Editorial: Violence in downtown Chicago is hurting Broadway shows. We’ll all pay the price.

On Sunday night, happy patrons were seated at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in Chicago’s Loop waiting for the start of a touring production of the Broadway musical “Moulin Rouge.” The theater, say some who were there, was nicely filled. But just moments before the scheduled curtain time, an announcement was made from the stage that the show had been canceled.

The reason was a nearby shooting.

According to police, victims of a robbery opened fire on the perpetrators. But they instead hit two people whom the police called “unintended targets,” which is code for being unfortunate enough to be standing in the alley outside the Chicago Theater. Both were taken to hospitals in (thankfully) fair condition. One of them was a doctor, for goodness sake, and one of them, several social media accounts say, was connected to “Moulin Rouge.” That was enough to make many involved in the production understandably unwilling or unable to perform or crew the show. Thus the audience was sent home.

This is an ominous sign of how far out of control violence in the Loop has been allowed to get.

Broadway in Chicago officers and employees have been saying for months that police protection in the theater district is inadequate and many audience members told reporters Sunday night that they had been reluctant to come to the Loop in the first place.

If this is not urgently addressed, decades of work stretching back to the efforts of Richard M. Daley to transform the Loop into a 24-hour arts and entertainment destination will be undone.

Patrons of a musical have a right to feel safe. Entertainment workers have a similar right. And high-profile incidents such as the one that occurred Sunday travel far and wide. Those who value this city’s reputation for world-class arts and entertainment had better raise their voice in protest, lest all of that disappear.

During the pandemic, it became clear that Michigan Avenue had a safety problem, including a negative perception that was hurting businesses. Now that shows have returned to the theater district, we see that the same issue haunting the Loop. And it hurts not just the entertainment industry but all the other businesses, from restaurants to retail to hotels to parking lots, that rely on evening and weekend foot traffic.

Crowds on the streets deter crime and make the Loop feel safer. If reasons to come downtown at night are diminished, then the safety perception problem only gets worse. This is the kind of vicious cycle that can, and surely could, suck the cultural life out of one of the greatest entertainment downtowns in the world.

Sunday was a telling warning, Mayor Lightfoot. This must be fixed urgently, before it’s too late.

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