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Houston’s Theater District: Exploring Arts & Culture

Oct 28th, 2013

In a New York Times article published a few months ago, Houston ranked #7 globally on a list of places to visit in the year 2013.  The city’s selling points, according to the article, were culture and food—two aspects that Houston’s residents are fortunate enough to enjoy as frequently as they would like.  How much do you know about Houston’s world-class restaurants, well-curated museum collections, and outstanding performance venues?  In this post, we zoom in on 17 city blocks in Houston’s downtown that make up one of  the world’s richest and most enticing theater districts: Houston’s Theater District.

Major Performing Arts

Only five cities in the United States have permanent professional resident companies representing each of the most highly esteemed performing arts disciplines: opera, symphony orchestra, ballet, and dramatic theater.  Houston is one of them.  These groups perform in five downtown venues, with a combined seating capacity of nearly 15,000.  Lovers of high culture can see a different show every week, almost all of them performed by award-winning professionals.


Spotlight: Houston Grand Opera

The Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Ballet, and the Alley Theater troupes have all won awards for excellence in their respective fields.  But the pride and joy of the Theater District is generally considered to be the Houston Grand Opera (HGO). Of the dozens of highly esteemed opera companies performing in the United States, the HGO is the only one to win awards at the Grammys, Tonys, and Emmys.  Since its humble founding in 1955, the company has achieved international acclaim for its stellar performances of up to eight productions each season.  Upcoming shows include and.

Broadway in Houston

In addition to being home to several successful original shows of its own, Houston is often one of the first city to showcase internationally acclaimed musicals as they trickle off the streets of Broadway in New York or out of London’s West End.  The most highly anticipated events from Broadway in Houston’s 2013-2014 season include and War Horse.

Spotlight: Bayou Place

Of the Houston Theater District’s several venues, Bayou Palace,is probably the most interesting.  The city’s major convention center until a couple of decades ago, the site underwent several years of renovation and was opened in its present glory in 1997.  The entertainment complex is home to the Bayou Music Center, a versatile and intimate theater with a seating capacity of 2,400 and a standing capacity of 2,800.  Concerts and comedy shows take place here just about every night of the week.  Another highlight of the complex is Sundance Cinemas, an eight-screen movie theater that features independent and foreign films and is affiliated with Robert Redford’s popular Sundance Institute.  Bayou Place is also home to several clubs and cafes, a fine seafood restaurant, an upscale Brazilian steakhouse, and Houston’s appropriately located Hard Rock Café.

Other Venues

  • A two-stage venue, the Alley Theatre is the site of dramatic and musical theatre productions that range in size, scope, and subject matter.  Highlights of this past season included and The Elephant Man.
  •  Home to “Broadway in Houston”, the Hobby Center is another popular two-stage venue neatly placed in the Theater District.  Its modern architecture and acoustic design make it ideal for the dance shows and musicals that are performed within its walls, one of which is made of 60-foot tall glass windows that accentuate Houston’s sprawling skyline.  In addition to the shows mentioned under the “Broadway in Houston” headline above, Wicked, Evita, We Will Rock You, and Cirque de Soleil’s have all graced the schedule.
  •  Host to some 500,000 guests annually, Jones Hall is the permanent home of the Houston Symphony Orchestra.  An attractive structure with a seating capacity of 2,900, it is also used as a venue for traveling musicians and cultural events, such as the upcoming “A Conversation with Steven Hawking.”
  •  Only a grandiose venue is suitable for an opera company as spectacular as the Houston Grand Opera, and that is precisely what the Wortham Theater Center is.  Opened in 1987 and inaugurated with a dazzling performance of Tango Argentino, the center houses two theaters with a combined seating capacity of 3,505.  The larger of the two, the Brown Theater, is where the HGO and Houston Ballet perform.  It has several balconies, each retrofitted with comfortable red chairs; and acoustics and décor to match its splendid architecture and the talented performers who utilize its space.

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