By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 25, 2023 at 9:03 AM

While you’re typically not part of the show when you attend the theater, that’s not always the case, as is clear at one of the four Broadway in Chicago productions featured in this year’s Chicago Theatre Week.

And if you head to the Windy City to check it out, there are a number of other ways you and your family can get hands-on in Chicago, too.

The annual Chicago Theatre Week – which was launched in 2000 and actually runs 11 days – serves up value-priced tickets to productions at dozens of theaters across the city, from A Theater in the Dark to Young People’s Theatre of Chicago.

You can find a full list of participating shows, Feb. 16-26, here.

Some of the biggest-name shows are on tap at Broadway in Chicago venues: “CATS,” “Les Misérables,” “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus – LIVE!” and the unique and entertaining Cabaret ZaZou “Luminaire.”

Cabaret ZaZou’s home is an evocative “spiegeltent” in a two-story 14th floor space that was a Masonic hall when it was built in 1926. Somehow, this large space had been long forgotten before it was rediscovered when a Cambria Hotel was being built in the building (which also houses Rapp & Rapp’s Nederlander/Oriental Theater).

The spiegeltent. (PHOTO: Cabaret ZaZou)

The tent – in red velvet, stained glass, mahogany and gold brocade – transports you to pre-war Europe and the wide-ranging, edgy entertainment of Pigalle and other hotspots.

There’s acrobatics, dancing, singing, a live band, comedy and more, and it takes place all around you. You are seated right there in the action and members of the audience (as well as servers and others in the room) are drawn into the show, which also typically includes dinner. (The heavily discounted Theatre Week tickets do not include food.)

(PHOTOS: Cabaret ZaZou)
Cabaret ZaZouX

Even if you don’t manage to get coveted Theatre Week tickets to “Luminaire,” it’s such a unique show – cabaret that’s rooted in Chicago blues and R&B, with top-notch musical talent – that it’s worth adding to your Midwest travel bucket list.

Learn more about Chicago Theatre Week – a collaboration between the League of Chicago Theatres and Choose Chicago – and purchase tickets at Tickets move fast, so if you’re interested, don’t wait too long.

Cabaret ZaZou is so rich in audience participation, engagement and immersion that you just might want to make that the theme of your next visit to Chicago. Here are some other ways you can get into the act on your visit to the Windy City.

WNDR Museum is “a multi-sensory interactive art and technology experience that is designed to ignite the curiosity within each of us.”

With locations in San Diego and Chicago, it’s less a typical museum than an immersive experience with a variety of multi-media installations that draw you in and allow you to control or affect the artwork.

We Are All ArtistsX

Your movements change lights and sounds and colors, perfectly illustrating the neon sign just inside the entrance that proclaims, “We are all artists.”

I was addicted to the simple synthesizer that allowed me to create my own beats that also influenced the imagery in the space around me.

Kids will love the light floor, the perspective-challenging AMES room and Yayoi Kusama’s “Let’s Survive Forever” infinity experience, but this is not a kids venue – it’s perfect for all ages.

infinity room
Yayoi Kusama’s “Let’s Survive Forever” infinity room.

The same is true for the Chicago location of Color Factory, in the lower level of the Willis Tower.

Color Factory – which also has locations in New York and Houston – is similar to WNDR in that it is filled with immersive and interactive installations, though it has, as the name suggests, a bit more focus on color, specifically.

Take a moment to look really closely at someone else by drawing them with a single uninterrupted line. Sample a variety of pop rocks and guess their colors using your taste buds. Use your movements to control a chorus of electronic horns. At the end of the experience, dive into a baby blue ball pit.

Ball pit
The ball pit.

Along the way you’ll get a series of treats to draw your palate into the experience, too.

(Note that at both WNDR and Color Factory, there are lots of blinking lights, color changes, swirling movements and music.)

Aimed at a much younger audience is the Sloomoo Institute, a sensory celebration of slime.

You can experience vats of slime of all different colors and textures, toss some slime at a dripping slime wall, join in what looks like a wacky game show and have slime shoot down from the ceiling onto your head and, best of all, make your own slime by mixing a base with colors, scents and charms.

SlooMoo InstituteX

Although my kids have pretty much aged out of slimemania (which did grip our home for what seemed like too long;  reminders of it can still be found in the carpets), there was no denying that this loud, active place (with locations in Atlanta and NYC, too) was fun.

Also skewing a bit younger, but by no means entirely, is “Harry Potter: Magic at Play,” which inhabits much of the former Macy’s in the Water Tower Place mall on the Magnificent Mile.

