Minnesota's Theater Scene: Bigger & Better Than Ever

By Erica Wacker

While 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 theatre_OpeningNight_01 880x880.jpgFederation.

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. This year, new venues and new shows provide even more reasons to make going to the theater part of your Minnesota vacation.   

“Canoeing and hiking touches one side of your being, the physical, but the theater and arts in general touch the internal part of you—your heart,” says Leah Cooper, executive director of the Minnesota Theater Alliance. “The theater really rounds out all the great things we have in Minnesota.”

Twin Cities

A five-minute walk separates the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts from Park Square Theatre, and both downtown St. Paul venues recently opened new performance spaces. The Ordway’s highly anticipated Concert Hall primarily hosts the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and other music-centric productions, including Tchailkovsky's "Serende for Strings" (Feb. 18-20).

Ordway Center St Paul exteriorMeanwhile, the Ordway brings the beloved von Trapp family to stage for the holidays, featuring all the familiar songs in “The Sound of Music” (Dec. 10- Jan. 2). The catchy tunes continue past the holiday season with “A Chorus Line,” spotlighting 17 dancers hoping for their big break (Feb. 16-28).

Park Square’s new intimate, 200-seat Boss Stage has allowed the theater to nearly double its programming this season. For the holidays, it's featuring a family-friendly show “The Snow Queen,” an adventure of two children who experience the whirlwind adventure of friendship and personal growth. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved fairy tale, it offers a musical twist (Nov. 27-Dec. 27).  

Also during the season, a zany take on the classic “A Christmas Carol” features Jacob Marley, Ebenezer’s business partner and even a demon, following him straight from hell (Dec. 9-20).

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 this season include “Newsies” (Feb. 9-15), “Loyce Houlton's Nutcracker Fantasy” (Dec. 18-22) and the dazzling “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” (Dec. 11-12) at the Orpheum Theatre and State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, and “Sister Act” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.

Greater Minnesota

Commonweal Theatre, Lanesboro

Greater 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. This season, see “Little Women,” based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott and specially adapted by the Commonweal as a charming variation of the classic tale (Nov. 13-Dec. 20).

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 celebrates its 50th anniversary this season.

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