Philadelphia theater is rich in its diversity and output, with over 100 companies presenting thousands of performances every year. The city boasts a long-standing tradition of theatrical production—Center City’s Walnut Street Theatre is the nation’s oldest continuously operating playhouse, having recently celebrated its 200th anniversary.
The Walnut is joined by a number of other major resident theaters in putting on shows of a quality in scope to match almost any in the county. Old City’s Arden Theatre Company is lodestar of this group, presenting consistently high-quality seasons of new and classic works. Along Broad Street, known as the city’s Avenue of the Arts, the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s stylish Suzanne Roberts Theatre hosts an array of major theater events, including many world and national premiers by contemporary American playwrights.
A generous offering of smaller spaces and non-resident companies add flavor to the Philly theater scene, each filling their own unique niche. Stalwart Plays and Players has now been in its elegant historic space for 100 years. InterAct Theatre, resident at the multi-stage Adrienne Theatre (a good place to look for top small local companies), produces mostly new work of a politically conscious hue. The city’s only all-comedy company, 1812 Productions is guaranteed for humor fests. The Lantern Theatre, which stages in the rear space of a Center City church, is the place for quality classics—their Shakespeare shows are regularly the best in town. (Also look to the resident Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre if the Bard’s your thing.) Other top independents such as Theatre Exile, BRAT Productions, and Simpatico Theatre Project can be seen on the second stages of the city’s theaters and other smaller spaces around town.
Cutting-edge theater in Philadelphia reaches a peak every September, when the annual Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe presents a smorgasbord of commissioned and independent productions. Experimental works by the best regional companies combine with visits from national and international groups and small venue shows by the city’s up-and-coming performers for a unmissable two-week citywide event.
At the other end of the spectrum, Broadway comes to Philadelphia under the auspices of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts’ Broadway Series, which presents touring shows at the Merriam Theater, Forrest Theatre, and elsewhere. The University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center also hosts national tours of a high quality.
Beyond Center City, West Philly’s Curio Theatre, Kensington’s Walking Fish Theatre and Papermill Theater, and Mount Airy’s Sedgwick Theater, are within easy reach of public transportation—and well worth the trip. In the city’s suburbs, Malvern’s People’s Light and Theater boasts the best production values of a number of high-quality theater venues that includes Media’s Hedgerow Theatre, Ambler’s Act II, and Pottstown’s Tri-County Performing Arts Center.