In Perfect Harmony: Houston's Theater District

Bayou City shines as an artistic mecca with its bustling theater district, boasting resident companies in theater, ballet, symphony and opera.

As the fourth largest city in the country, Houston is a major player in both global commerce and the arts. Leading business institutions, from health care and energy to water transit and aeronautics, thrive side-by-side with theaters, opera houses and concert halls, which combine to form Houston’s bustling Theater District.

Houston is one of only five U.S. cities with resident companies in the four major performing arts—theater, symphony, opera and ballet. In total, nine organizations occupy four primary venues, and with 13,000 seats in downtown alone, Houston’s Theater District is second only to New York City in the number of theater seats in a concentrated area. It doesn’t receive the public attention of Broadway, but Houston’s performing arts scene is no secret. About 4 million people per year visit its world-class venues for a live show.

■ Alley Theatre The Alley Theatre was formed more than 60 years ago, and as Houston’s resident theater company it features new plays, classics and musicals throughout the year. The theater sports two stages —the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage—as well as a 75,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art production center where plays are rehearsed and sets are built. Audiences can choose from 11 different productions each year, with plays ranging from favorites like “A Christmas Carol” and “Pygmalion” to funny and provocative works like David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries.”

■ Houston Ballet The Houston Ballet traces its roots back to the 1955 founding of the Houston Ballet Foundation. With goals to start a dance school and a resident ballet company, the foundation established the Houston Ballet Academy that same year. Fourteen years down the road, a professional company was started, and the Houston Ballet has grown to become the fourth largest ballet company in the country. Performances are presented at the Wortham Theater Center, which features two stages: The Alice and George Brown Theater, and the Roy and Lillie Cullen Theater. The Brown Theater features a 17,000-square-foot stage and more than 2,400 seats, while the Cullen Theater offers 1,100 seats for smaller productions. Ballet fans can see classic stories unfold on stage, like “Cinderella,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Nutcracker,” as well as more contemporary works.

■ Houston Symphony Founded in 1913, the Houston Symphony is the oldest performing-arts organization in the city and one of the oldest in the country. With about 170 concerts each season, visitors get plenty of chances to catch a concert in the impressive Jones Hall, which seats 2,900. The symphony plays a range of shows, so whether one’s tastes lean toward the classics or just classic rock, there’s likely something that fits. And while not traditionally considered a place to bring the kids, the Houston Symphony has the little ones covered as well, with a handful of family-oriented concerts, like the “Night Before Christmas” sing-a-long.

The Houston Symphony with Music Director Hans Graf

■ Houston Grand Opera Opera in Houston is alive and well, with thousands of fans flocking to the Wortham Theater Center each year. One reason—aside from the world-class performances which have netted a Tony, two Grammy and two Emmy Awards—is that the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) makes opera accessible to everyone. This is accomplished with popular productions like “Harvey Milk” and “Frida,” but also with the use of English subtitles to ensure that audiences can understand the lyrics. In addition to the classics and more modern operas, HGO has a reputation for commissioning and performing new works, so there’s always something new for fans to experience.

In addition to the four major resident companies, Houston has several more options for arts-hungry visitors. The musical theater production company, Theater Under the Stars (TUTS), was formed more than 40 years ago, and while it draws its name from its history of outdoor performances, TUTS now calls the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts home. This state-of-the-art complex contains two performance halls, a restaurant, offices and classroom space, plus TUTS’ own theatrical boutique. Over the years, the company’s musicals have included “Beauty and the Beast,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Grease.”

Also performing at the Hobby Center are Broadway Across America-Houston, which presents touring shows direct from Broadway and London, and the Dominic Walsh Dance Center, devoted to contemporary ballet. If that’s not enough, Da Camera is an organization dedicated to producing ensemble music, with performances at the Wortham Theater Center and The Menil Collection. Drawing upon the talents of local, national and international musicians, Da Camera presents classical and jazz concerts and connects its performances to other arts, including literature and dance. The fun, thematic programs have helped to increase Houston’s interest in classical music.

Houston’s arts scene isn’t just confined to downtown. Beyond the bustling city center, an assortment of smaller companies performs throughout Houston, providing patrons a blend of disciplines, from music and dance to classical theater and comedy.

While perhaps nothing shines quite so bright as the lights of Broadway, Houston has been delighting visitors for decades with its world-class companies and venues. Add that to the city’s desire to both attract the best artists and promote the craft across the world, and Houston is squarely on the map as a can’t-miss hub for performing arts.

 

Kevin Gray
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