The best theater events across the U.S. this summer
Even with sunny beaches and backyard barbecues on your summer agenda, there’s still time for a short trip based around an evening of live theater. Finding a show in a new locale is easy with so many to choose from throughout the country. In small towns and big cities, musicals, dramas, and revivals await your visit.
The venues themselves are part of the attraction, with everything from historic, over-the-top opulent theaters to quaint local playhouses. Exploring the area, finding a great restaurant, and enjoying a play make a perfect day that will leave you humming show tunes until bedtime.
Ticket prices vary, with many available directly from theaters and others through convenient online vendors. So, browse the list, check flights or maps, and make some plans to be in the audience this summer.
Hershey Theatre – Hershey, Pennsylvania
This theater just might outshine the star of the show. Designed in the grand style of Venice, the gold-lined foyer’s ceiling is patterned after St. Mark’s Cathedral, and mounted above the stage is the winged lion, the symbol of Venice. Adding to the Venetian atmosphere, a watercolor painting of the Grand Canal is displayed when the curtain is lowered.
This Tony-nominated show is filled with lively hit songs, telling the story of one of the most popular musical genres in history. Near Pennsylvania’s capital of Harrisburg, Hershey is best known for chocolate, of course, so make time for a free tour of Chocolate World to see how this sweet treat is made.
To buy tickets: ticketmaster.com, from $35
Oriental Theatre – Chicago, Illinois
Opened in 1926, the Oriental Theatre, filled with Asian art, was initially home to first-run films and lavish stage shows. Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Duke Ellington, and Danny Kaye are among the theatrical stars who have performed on the Oriental Theatre’s stage.
The Lincoln Center Theater’s national tour will present “The King and I,” the story of an improbable romance between the King of Siam and a British teacher. The show’s memorable tunes include “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” and “Shall We Dance.” You might just “Whistle a Happy Tune” as you leave this beloved show.
To buy tickets: vividseats.com, from $21
Boston Opera House – Boston, Massachusetts
Another example of the extravagance of early theaters, the Boston Opera House opened in 1928, presenting films and vaudeville performances. Restored to the exacting standards of the National Park Service and Boston Landmarks Commission, the original craftsmanship and opulence of the Boston Opera House shines through.
“Wicked,” the prequel to the familiar “Wizard of Oz” story, presents the real history of the witches of Oz with unforgettable songs, costumes, and staging. You’ll finally learn what happened before the witches met up with Dorothy. As they might say in Boston, it’s a “wicked” great musical.
To buy tickets: vividseats.com, from $68
Ogunquit Playhouse – Ogunquit, Maine
In 1933, a renovated garage was the birthplace of “America’s Foremost Summer Theatre,” the Ogunquit Playhouse. Since then, Broadway stars like Ethel Barrymore, Maude Adams, and Laurette Taylor have appeared on the stage in this quaint coastal town. Sally Struthers of “All in the Family” fame, an audience favorite and friend of the theater and community, appears in this summer’s show.
The musical adaptation of Woody Allen’s film features “tap dancing gangsters, saucy showgirls, big laughs, and colorful characters” in a 1920s New York City setting. This six-time Tony nominee promises an entertaining evening in a charming venue. Be sure to enjoy a Maine lobster or some fried clams while you’re in the neighborhood.
To buy tickets: ogunquitplayhouse.org, from $52
Charles R. Wood Theater – Glen Falls, New York
This 300-seat theater near Saratoga Springs in upstate New York hosts the Adirondack Theatre Festival and is also home to year-round community and professional productions. The Adirondack Theatre Festival focuses on new work rather than big name musicals, holding true to its founders’ vision of taking “the road less traveled.” Along those lines is this year’s production.
Described as “Hamilton Meets Tesla,” the musical interpretation of the rivalry between Nikola Tesla, a misunderstood genius, and Thomas Edison, famous inventor, is an enlightening (pun intended) experience. If this is the first you’ve heard about the battle over which type of electrical current would be used to light up the nation’s cities at the turn of the century, read “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore. The historical novel makes an interesting summer read and will provide the perfect background for this show.
To buy tickets: atfestival.org, from $34
Bigfork Summer Playhouse – Bigfork, Montana
Known as a leading arts community in Montana, Bigfork is a popular summer destination for its live theater, art galleries, cafes, shopping, and the Bigfork Festival of the Arts in early August. Oscar-winning actor J. K. Simmons (of “Whiplash” and “Farmers Insurance” fame) spent seven seasons on the Bigfork stage, helping the town earn the title of “Broadway in the Rockies.”
