Minnesota's Theater Scene: Bigger & Better Than Ever

By Erica Wacker

theatre_OpeningNight_01 880x880.jpgWhile New York is synonymous with Broadway, and California is home to Hollywood, Minnesota has earned its rightful place among these theatrical heavyweights. In fact, Minneapolis ranks as the fifth-most “creatively vital” city in the country, right after D.C., LA, NYC and Boston, according to the latest report by the Western States Arts Federation.

The Twin Cities aren’t the only place to find notable stages. Of the more than 440 theaters throughout the state, close to 200 are in greater Minnesota. Every year, new venues and new shows provide even more reasons to make going to the theater part of your Minnesota vacation.   

“Minnesota is really fortunate to have such a rich cultural tradition of dynamic performing arts,” says Joanna Schnedler, executive director of the Minnesota Theater Alliance. “I have sat in audiences across Minnesota, always entertained, always inspired. Nothing rounds out a vacation like an evening of great theater.”

Twin Cities

Ordway Center St Paul exteriorA five-minute walk separates the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts from Park Square Theatre, and both downtown St. Paul venues have recently opened new performance spaces. The Ordway’s highly anticipated Concert Hall primarily hosts the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and other music-centric productions, with the main stage presenting big Broadway musicals, the Minnesota Opera and other special performances.

Park Square’s intimate, 200-seat Boss Stage has allowed the theater to nearly double its programming in recent years to around a dozen shows every season, which range from classic tragedies and dramas to contemporary comedies and variety shows. Also nearby, the iconic Fitzgerald Theater's signature show, "A Prairie Home Companion," has reinvented itself with host Chris Thile taking the reigns from the venerable Garrison Keillor.

In Minneapolis, the former address of the always hilarious Brave New Workshop now houses The Phoenix Theatre. The multipurpose performance space hosts cabarets on Tuesday nights, as well as productions by visiting companies and the resident Arts Nest collective.

Other highlights in Minneapolis include the Orpheum Theatre and State Theatre anchoring the downtown theater district; the famous Guthrie Theater in the historic mill district on the Mississippi River; and Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in the western suburbs, a must-attend for any theater fan.

Greater Minnesota

Commonweal Theatre, LanesboroGreater Minnesota has no shortage of performing arts either, with theaters including the Brainerd Community Theatre, part of the Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center, the Bemidji Community Theater and more. The historic city of Lanesboro is home to the Commonweal Theatre, a can’t-miss stop along the 60-mile Root River Trail.

There’s always a lot going on in Duluth, and its theater scene is no exception. Five professional companies, including the Duluth Playhouse, Renegade Theater Company and Rubber Chicken comedy troupe, offer a wide variety of performances year-round.

Other cities that boast multiple theater companies include Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. And then there are towns where one theater is all it takes to draw a crowd, including Willmar’s Barn Theatre, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Find more upcoming performances in the arts calendar, or search for performing arts groups and venues statewide.