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The Theater District boasts a range of theaters and playhouses that is only outdone by New York’s Broadway—the Wang Center, the Shubert Theater, the Colonial Theatre, the Emerson Majestic, the Opera House, and the Orpheum all are fascinating buildings in their own right, without even considering the world-class performances they play stage to. If it's touring Broadway shows you want, those generally are found at these theaters in the theater district.
The Wang Theater, in the heart of Boston's Theater District surrounded by fabulous places to eat, hosts both mainstream and hidden jewels. Here, you can catch an old favorite such as Cats or the Nutcracker as well as stand up acts like Jerry Seinfeld. The nearby Charles Playhouse, originally designed and built in 1839, has experienced life as a church, a synagogue and a YWCA before its transformation during the Prohibition into a speakeasy. These days, it houses two performance spaces and two long-running crowd pleasers: Shear Madness, a comic whodunit, and Blue Man Group. Both shows are among the most enjoyable and affordable in Boston for audiences of all ages.
Summer-time brings many free events to the Boston area, including free Shakespeare in Boston Common by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. And there is almost always something going on at the Hatch Shell in the summer and fall months.
Boston also has a top notch collection of local theater companies, which produce plays and musicals throughout the Fall/Winter/Spring season. These theater companies include the Lyric Stage, the American Repertory Theatre, the Huntington Theater Company, Speakeasy Stage, CentAstage, and the New Repertory Theater. Plays range from world-premiers by local Boston playwrights, to the well-known works from Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee.
Over in Cambridge in Harvard Square at the American Repertory Theatre (ART) you will find some very high-quality productions. They often are offbeat or creative interpretations of or twists on more traditional performances.
Music lovers will also appreciate the wide array of talent that Boston and Cambridge draws, from pop star headliners at the Bank of America Pavilion to indy bands at small cafes and clubs, such as T.T. the Bear’s, the Lizard Lounge, the Paradise Rock Club, and the Middle East. If jazz is your thing, you will find live jazz practically every night at Wally's Cafe or you could cross the river to Cambridge and visit Ryles.
If you don't like that, try Improv Boston in Cambridge.
Boston has one of the best classical music scenes in the nation. In addition to the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, and Boston Ballet, there are innumerable other groups offering concerts pretty much every day, from the Boston Chamber Music Society to various college orchestras. Don't forget to check out the weekly concert listings for local museums as well. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offers an especially good concert series in their beautiful location; a tour of the museum combined with an afternoon concert can make for a wonderful and relaxing day in the city.
For those who like their music "hot" you can't go wrong stopping at Johnny D's in Somerville, right on the Red Line T. You'll find great blues and roots players and decent ribs (better yet, have better barbecue at RedBones around the corner and head over to Johnny D's for the music). If its cool jazz you're looking for you may find Scullers, in the DoubleTree Suites hotel on Storrow Drive, is offering up fine jazz almost any night of the week. Check out who may be playing at the Berklee Music Center when you are in town: anything from a free concert by talented students to a marvelous evening with Maritza, a Portuguese fado star, might be available to you.
And for classical music, any of Boston's local music schools are likely to have fine young players testing their mettle: try Longy School of Music, New England Conservatory, and MIT's music center for inexpensive to free concerts with tomorrow's artists. You can get all this news by checking the Boston Globe's Thursday Calendar which lists all the local performances for the week.
And don't forget the small museums: Boston College's McMullen often has delightful exhibits, and BU currently is showing the marvelous Black artist's collection of jazz devotee George Wein. Harvard's Fogg and Peabody Museums are well worth a day in Cambridge.
Finally, like all cities, Boston is replete with marvelous small ethnic restaurants. Try Casa de Pedro for well-priced intriguing Venezualan/South American food, in the Arsenal on the Charles (near Watertown Square,) of go for Malaysian delights at Penang, in the downtown theater district.
Insider Tip - Check out ArtsBoston web site or the BosTix Booths (1 in Faneuil Hall and 1 in Copley Square) for half-priced tickets to most current shows. They open at 10am during the week, so go early for the best selection!
If you prefer to order tickets in advance, the ArtsBoston website has a comprehensive listing of theater and concert events from the smaller venues around Boston, including most of the theater companies listed above, as well as certain of the national touring shows. They also offer these seats at a discount, in most cases. You can order them in advance, over the web, or for the greatest discounts, visit the Bostix booths on the day of performance. Be advised that Bostix sales are cash only.
Another excellent website for checking on the local theater scene is TheaterMania. They also offer the ability to purchase tickets online, sometimes at a discount, as well.
Finally, Watertown is just outside Boston and has the one of the finest repertory theater in the area. After starting in Newton more than 20 years ago, The New Repertory Theatre moved to the Arsenal Center for the Arts at 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown in 2005. It is next to the Arsenal Mall and near several restaurants as well. The closest restaurant is Panera Bread for casual dining. The theatre is open from September until May, and performances run from Wednesday through Sunday. Call the box office at 617-923-8487 to make sure tickets are available. The theater has become very popular and many performances are sold out.