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Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
Photograph: Courtesy Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre

The best theaters in Boston

Clustered mostly downtown in our city’s Theater District, Boston’s grand playhouses and contemporary auditoriums do not disappoint.

Jillian Dara
Written by
Jillian Dara
Written by
Linda Laban
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There’s nothing quite like a theater night; dressing up, dining out and watching live performers show off their craft in a grand venue. Boston boasts a compact yet vibrant Theater District, located close to some of the best restaurants in the Financial District, Downtown Crossing and Chinatown, and allowing for a seamless night out at the theater. There are even a few other theaters dotted throughout the city, in areas like Brookline and Harvard Square, ensuring that you can switch up the neighborhood, and in effect, the style of show and vibe of the venue. Needless to say, Boston’s entertainment scene abounds, so don’t miss out on a show at one of these iconic theaters. As mentioned before, it’s wise to pair a production with a meal at one of the best restaurants in Boston—or maybe a sweet treat at one of the best dessert spots in Boston or a drink at one of the best bars in Boston.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Boston

Best theaters in Boston

  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Downtown

Small and splendid, this 1928, Rococo-style building located near the heart of Downtown Crossing has an elegance that belies a checkered past. It had fallen into horrendous disrepair, but with the help of Senator Edward Kennedy, was renovated and reopened in 2004 with its baroque décor of fairytale white terracotta, gilded moldings and crystal chandeliers gleaming anew. The Opera House is the Boston Ballet’s home venue, renowned for their holiday portrayal of The Nutcracker, and also features top Broadway musicals and big name musical artists. On a practical note, the lobby has a bar, as does the basement lounge, so cheers to that!

  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Chinatown

The ornate, 1,700-seat Colonial Theater (built in 1900) is now owned by Emerson College. The hand-painted murals in the lobby, mosaic flooring and gold leaf covered moldings are highly impressive. But it’s the theater’s past performances that make the venue iconic; the Colonial Theatre’s cachet was built from its reputation for pre-Broadway premieres of musicals that became classics within the industry. The theater still has significant premieres, and it also hosts all kinds of productions, both classic and contemporary.

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  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Chinatown

Now part of Emerson College’s campus, this 1,200-seat Beaux Arts theater is the second oldest in the Theatre District, and is quite the Gilded Age grand dame. Built in 1903, it was originally designed for opera performances, and the opulent decor echoed the grandeur of European opera houses. Yet, theatrical roots are honored via Greek revival columns and traditional depictions of theater masks decorating the interior. The noble arched windows’ stained glass creates a colorful façade often missed by street-level pedestrians. Opera, dance and theater productions—both classic and progressive—pack the Cutler Majestic schedule. The Cutler Majestic Theatre itself is a member of the National League of Historic American Theatres and a Boston Historic Landmark.

  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Back Bay

The Lyric Stage is tucked inside the residences at 140 Clarendon Street, formerly a YWCA, a block from Copley Square. This small, 240-capacity theater’s stage has seating on three sides; it’s an intimate setting allowing the audience to be immersed in a performance, many of which are musicals. The Lyric Stage Company, which was founded in 1974, is Boston’s oldest theater company. The Company partners with a number of surrounding restaurants serving up everything from all-American to Mexican cuisine, and when you show your ticket stub, you gain access to seasonal promotions.

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  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Theater District

The 1,500-seat Shubert dates back to 1910 and the birth of Boston’s Theater District as an arts center. The theater has an elegant, cream Neoclassical façade, which has been wonderfully maintained through several renovations. Because of its architectural significance, the theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, which has kept the ornate lobby and marble entrance area in its original design. Along with classic and contemporary theater, and musicals, the Shubert also hosts concerts by musical artists of all ilk (past talent includes The Temptations, Louis Armstrong and the Kronos Quartet) and also some comedy shows. 