In its 58th repertory season, the Playhouse features popular musicals, old and new, to suit every taste. With the rotating schedule, you can see more than one show in just a few days’ stay – and enjoy a pleasant, relaxing visit to Bigfork.
To buy tickets: bigforksummerplayhouse.com, from $31
Surflight Theatre – Beach Haven, New Jersey
This beachside theater on the Jersey Shore has survived bankruptcy and Hurricane Sandy to re-open on June 23 with three musicals on its schedule. Rescued by Broadway and movie producer Al Parinello, a New Jersey native, the theatre is ready for the 2017 season. Be sure to join the regular theatergoers who stop next door at The Show Place Ice Cream Parlour for a cold treat before the show.
“Footloose,” with its Oscar and Tony-nominated top 40 score, tells a touching story accompanied by lively music. “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is the retelling of the biblical story of Joseph through memorable songs written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Newsies,” written by Harvey Fierstein with music by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, was inspired by the Newsboys’ Strike of 1899 in New York and produced by Disney Theatrical Productions.
To buy tickets: surflight.com, from $39
Hollywood Bowl – Hollywood, California
Nestled in lush green hills above the bustle of Hollywood, the Bowl has been updated many times over the years to enhance the acoustics and guest accessibility. Restaurants, picnic areas, snack shops, and wine bars make a night at the Bowl a special occasion whether you’re in a front-row box seat or an economical bench near the top. Many visitors pack their picnic baskets with goodies and then search out the perfect spot for a pre-show feast.
Tony award winner Kathleen Marshall will direct and choreograph the show, and a “star-studded cast” will be announced soon. “Mamma Mia,” an amusing story told through the catchy songs of Swedish pop group Abba, will make for an entertaining evening under the stars at this popular venue.
To buy tickets: stubhub.com, from $55
Peace Center – Greenville, South Carolina
Composed of a concert hall, theater, and amphitheater, the Peace Center hosts classical music and popular artists in addition to Broadway shows. The center opened in 1990 on a historical site that once included a factory that built wagons for the Confederate Army, a textile plant, and a mayonnaise producer.
“The Lion King,” with music by Elton John and Tim Rice, won six Tony Awards, including best musical. The visuals, sounds, and story have delighted theatergoers of all ages for 20 years. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s about time to treat yourself to the experience. If you have seen it, you already know you’d love to enjoy it again.
To buy: vividseats.com, from $120
Orpheum Theatre – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Once owned by world famous singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, the Orpheum Theatre opened in 1921 as a vaudeville house whose first performers included the Marx Brothers. The historic theater reopened in 1993 after a major restoration to continue hosting plays and rock concerts.
“Rent” has been compared to Puccini’s “La Boheme,” with its portrayal of struggling artists, friendship, creativity, and tragedy placed in a contemporary setting. This 1996 rock musical, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner, played for 12 years on Broadway.
To buy tickets: stubhub.com, from $65
Paramount Theatre – Seattle, Washington
Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, an official City of Seattle landmark, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. One of the Paramount Pictures grand movie houses, the theatre opened in 1928 to show silent films in its lavish French Renaissance interior. The tradition continues today on Silent Movie Mondays, with films accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.
The ever-popular Tony Award-winning musical “Cabaret” presents a decadent picture of pre-World War II Germany in Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub. This show by The Roundabout Theatre Company’s national tour stars Broadway favorites Leigh Ann Larkin and Jon Peterson, and is directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.
To buy tickets: stubhub.com, from $32
Buell Theatre – Denver, Colorado
The Buell Theatre is the largest and most versatile theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, “an ideal setting for large scale musicals and flashy effects,” the signature of their Broadway show performances. Parking and public transportation make this a convenient place to enjoy a show, and plenty of dining choices are available nearby.
Here, you can be among the first to see the new full-length stage musical “Frozen” before its spring 2018 Broadway debut. Based on Disney’s popular film, the stage version features new songs along with the beloved characters, a memorable story, and spectacular wintery sets.
Single tickets go on sale May 1.
To buy tickets: denvercenter.org, from $25
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre – New York, New York
The recently renovated Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (formerly The Royale), opened in 1927 and is notable for its excellent acoustics and cozy atmosphere in the heart of lively, marquee-dotted West 45th Street.
The Jacobs’ brand new show, “Bandstand” is a nostalgic visit to the big band era through the experiences of a group of World War II veterans who compete in a radio contest to become the next American music sensations. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler of “Hamilton” fame, the show includes the high-energy rhythms of the 1940s, sizzling dancing, and a swinging musical score. The show was critically acclaimed in its debut at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse and since opening in Manhattan has received accolades from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Chelsea Clinton.
To buy: stubhub.com, from $81