Philadelphia is home to dozens of thriving theater companies, providing an abundance of options for every type of showgoer. Do you prefer cheerful musicals or something more cutting-edge? In the mood for a comedy or would something darker hit the spot? Maybe you’re looking for arty things to do in Philadelphia with kids? We put together this comprehensive guide to local theater companies so you’ll know exactly who to seek out the next time you’re in the market for show tickets. If you’re going the fancy route, with a show at, say the Kimmel or Walnut Street Theatre, top off your night with a nice dinner at one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia. If you’re looking for more of a bargain, throw back some pre-show drinks at a local bar for happy hour. Philadelphia is brimming with options for a perfect, well-rounded night at the theater. Live it up!
The top theater companies in Philly
PTC, as it’s known here, has been one of Philly’s most established companies, notable for bringing some of the best intimate plays of recent New York seasons (as well as mounting their own works, including significant premieres such as Terrence McNally’s Master Class). Their home, the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, is an ideally proportioned and unusually comfortable proscenium house. The 2017-2018 season brings a new regime, and likely an evolving mission. But even this gap year offers an interesting, out-of-the-box season, including Small Mouth Sounds, an off-Broadway cult hit, and the husky-voiced Kathleen Turner’s cabaret debut.
While most of Philly’s theater scene is located in Center City, surrounding areas have their own charms. Especially notable is People’s Light in Malvern (a 40-minute drive from the city). Located on a lovely, green campus with two theaters, People’s Light offers an extended season of seven shows that runs the gamut from serious plays to musicals to works for children—including the popular holiday pantos.
If you’re looking for a season that embraces the classics—the Greeks, Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekhov, and Ibsen—you’re sure to become a fan of Quintessence, located in Mount Airy in a wonderful old movie theater that the company imaginatively reconfigures for each project. It’s little short of extraordinary what artistic director Alex Burns and his fellow artists accomplish with often slender means—including, not long ago, a riveting traversal of a play often thought to be all but unproducible: Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra.
In a series of beloved old MGM movies, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney put on musicals in their backyard. At 11th Hour, some astonishingly gifted young performers do something similar, at different venues around town. Lately, the season features one fully staged work, often a premiere (as in this year’s Big Red Sun by John Jiller and Georgia Stitt) alongside several musicals-in-concert (the 2017-2018 season includes Company and Hair). The energy and charm here is youthful, but you can also expect the talent to be big-league.
Now in its second decade, this local favorite does more varied work than its defining sobriquet (“Philadelphia’s all comedy theatre company”) might suggest. Any given season could include tartly droll European plays (Alan Ayckbourn and Marc Camoletti have been featured), broader American works (Neil Simon, of course), and raucous revues (1812’s yearly holiday shows, incorporating vaudeville and, more recently, politics are crowd-pleasing standing-room-only affairs). The current company home is the enchanting, historic Plays & Players Theater, and Jennifer Childs, one of 1812’s founders and a delicious farceuse, often appears in their shows.