Kao rijetko koje kontinentalno središte, Osijek se može podičiti kazališnom tradicijom koja počelo vuče još iz davne 1735. godine, kada je u Isusovačkoj gimnaziji zabilježena izvedba prve kazališne predstave na latinskome jeziku. Pa ipak, istinski sustavan i organiziran kazališni život započinje 7. prosinca 1907., proslavom početka djelovanja Hrvatskog narodnog kazališta, u zgradi namjenski sagrađenoj još davne 1866. za putujuće kazališne družine. U proljeće 1907. osnovano je, naime, „Društvo za osnutak stalnog hrvatskog kazališta“ s Radoslavom Bačićem na čelu, koje su svesrdno podržali brojni gradski političari i utjecajni pojedinci među kojima su bili i Pinterović, Neumann, Isaković, Kraus i Keiser. Društvo uspijeva pridobiti kazališnoga stručnjaka Nikolu Andrića koji naposljetku dolazi u Osijek i postaje prvi intendant Hrvatskog kazališta u Osijeku, te se laća mukotrpnog posla okupljanja ansambla. Ansambl jedno vrijeme provodi u Varaždinu i Karlovcu, a tek koncem 1907. stalno se vraća u Osijek, gdje 07. prosinca iste godine izvodi program kojim obilježava početak djelovanja. Program je sačinjavao kolaž prigodnica: uvertira iz Gundulićeve Dubravke, Slava preporoditeljima Milana Ogrizovića, te prvi čin Smetanine Prodane nevjeste.
As no other continental centre, Osijek can be proud of its theatre tradition which dates as far back in time as 1735, when the Osijek Jesuit High School organized the first theatre performance in Latin. Yet, a truly systematic and organized theatre life began on 7th December 1907 when the Croatian National Theatre moved into the building which was built with the purpose to house travelling theatre companies back in 1866. In the spring of 1907, an „Association for the establishment of a permanent theatre“, headed by Radoslav Bačić, was founded and soon supported by numerous politicians and influential individuals in the town of Osijek. The Association managed to hire a renowned theatre expert named Nikola Andrić who moved to Osijek to become the first Artistic Director of the Croatian National Theatre in Osijek and assembled the first ensemble. This ensemble spent some time in Varaždin and Karlovac and returned permanently to Osijek towards the end of 1907, where they performed a programme to inaugurate the theatre in Osijek on 7th December 1907.
The building that houses the theatre was designed by Karlo Klausner in Historicist style characterized by elements of Moorish architecture, which was typical for that era. The horseshoe-shaped audience area is built on three levels much like Italian and Austrian theatre halls. A month and a half before its 125th anniversary, the building was opened on 27th November 1985 after a thorough renovation. On 16th November 1991 it was hit by a missile from a multiple rocket launcher. The Osijek temple of performing arts became victim of Serbian aggression and started its 85th season homeless. Not even that could put a stop to its activities. On 27th December 1994 the Theatre regained its old glory.
In addition to its annual repertoire of about fifteen permanent titles and the „ironclad repertoire“ containing works of Verdi, Rossini, Mozart and Shakespeare, the theatre organizes Open Days, Krleža Days, New Year's Concerts, June Opera Nights, and actively contributes to the ever-improving programme of Osijek Summer of Culture every year.