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Beyond Broadway: 5 Places to Catch Shows This Season
Discover vibrant theater cities across the country.
Theater buffs can enjoy riveting productions in inspiring, art-forward scenes across America.(Getty Images).
Legendary American actress Tallulah Bankhead once said, "If you want to help the American theater, don't be an actress, be an audience." Thanks to the growth in regional theater, travelers have a myriad options to do just that. Here's a look at five cities where you can be the first to catch a Broadway-bound show or enjoy the top traveling shows at a fraction of the price of the Great White Way.
Sean Hartley, director of the Theater@Kaufman at New York City's Kaufman Music Center, recommends visiting Seattle, where the 5th Avenue Theater puts on big musical productions. He notes that "Aladdin," "Christmas Story" and "Catch Me If You Can" are just a few Seattle hits that later opened on Broadway.
“Producers often partner with these theaters, like 5th Avenue, in order to share the risk. They mount a production to see how it plays in front of an audience," he explains. “And if it's a big hit, they get the confidence to raise more money and bring it to New York," he adds. The $99 offer for three orchestra seats gives you a chance to see theater in the Pacific Northwest in a much more affordable way than Broadway. “And right outside of Seattle is Issaquah, where the Village Theater also puts on great shows, including 'Million Dollar Quartet,' which came to Broadway," Hartley adds.
The three stages of The Old Globe, California's oldest professional theater company, are at the heart of San Diego's artistic community. As producer of the "Broadway Close Up" insider series and "Broadway Playhouse" for children, Hartley recalls the original production of "Into the Woods" that ran in Balboa Park. The Old Globe also staged the world premieres of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "The Full Monty" and "Bright Star," which is currently on Broadway. Perhaps not as well-known as the city's zoo, surfing beaches, or sunny climate, The Old Globe's summer Shakespeare Festival attracts travelers from around the world. Tickets start at $29 for most productions, and those under age 30 can sign up for "20 Under 30" promotions to snag discounted $20 seats.
Many Tony awards have gone to both The Old Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse, on the University of California campus in La Jolla, where "The Who's Tommy," "Jersey Boys" and "Peter and the Starcatchers" are some nationally recognized productions. Southern California visitors can also renew their creative spirits at the Cygnet Theatre, by taking in a Latino production at the San Diego Repertory Theatre or while discussing the women's issues raised in Moxie Theatre productions.
Washington, District of Columbia
“I love the Signature Theatre in Arlington, just outside of Washington, D.C.,” Hartley says, praising its recent production of a new musical based on "Freaky Friday." Disney Theatricals developed the show, based on Mary Rodgers' 1972 book “Freaky Friday” and three later Disney film adaptations, specifically to license to other theaters. The leads (a mother and daughter who trade places for a day) were cast from their roles in both regional and national productions. "Years ago, a show would always go on the road and play Philadelphia, New Haven, Boston and Washington before coming to New York," Hartley explains. "But touring costs have made this too expensive."
Today, the Signature Family tickets, which includes two adults and two kids ages 6 to 17 are available for $150. Plus, it's easy to plan a bargain getaway when you factor in the cheap weekend rates at D.C. hotels, free museums and abundance of inexpensive ethnic restaurants across the city.
The League of Chicago Theatres, an alliance of more than 250 theaters ranging from non-union Off Loop storefronts to big-budget downtown cultural centers, makes Chicago “second only to New York City” Hartley says. Chicago Theatre Week, which will take place from Feb. 9-19, 2017, is a bonanza for theater lovers, with 100 top shows selling $15 and $30 tickets and several hotels, including the Sheraton Grand Chicago, offering rate specials. Even better, half-priced tickets are available at Hot Tix year-round, even at the five Tony Award-winning regional theaters, including the famous Steppenwolf and Goodman theaters.
Cleveland's Playhouse Square is the country's second-largest performing arts center, drawing more than 1 million visitors to more than 1,000 events at 10 performance spaces each year. Originally a cluster of five grand theaters dating back to 1922, the complex was slowly abandoned in the '60s. Civic and volunteer groups worked to restore them from 1970 until 2012, and redesigned the space to accommodate entertainment acts, ranging from touring shows to concerts, comedy, opera, dance and children's programming. The current KeyBank Broadway Series brings seven Broadway shows to Cleveland for three weeks each in 2017, including "The King and I," "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and "An American in Paris." The Wyndham Cleveland at Playhouse Square offers theater-goers double rooms with breakfast for $135 per night, and several nearby restaurants have pre-and post-theater specials.
"In New York, we have tourists coming from all over the world, but they tend to want to see shows they've heard of, usually many years old, like 'Phantom of the Opera,'" Hartley says. Fortunately, theater buffs – even those from New York City – will find that Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Providence, Rhode Island, and Atlanta also have vibrant cultural scenes, he adds.
And you don't always have to see a Broadway musical to take in the arts. "In general, the local audiences in these cities are enthusiastic and loyal, and willing to try new material," Hartley says.
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Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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