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Candlelight Dinner Playhouse / Forum Theatre Records

Identifier: spe-ctc-cdpf

Scope and Contents

The collection includes programs, reviews, promotional materials and photographs for shows produced at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Forum Theatre. Most productions were directed by William Pullinsi.


  • Creation: 1961 - 1997


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection

Biographical / Historical

In 1961 William Pullinsi, a young Chicagoan who was studying at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., returned to his hometown to set up and open the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse at 5508 South Archer Avenue, on the Southwest Side of Chicago. The new playhouse, which debuted on July 7th of the same year, had 112 seats and was housed in a roadside building owned by Pullinsi’s grandfather. Candlelight Dinner Playhouse was the Chicago version of a Washington invention by Pullinsi and his friend Anthony D’Angelo, who had turned a banquet hall in a D.C. hotel into a room where customers were entertained by a show while still seated at dinner tables. The Washington summer theater operation begun by Pullinsi and D’Angelo in 1959 is the first recorded instance of a dinner theater in the United States.

Pullinsi’s new dinner theater in the Windy City prospered enough to enable him to open a new Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in 1964 at 5620 South Harlem Avenue in Summit, Ill. a southwest suburb of Chicago. In his Summit theater, with its arena stage and 550 seats, Pullinsi offered a series of long-running musicals, such as Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha, Zorba, Into the Woods and a critically acclaimed production of Follies. He also presented edgier dramatic fare on occasion, including Barbara Garson’s savage political satire MacBird, with Lyndon B. Johnson as a contemporary Macbeth, and Edward Albee’s bleak vision of suburbia, Everything in the Garden.

Pullinsi opened the adjoining Forum Theatre in 1972; in contrast, it was a 425-seat proscenium theater with a lobby bar and a separate dining room. Some highlights of the Forum years were the American premiere of Peter Nichols’ The National Health; the world premiere of Boss, a musical based on Mike Royko’s book about Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley; and the hugely successful Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, adapted by John Powers from his humorous memoir of a Catholic upbringing on the South Side of Chicago.

In 1997, faced with financial difficulties in a strained economy and a challenging theater season, William Pullinsi was forced to close both the Candlelight and Forum. They were demolished and replaced by a roadside restaurant. Pullinsi continued in Chicago theater as an independent director and garnered many Jeff Awards throughout his career, including a special Jeff for “many years of innovation and quality, bringing the joys of live theater to hundreds of thousands of Chicago-area patrons.”


3 Linear Feet (in 5 boxes, includes 36 photographs)

Language of Materials



First dinner-theater in the United States. Collection consists primarily of promotional materials such as programs, reviews and clippings for musical and comedy productions.


The Candlelight Dinner Playhouse / Forum Theatre Records are arranged in two series:

  • Series 1: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, 1961-1997
  • Series 2: Forum Theatre, 1972-1996

Physical Location

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least 24-hours prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These materials were donated to the Special Collections and Preservation Division by Noreen Heron, Public Relations Director of the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse / Forum Theatre.

Guide to the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse / Forum Theatre Records
Original author unknown. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Sarah Zimmerman, 2021
circa 1993
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875