If, as Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage,” there are nonetheless a few cities where the footlights shine brightest. Some, like the Big Apple, serve up almost more theatrical productions than can easily be counted; others, like the Big Peach, feature smaller theater scenes that are just as vital. All welcome groups with open arms, offering goodies from discounts to early on-sale dates that can make snagging tickets a snap.
One big reason this city never sleeps has got to be its endlessly energetic, forever-legendary theatrical performances. From the 41 Great White Way professional playhouses to artsy downtown companies, New York boasts a theater scene that’s the envy of the world. According to the Broadway League, in the 2018-2019 season alone, 38 new productions opened in the Theatre District; they were attended by 14.77 million people.
“While terrific theater can be found in cities across America, there is something palpable about seeing a show in New York,” said The Broadway Blog’s editor and chief critic Matthew Wexler. “Maybe it’s the original casts or the historic theaters. Or the convergence of legendary talent, such as André De Shields in ‘Hadestown’ and breakout performances like Ali Stroker in the reimagined ‘Oklahoma!’ I’d also encourage visitors to venture beyond Broadway to discover the breadth of talent that reaches far beyond Times Square, such as the utterly captivating devised works of the musical, ‘The Mad Ones’ or the neo-burlesque Company XIV in Bushwick, Brooklyn.”
There is a spate of hotly anticipated shows debuting in New York in 2020 that should appeal to the tastes of group travelers, like revivals of Edward Albee’s acid-tongued “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the beloved musical “The Music Man.” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is set to open April 9; “The Music Man” will launch October 22.
A creatively juicy city with permanent, professional companies in every major field of the performing arts, Atlanta has a theater scene hot enough to rival its steamy summer weather. The stunning Fox Theatre, an ornate stunner built in 1929, often hosts touring Broadway shows like “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” which features more than 20 of the disco diva’s songs, opening June 23, 2020.
Established in 1968, with an audience that tops 165,000 each year, the Alliance Theatre routinely debuts shows that end up on Broadway, like 2016’s “The Prom.” In 2020, it will continue its history of presenting topical, insightful and engaging fare with the March 28 world premiere of “53% Of,” a drama about Americans contending with the fractious, emotionally charged political landscape. Dedicated to work that fosters honest communication about diversity and inclusivity, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company is producing only works with black directors and all-black women casts next year. That includes “Marie and Rosetta,” set to open June 16, 2020.
Other heralded Atlanta theaters that groups travelers will want to experience include the Horizon Theatre Company, devoted to producing contemporary works, and Actor’s Express, a fearless little theater tucked away in West Midtown at the King Plow Arts Center that will revive Eugene O’Neill’s brilliant “Desire Under the Elms” beginning May 16, 2020.
Chicago is home to world-renowned theater companies like Steppenwolf, whose members have included John Malkovich and William Peterson. And it’s difficult to find another metropolis that provides such a rigorous assortment of cutting-edge live performance groups. They include many more than just Second City, the fabled improvisational comedy troupe that spawned the likes of Bill Murray, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.
“In Chicago, you can make whatever kind of theater you want,” said William Bullion, who is an ensemble member of Chicago’s The Factory Theater. “Theater rent is doable, and there’s always an audience, not to mention a gigantic pool of talented collaborators pouring into the city from the many excellent university theater programs in the Midwest. At any given time, there might be over 200 legit, active theater companies in the area. You can do whatever you want. And I choose to do high-energy stylized punk rock neocommedia satire with my own company, the Conspirators.”
The city of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres have designated 2019 the Year of Chicago Theatre, but 2020 promises to be just as big. Highlights include the revival of “Molly Sweeney,” about a woman who undergoes surgery to regain her vision.
Also on tap next year: Steppenwolf’s “King James,” a new play written by ensemble member Rajiv Joseph and set against the backdrop of LeBron James’ basketball reign in Cleveland, which will open May 7. “Dear Evan Hansen” debuted July 7 at the CIBC Theatre.
Great midwestern theater isn’t found solely in Chicago. Since 1819, when the city’s inaugural community theater company stepped onstage, Cleveland has made history with groundbreaking theatrical firsts. “Theater is a significant part of Cleveland’s rich arts and culture scene,” said Kristen Jantonio, communications specialist at Destination Cleveland. “The city has deep roots in performing arts history as the home of one of the first professional regional theaters in the county, the Cleveland Play House.
“Playhouse Square, located in the heart of downtown Cleveland, is the second-largest performing arts center in the country and is the home of the largest theater restoration project in the world.”
Now boasting 10 theatrical spaces that have blossomed from the original five built in the 1920s, Playhouse Square is surpassed only by Lincoln Center as the nation’s largest complex for the performing arts. Among the shows arriving there next year as part of the KeyBank Broadway Series are Lerner and Loewe’s classic “My Fair Lady,” a Lincoln Center Theater Production that will open April 28, and Disney’s feel-good musical “Frozen,” hitting town July 15.
Starting April 25, 2019, Playhouse Square will offer the audacious, witty “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” which follows Nora Helmer 15 years after the events of Ibsen’s drama. The smart, sparkling comedy “Sassy Mamas” will debut at Karamu January 30. Shakespeare fans will want to catch Great Lakes Theatre’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” beginning March 27 at Playhouse Square.
If there’s a city that can rival New York’s theatrical doings, it’s Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds. Whether groups want to explore the shows in the West End, merry old England’s answer to Broadway, or productions at revered theaters like the Old Vic, the Royal Court Theatre and the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London truly has something for everyone. More than 15.5 million people attended the theater in the city last year, setting a new record, according to the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre.
Shows like Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” — at 67, the longest-running play in the world — as well as musical blockbusters like “The Lion King,” now celebrating two decades at the Lyceum Theatre, continue to draw big crowds in the West End. So should the upcoming “Mary Poppins,” which will take its first bow at its original home in the Prince Edward Theatre November 13. Also hotly anticipated is “The Prince of Egypt,” a new musical based on the animated film of the same name opening at the Dominion Theatre February 5.
Groups shouldn’t miss the opportunity to attend performances at prestigious noncommercial venues in London, where less-flashy productions of often straight dramas wow with brilliant stagecraft. The Old Vic, founded two centuries ago, has a long history of presenting adventurous work in a welcoming atmosphere; it will open Samuel Beckett’s black comedy “Endgame,” with Daniel Radcliff, February 5.
Meanwhile, the theater’s little sister, the Young Vic, is famed for cultivating new talent, which has included Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. The theater will present “Portia Coughlan,” starring Ruth Negga, starting September 16, 2020. With a mission to promote and support both emerging and established playwrights, the equally esteemed Royal Court Theatre will premiere new plays like “The Glow,” Alistair McDowall’s drama about a spiritualist and her new apprentice, coming May 29.