10 Must-Know Locations for LA Theater Fans

Erin Conley

When I first moved to LA four years ago, I was nervous about the theater situation. Having spent the first 22 years of my life living within 3 hours of New York City, I was concerned I’d be disappointed by the quantity, quality, or accessibility of theater. Luckily, LA has proved me wrong. While no other city can ever compare to New York, I now truly believe LA has the second best theater scene in the country.

Sure, seeing theater is not always as simple here. While in New York I would often spontaneously get tickets to a show day of, LA life requires a bit more planning. Between traffic and the fact that runs are usually more limited and therefore often more difficult to get a ticket to,  I almost always plan my theater excursions in advance now (with occasional exceptions). Whether you’re looking for the biggest national tours or more intimate, local shows, the LA theater scene has a lot to offer even the most discerning theatergoer.

Here are 10 places any LA theater fan should familiarize themselves with. In no particular order:

1)    The Pantages Theater

Owned by the Nederlanders, this massive 2,703 seat venue is the number one stop for national touring productions when they come through LA. Their 2015-2016 season includes If/Then, Bullets Over Broadway, 42nd Street, and Beautiful. If you’re on a budget, keep an eye out for pre-show lotteries that some productions will hold, as well as Ticketmaster for cheap seats (often as low as $25) on the very edges of the orchestra.

2)    Center Theatre Group 

Their three non-profit theaters, the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theater feature a combination of large touring productions, exclusive limited runs, and new works. The Ahmanson is currently home to the kick-off stop on the Matilda tour and will feature The Sound of Music, The Bridges of Madison County, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, and Titanic later in the season. Meanwhile, the Taper will host Martin Sherman’s Bent and the Kirk Douglas the new musical Girlfriend this summer.

3)    The Geffen Playhouse

What I love about the Geffen is their frequent pre and post show events, which include “Talk Back Tuesdays,” a “Girls Night Out” event for each production, “Lounge Fridays,” and “Wine Down Sundays,” featuring a complimentary wine tasting in the lobby. This fall they will host the west coast premiere of These Paper Bullets, which features music and lyrics by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

4)    Rockwell Table & Stage

I find this fun cabaret-style venue to be LA’s answer to New York’s Joe’s Pub and 54 Below. Home to the “For the Record” concert series for years, you can currently take in either Cruel Intentions: The Unauthorized Musical Parody (which I highly recommend) or Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield while enjoying cocktails and food.

5)    North Hollywood Arts District 

This neighborhood is actually home to the highest concentration of operating theaters in a single square mile in the country, outside of New York. With some tickets as low as $15 and a great selection of nearby restaurants and bars, it’s the perfect choice for a theater night out.

6)    LA Theatre Works

This non-profit hosts an annual “radio theatre series,” where they combine audio theater, technology, and celebrities to produce various classic and contemporary plays, usually for one weekend only. Their 2015-2016 season is set to include Steel Magnolias, Jane Eyre, American Buffalo, God of Carnage, and more. Actors already scheduled to appear include Richard Dreyfuss, Kate Burton, and Jane Kaczmarek.

7)    Deaf West Theatre

This incredibly unique theater company produces plays and musicals in American Sign Language and English simultaneously to make the works fully accessible to both communities. They are currently coming off an incredibly successful and acclaimed run of Spring Awakening, directed by Michael Arden, which was probably the best piece of theater I have seen in LA to date.

8)    The Hollywood Bowl

I am mostly including the Bowl for their annual, star-studded, fully staged musical. I have seen Hairspray, The Producers, Chicago, and Hair, and this summer they are doing Spamalot. While I recommend low expectations considering the frequent stunt casting and brief rehearsal time, you can bring your own wine and snacks and have a really fun summer night out at one of LA’s most famous venues.

9)    La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Located about 20 miles outside of LA, this frequent award winner always has a great season line-up for those willing to venture a bit outside city limits. Their upcoming season includes the west coast premiere of First Date, Rent, the pre-Broadway run of Empire: The Musical, about the construction of the Empire State Building, Dreamgirls, and The Little Mermaid.

10) La Jolla Playhouse

Located nearly 2 hours from LA, this one is much more of a commitment, but is frequently the home to some of the highest profile pre-Broadway tryouts on the west coast. Currently home to world premiere musical Come From Away, La Jolla will next feature the debut of Up Here, a new musical comedy from Frozen writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

Any I missed? What is your favorite place to enjoy theater in LA?