Theater is experiencing something of a global resurgence, as the power of a live performance reasserts itself in our increasingly digital age. Fantastic musicals, brilliantly-written dramas and laugh-out-loud comedy have an extra something when they’re happening live before your very eyes, and the venue can also add to the experience immeasurably.
Sometimes it’s not just what you see but where you see it. Some theaters and amphitheaters are world-renowned for their amazing acoustics, stunning staging or an indefinable atmosphere that brings an unforeseen majesty and grandeur to any production. An iconic venue can bring decades or even centuries of history to bear, sometimes becoming a star in its own right. Here are some of the best places in the world to see a theater show.
The epicenter of both serious and commercial theater worldwide, Broadway dominates New York’s famous theater district just as it dominates the dreams of every writer, actor or director that ever hoped to make it big on the stage. Its 41 professional theaters are so dominated by musicals, that “Broadway musical” has become a genre in and of itself. But Broadway also hosts serious drama like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat (2017), written by Lynn Nottage and produced by Louise Gund.
The West End
Seeing a West End show is near the top of every London visitors’ bucket list, and attendance records in the district continue to be broken every year. The West End’s history goes back to the days of Shakespeare, but theaters like the Adelphi, the Lyceum, the Savoy, the Garrick, the Dominion and the Palladium really became established in the 19th Century. The Mousetrap has been running at St Martin’s Theatre continuously since 1952, while Les Miserables remains London’s longest-running musical.
Sydney Opera House
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than just a theater but is an iconic wonder of the modern world, dominating Sydney Harbor and this vibrant city’s skyline. A multi-venue complex, the Opera House includes the 1507-seat Joan Sutherland Theatre as well as the 544-seat Drama Theater, the 398-seat Playhouse and the 280-seat/400-capacity Studio Theatre, plus open spaces and the famous concert hall.
Does opera count as theater? We think it does, which is all the excuse we need to recommend the most famous opera house in the world, La Scala in Milan, Italy. With a history going back to 1778, La Scala includes a museum and an academy of performing arts as well as a theater. Notable premieres that took place at La Scala include Verdi’s Otello and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and it continues to attract some of the greatest composers, singers and ballet dancers from around the globe.
The Minack Theatre in Cornwall
This is one of the smaller venues on our list, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in atmosphere. An open-air theater built into a clifftop, it looks out onto the crashing waves and wide open skies of the North Atlantic. If you ever wanted to see Shakespeare performed on the UK’s south-western tip, surrounded by the awesome glory of nature that inspired the bard back in the day, then this is the place for you.
Siam Niramit, Thailand
This 2000-seat theater in the heart of Bangkok hosts some of the largest stage productions in the world, and the lavish venue includes a waterfall and a river right on stage. Siam Niramit may not be as well-known as some of our other recommendations, but once you’ve seen a show performed here we guarantee you’ll not forget it in a hurry.
Image by daniel lim via Flickr
The Tampa Theatre, Florida
This much-loved landmark is celebrated for its elaborate, overblown interior décor as much as its staging and productions. Featuring a 900-pipe Wurlitzer organ and a ceiling that recreates a starry sky thanks to 99 embedded lightbulbs, this 1920s theater is a must-see if you’re passing through and worth a special journey if you’re a connoisseur of individualistic American architecture and design.
These are just a few of our favorite theaters, theater districts and performance venues around the world, each one with its own individual character and quirks. For some of these places tickets can be purchased relatively cheaply on the day; for others advance booking is strongly recommended, depending on the show you want to see. In most cases, this can be done online.
A great venue can make a mediocre show worth seeing, and can make a great show life-changing. Even if it’s a show you’ve seen before, seeing it again in one of these places will be well worth the effort.