If you’re a lover of theater, there are few better places in the whole world to spend your time than Broadway – but this is a big country with diverse theatrical traditions. Not everyone can feasibly move or travel to New York and not everybody wants to. There are numerous other cities whose theatrical productions are of highly impressive caliber. Visitors will be amazed by the variety of works to be seen there and the level of talent involved, even when the directors and players are not big names. These are six of the most important theatrical hubs.
Celebrated for its improvisational comedy and its big musical shows, Chicago is home to big-name companies like Steppenwolf, Goodman and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The halls of the Cadillac Palace Theater, Broadway Playhouse, Bank of America Theater and Oriental Theater host visiting Broadway shows and put on productions of their own on the same scale, but what really stands out about the city is the variety it offers. World class Polish language theater is also available, alongside opera in Lithuanian. The focus on the theatrical arts at DePaul and Northwestern ensures that it will continue to produce first-class work for the foreseeable future.
Whilst neighboring Los Angeles may be the big player in film and television, San Francisco dominates west coast theater. You can catch Broadway shows in the Orpheum or explore experimental micro-productions in the many small venues around the Bay Area, where there’s always something new to discover. BerkeleyRep has a big reputation for premiering plays that go on to be international hits. It’s here that former Broadway producer Louise Gund is now based, working with the Berkeley Community Chorus and, previously, with the San Francisco Opera. Although today she’s primarily known as an environmental activist, she continues to sponsor the performing arts.
The lively theater district to the south of Boston Common represents one of the oldest theatrical traditions in the US, with roots that go back to Harvard University in 1636. The Orpheum, Colonial, and Cutler Majestic theaters are today accompanied by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, probably the best place to see Bard’s work on the whole of the east coast. The American Repertory Theater, Huntington, and Lyric are among others worth exploring. Classical theater traditions are preserved in impressive shape and enthusiasm for the performing arts extends right across the local area, with other excellent small theaters in surrounding towns.
With the largest theater district in the South, Houston boasts six large performance halls like the Hobby Center and Jones Hall, nine major performing arts companies and a proliferation of small companies focused on particular local areas or community groups such as Theater Suburbia and Talento Bilingue de Houston. Across 17 blocks it has the greatest concentration of theater seats anywhere in the US, and you can see anything from touring Broadway productions to innovative new works by emerging directors, with many people cutting their teeth there before going on to work elsewhere. If you can’t find what you want, there’s almost as much going on just a short drive away in Dallas.
With more theater seats per head of population than any other US city except for New York, Minneapolis really lives up to its reputation as a cultural hub. It’s known for its innovative, experimental work and for the strong relationship between locally produced theater and dance, though you can also catch popular touring Broadway fare in its larger playhouses. The Guthrie Theater, in a splendid building designed by Jean Nouvel, is one of its best-known attractions, with the Hennepin Trust, Orpheum, and Pantages theaters also drawing healthy crowds. The city is also the center of the Minnesota Fringe Festival for the performing arts.
It may not be a big name like the other cities on this list, but Ohio’s second-largest city is home to the country’s second-largest performing arts center, Playhouse Square. It also boasts the Gordon Square Arts District, where you’ll find the Capitol Theater and Cleveland Public Theater, which is at the heart of the annual Ingenuity Festival. The Forest City is a place where you can see touring Broadway musicals but it’s also home to several highly active theater companies producing great work of their own, and it has been praised for its ability to deliver something different. It’s also a good location for a family-friendly theater that really hits the spot for everybody.
With so much to discover, it’s well worth getting out there and exploring what these fine cities have to offer for yourself. You might not have to travel very far at all – and what you find out there beyond Broadway will truly open up your horizons.