Warner Theatre Source: Washington.org

All the World's a Stage for Washington, D.C.'s Thriving Theater Scene


When it comes to theater shows, Washington, D.C. is at the top of the game. The nation's capital has cultivated a thriving theater scene over the years, offering the latest hits and cutting edge performance art that is at once diverse and eclectic. Through its preservation of culturally significant theaters, blockbusting Broadway favorites, and boundary-pushing theater companies, you'll discover a rich tapestry of the nation's best and brightest in theater arts. Grab your tickets for a show-stopping experience that will have you calling for an encore.

Lincoln Theatre. Source: Washington.org

A Storied Past

D.C. is at the forefront of preserving its historic theaters, and these gems offer shows in spaces that evoke nostalgia, inspiration, and remembrance. First on your list is Ford's Theatre, a performance space that encapsulates the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. The site of Lincoln's assassination, Ford's Theatre is a historical monument to the most beloved president, but also serves as a museum of intriguing exhibits, immersive learning experience, and working theatre. The theatre recently released its 2023-2024 season schedule, and you don't want to miss these classics: A music-filled version of "A Christmas Carol" and the rollicking hit musical "Little Shop of Horrors."

Also a classic, the Lincoln Theatre, built in 1922, was a cultural center and home to acclaimed artists Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Louise Armstrong, and many more. Today, fans can enjoy live tapings of "Pod Save America," the hit podcast featuring former Obama communications team experts who dish on all things politics in the seat of the federal government. And don't miss the National Theatre, the second-oldest operating theater in the country. Since 1985, the theatre has featured shows, musical performances, community programs, and, in modern times, hosts the best of Broadway. The ornate architecture and preserved wood finishings create a magical theater-going experience that you can only find in D.C.

Shakespeare Theatre Company. Source: Washington.org

A Curtain Call of America's Finest Shows

Your trip to the District isn't complete without checking out some of the best shows and musicals Broadway has to offer. This upcoming fall has an all-star lineup, including "Evita" at Harman Hall. Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's rock opera, about the rise of Argentine political leader Eva Peron, will have you in tears (even if Eva, in her famous song, urges you not to cry for her). Look for the show, a part of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, in September.

For more comedy and less tragedy, check out "Pretty Woman: The Musical" at the National Theatre in December. Based on the hit film that made Julia Roberts a star, the story follows a wealthy businessman who hires a Hollywood prostitute to be his date to several social functions, only to encounter a budding romance.

World-class Shakespeare productions are featured this fall: "Romeo + Juliet" at the renowned John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Witness the star-crossed lovers get torn apart by feuding families in a production that promises to be sumptuous and emotionally stirring in performance and direction – in the iconic theater that commemorates President John F. Kennedy.

D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company continues to impress audiences with its brilliant renditions of the great playwright's work, and "Macbeth" is sure to stun. Starring Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma, don't miss the Scottish tragedy performed by some of Hollywood's most compelling actors.

National Theatre. Source: Washington.org

Cutting-Edge Theater Companies

D.C. is home to a host of theater companies that challenge, inspire, and push live performance into new directions. The GALA Hispanic Theatre develops and produces Latino performance art that "provides opportunities for the Latino artist, educates youth, and engages the entire community in an exchange of ideas and perspectives," according to the theatre company website. The company's commitment to Latino art leads the nation in preserving the rich history and cultural impact of Latino heritage.

If you want to experience a unique and adventurous show, check out a production put on by the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co., an avant-garde theatre with a mission to produce courageous and invigorating shows that redefine the theater experience. Visit the theatre website for the 2023-2024 season of shows, including "My Mama" and "The Full-Scale Invasion," a family drama set against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and "Public Obscenities," an intimate portrait of "the things we see, the things we miss, and the things that turn us on."

For plays, concerts, films, dance and more, get tickets to a show at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, a multi-performance space theater that has something for everyone. In addition to leading the way in all kinds of performance, Atlas hosts community events and rents out space for emerging productions to explore and rehearse their art. The Keegan Theatre, likewise, empowers young playwrights to discover their voice in an independent and intimate theater space. Visit the website to learn about the theater's lineup of shows such as "Seussical: The Musical," blending song and dance to tell the story of famed author and illustrator Dr. Seuss, and the Pulitzer prize-winning play "Sweat," about a group of friends hitting the picket lines to stay afloat.

Kennedy Center. Source: Washington.org

The Best Show in Town

The show always goes on in Washington, D.C., a city that features some of the most compelling theatrical work in the country, put on in contemporary and historical theater spaces that dazzle and delight. Visit washington.org to learn more about the District's theater scene, get tickets, and plan your visit.

by Roger Porter

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