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  • Roxbury

This venue was originally constructed as America’s first civic playhouse. Having transformed from a theater into an art-house cinema, and back into a theater once again, this venue is home to the Huntington Theatre Company, an accomplished, ambitious troupe that brings big names to the little city. Consistently top-notch, Huntington productions often go on to Broadway glory, and have won a clutch of Elliot Norton Awards in recent years. Tell your friends you saw it here first.

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  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Harvard Sq

Located in Harvard Square, Harvard University’s Loeb Drama Center is the home of the American Repertory Theater, better known as A.R.T. While it’s a classroom extension for the students, it’s a theater like any other, with regular performances, mostly with a focus on modern, new and experimental works. In addition to the 500-seat main theater, there is a small black box theater at the Loeb, and A.R.T. has a satellite theater, Oberon, on Arrow Street, where more alternative performances are held, including innovative shows from newcomers and LGBTQ programming.

  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Theater District

This 3700-seat theater is Tremont Street’s big kahuna; it’s the largest and grandest performance space in the Theater District. The building dates back to 1925, when it opened as the Metropolitan Theatre; by the 1960s, it was the home of the Boston Ballet, as well as serving as a notable venue for opera. By the early 1980s, it had fallen by the wayside and became the Wang, named for its benefactor, Dr. An Wang, who saved the ailing building from further decline. The renovations have returned the theater’s grandeur; gold-plated pendant chandeliers hang from the towering ceiling, which seems held up by beautiful, massive marbled pillars. Among many murals and friezes, the sky blue ceiling is dotted with clouds and heavenly bodies. The Wang is now part of the Boch Center and hosts theater, comedy, and musical performances.

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  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Downtown

Who doesn’t love the brilliant amber and red lights of the Paramount’s marquee? It puts a glow on Washington Street that was long lost to urban decay—that is, until the Paramount Theatre reopened in 2010, signaling the official revitalization of Downtown Crossing. It took a $92 million renovation project to restore the theater to its former Art Deco glory. The center originally opened in 1932 as a movie theater, owned by Paramount Pictures, and was an immediate success as the talkies were taking off. Now owned by Emerson College, the Paramount boasts a 596-seat main theater, a small black box theater that seats up to 150, and a 170-seat film screening room. These days, the Paramount hosts U.S. premieres and international film festivals, as well as student performances.

  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • Theater District

The Charles Playhouse is housed in a Greek revival building that actually dates to 1839, when it first opened as a church and then became a synagogue. Things switched up quite a bit from there, turning into a speakeasy and then a top jazz venue where the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington held court. In the 1950s, it became a theater proper. Today, it’s known as the longstanding home of the Blue Man Groupthe quirky, musical art show, which, some three decades after its launch, shows no sign of stopping its performances in the main 500-seat theater.

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  • Music
  • Music venues
  • Theater District
  • price 2 of 4

The Wilbur was built in 1914 in a Federal Revival style. It might seem plain compared to its more fantastically conceived Theatre District neighbors, but rather than a faux European showcase, its architecture replicates a Beacon Hill mansion, honoring Boston’s own significance as an artistic center. The theater hosts national comedy and musical acts, existing as a much cherished entertainment venue for the city.

  • Theater
  • Performing arts space
  • South End

This multi-format venue, known by some as the BCA, is home to several resident Boston theater groups and a number of other performing artists. The Calderwood Pavilion—the host site of the Boston Theater Marathon, held every May—is part of a hive of spaces, totaling four small to mid-sized theaters, and two micro spaces known as the BCA Plaza Theaters. The BCA is an important community theater and incubator, providing a venue for Boston’s budding playwrights and theatrical talent. 

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  • Movie theaters
  • Independent

For those looking for a different kind of viewing, the Coolidge Corner Theatre is a longstanding venue reputed for its showings of independent films. It’s a sure spot for a cute date and also for catching that film you can’t find at any of the mainstream cinemas throughout the city. The theater was originally constructed as a church, but redesigned in its current Art Deco facade in 1933; it’s been consistently operating ever since.

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