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This sprawing, almost maze-like Potter-themed experience includes scenes like the Hogwarts Great Hall, Privet Drive and Platform 9 3/4, as well as a host of interactives, including trying on the Sorting Hat, levitating a feather with your wand, a series of Quidditch prep exercises, the chance to take your photo on a flying broom and more.

Hogwarts ExpressX

There’s even a bar at the end that sells Butterbeer.

Since the Harry Potter series of books and films is beloved by all ages, you can imagine that this immersive experience draws Harry fans of all ages.

All of this will make you very hungry, so here are a few dining suggestions...

Petterino’s in the heart of the theater district – across the street from Cabaret ZaZou and the Nederlander, where “CATS” is on, and just up the street from the Cadillac and “Les Mis” – is Chicago’s answer to New York City’s Sardi’s. It’s even named for Sardi’s long-serving maitre d’, Arturo Petterino, who also worked at the Pump Room in Chicago.


Framed caricatures of artists, writers, politicians and other notables – many autographed – line the walls of this multi-story restaurant that specializes in Italian-American cuisine. Generous servings of delicious pastas, risotto, meat and fish entrees, salads and apps provide the sustenance, while people-watching is nearly as enriching.

seafood pasta
Seafood pasta at Petterino's.

As the autographs attest, this is the place to come if you’re hoping to spot celebs. Cher dined alone once in the lower-level banquet room, which was also the scene of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign announcement.

Previously run by Lettuce Entertain You, Petterino’s reopened under the Good Plate Hospitality Group, with its interior and menu both refreshed, in October 2021.

Just across the river from the theater district – a 10-minute walk or 2-minute ride – is Barrio, “a Mexican restaurant with a twist.”

Dimly lit and lovely, but casual, Barrio is not only for lunch and dinner, when it serves a range of Mexican classics. The brunch is great, too, and unique, with a $35 bottomless cocktails brunch special.

Where else can you find fried chicken and churros, or a sinful churro breakfast sandwich with a sunny side-up egg and housemade sausage? Plus there’s a lobster ranchero benedict, sweet lemon ricotta pancakes with guava and more.

Churro breakfast sandwich.

In West Loop, near the WNDR Museum, is Bar Siena, a bustling two-story bar and restaurant that is so dog friendly it even has a Puppy Ciao dog menu.

Like its sister restaurant, Barrio, Bar Siena has brunch, lunch and dinner menus, but with an Italian twist.

There’s gnocchi and other pastas, pizzas and more at lunch and dinner. At brunch, don’t miss the puff pancake, the regenerative blueberry acai bowl or the rich lump crab benedict.

The blueberry acai bowl (above), the pancake (below).

Just a few yards away is Cruz Blanca, a Mexican-focused brewery that has some great beer. (Read about that here.)

Back downtown, if you’re looking for a pre- or post-theater splurge, few things say “Chicago” more than Michael Jordan’s Steak House, located in the former lobby of the opulent 1929 Medinah Athletic Club tower, which is now home to the InterContinental Chicago on the Magnificent Mile.

The setting is great, with views into the beautiful old lobby – with its stout columns and “Es selamu alaikum” etched into the stone – and out onto the Mag Mile. The service is attentive and friendly. The menu is classic steakhouse.

And the food is great.

garlic bread
That garlic bread.

Start with the signature garlic bread, which is crisped ciabatta, sliced, and drizzled with a fondue made of Wisconsin Roth Kase Blue, or the aptly named colossal crab cake, which is so hearty that it’s nearly an entree.

While kids might choose wagyu burgers – an upscale take on MJ’s favorite food, the McDonald’s Big Mac – don’t be fooled. This is not kid stuff – it’s jumbo and juicy, served with fries delivered in a mini fry basket.

The Delmonico.

The steaks are top-notch, too. The signature steak – a 45-day dry-aged Delmonico – is drizzled with ginger-balsamic jus. The 10-ounce filet is further enhanced with bay leaf butter.

Save room for the 23-layer chocolate cake which is most definitely to be shared.

23-layer cakeX

If you’re lucky, you might get the corner booth where Jordan prefers to sit when he visits.


While he’s not likely to be there when you are (hey, it could happen!), you can remind yourself of his flying skills on the hardwood by ordering the signature Jumpman cocktail (Grey Goose Pear, Mathilde Peche, Giffard Pamplemousse, lemon, Butterfly Pea tea, plum and cranberry bitters), which comes with an outline of air Jordan himself in the foam.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.