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Pack the Hall at these Midwest Venues


Historic opera houses have become hubs for fine arts in Iowa. Constructed in 1902, the now-restored Corning Opera House hosts community theater, Opry concerts and touring musical acts. Before its 1990 restoration, the Pella Opera House served as a bowling alley, a skating rink and a hardware store. Today, this 324-seat theater delivers special performances at tulip time. In Sioux City, the elegant Orpheum Theater hosts celebrities, Broadway shows and the Sioux City Symphony. In 1927, construction costs totaled $1.75 million; its $12 million restoration, completed in 2001, replicated the original decorative finishes and carpet and even the terra-cotta drinking fountains.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of restoring Iowa’s opera houses and giving them new life,” said Jessica O’Riley, tourism communications manager for the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “Many are in small towns with charming main streets, local shops and restaurants that groups can enjoy before or after the show.”

Near the Minnesota border, Clear Lake begs a visit to the famed Surf Ballroom, which hosts musical acts including the Winter Dance Party — a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper’s last concert. Glenn Miller devotees will appreciate June’s Glenn Miller Festival and the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum in Clarinda.


Columbus boasts a vibrant entertainment scene. The King Arts Complex and Lincoln Theatre anchor the diverse King-Lincoln District, where the spoken word, dance, theater and music come together with the visual arts. For a fun summer evening, JazZoo, a waterfront four-concert series takes place at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium; tickets include zoo admission. The Ohio Theatre, home to the Columbus Symphony, BalletMet and Broadway shows, offers tours and demonstrations of its Mighty Morgan, one of the world’s few theater pipe organs still in its original home.

“Just outside of Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, at the Appalachian Listening Room, performances include two to three musicians who play and talk about how their songs were created, so it’s very much a singer-songwriter experience,” said executive director Karen Raymore for the Hocking Hills Tourism Association.

Near New Philadelphia, Ohio’s official drama, “Trumpet in the Land,” is performed in the same hills where the story originated. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green, the production brings to life the Ohio frontier during the Revolutionary War. Behind-the-scenes tours offer a chance to see how the weaponry is fired, learn pyrotechnic tricks and explore the understage tunnel for the actors.