — a reference to his career as a medical practitioner.
“The day that we first saw this space, I brought a musician from the Chicago Symphony and I brought a sound engineer and we were just floored at the possibilities of this space,” Rosenkranz said.
While Rosenkranz’s show is a blend of illusions and mind reading, the Rhapsody Theater hosts a diverse range of magical performances. Colin Helou, the director of building operations, said the types of shows offered include close-up, stage and mentalism.
Close-up magic is performed in a more intimate setting, whereas stage magic entails a string of tricks executed in front of a larger crowd. Comparatively, mentalism magic pertains to mind reading-related schematics.
Rosenkranz isn’t the only magician with a show at the Rhapsody — the 2023-24 season currently features 10 different magical productions.
Amanda Egle, an administrator at the theater who also doubles as a stagehand, moves sets around while preparing scenes during acts. She said maneuvering show elements backstage is very fun for her.
“It feels like it fulfills this performing need but all the pressure is off,” Egle said.
As director of building operations, Helou also plays a significant role in managing and constructing each show. He said he references a checklist of jobs needed to get done before each act, including rehearsals, lighting and sound cues, microphone checks and ticketing.
“Getting all of the puzzle pieces to fit together and play nice, it’s kinda like 3D Tetris almost,” Helou said.
While audiences can enjoy the alluring entertainment, they may also enjoy specialty food and drinks from its three different bars. The bartenders tailor a cocktail and mocktail menu to each show, according to Helou.
At Rosenkranz’s show, the menu included the medicine man, a mocktail modeled after his doctor-themed show. In regards to food options, the theater serves snacks like freshly baked cookies, but Rosenkranz said they will begin to serve meal options such as burgers and pulled pork sandwiches.
Considering the theater’s extensive relationship with Rogers Park, Rosenkranz said he has a desire for Loyola students to forge a connection with the theater, offering discounts for Loyola students starting at $10 tickets.
As the theater continues its 2023-24 season, employees like Egle are excited for what’s to come. She said she’s looking forward to a seance the theater will start to run next month.
She said curating the seance is “much like a preparation for a play” in regards to rehearsals and nailing her cues.
“When you’re sitting down watching someone perform, you might get to be involved,” Eagle said. “With a seance, because it’s a very small room and it’s a bunch of you sitting around a table, you absolutely will be involved.”
Rosenkranz credits his journey as a magician to his deceased mentor Eugene Burger who helped him reach a philosophical understanding of magic.
“One of the things he said, ‘If you see someone tearing a newspaper or a card and putting it back together, it’s not just a trick, it’s actually a metaphor for life and death or for healing, so you have to really treat it with respect,’” Rosenkranz said.
All acts for the 2023-24 season and ticketing information can be found on the Rhapsody Theater’s website.
Featured image courtesy of Ryan Pittman / The Phoenix