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Olney Theater
The King and I at the Olney Theater

Where to see performing arts in Washington, DC

Enjoy the best in theater, dance, classical music and opera—in the capital’s world-class theaters and concert halls

By Time Out editors

Concert halls and classical music venues

Lisner Auditorium

Theater Performing arts space Foggy Bottom

Located in George Washington University, Lisner hosts dance troupes, Latin music and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. Author readings and rock shows are scheduled as well, sometimes on the same night, as when Dave Eggers split the bill with They Might Be Giants. This is the most likely DC site for shows by prominent African performers, including Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Theaters and performance spaces

National Theatre

Theater Federal Triangle

One of the city’s oldest theaters (it dates from 1835), the National has a history as a Broadway tryout house—productions have included the flamingly awful jukebox musical Hot Feet, which went on to an ignoble 97 New York performances in 2006. But in recent decades it has been home mostly to touring fluff—when it doesn’t sit empty, that is. A new Broadway-bound musical If/Then runs from November 2013.

Signature Theatre

Theater Arlington

Signature’s signature is first-rate Sondheim—the hit musical Company featured in 2013—and if its instincts for straight plays aren’t always as keen, it’s still an ambitious outfit. Landmark productions in past seasons have included the first Assassins to be staged outside New York, a Passion that put the house on the map with national critics, and a world-première Van Gogh musical (The Highest Yellow) from Tony-nominated composer Michael John LaChiusa.


Warner Theatre

Theater Performing arts space Federal Triangle

Built in 1924, the Warner Theatre has seen a variety of acts on its stage. The early deco design of the auditorium gives it either a decadent gaudiness or a stately individuality, depending on the performance. Comedians, dance troupes and Broadway plays dominate, but music acts still surface now and then.

Olney Theatre Center

Theater Maryland

It’s a hike, but the hour-long drive to this suburban Maryland house can be worth the trouble. Founded as a summer theater in the 1930s, it saw performances by a startlingly starry roster over the decades: Helen Hayes, Tallulah Bankhead, Olivia de Havilland, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Uta Hagen and Ian McKellen are just a few of the names who’ve toured there. More recently, Olney’s season has been largely subscriber-friendly fluff, and a fiscal crisis that nearly bankrupted the place in 2009-10 hasn’t helped. But now and again artistic director Jim Petosa will offer up something gratifyingly bold. A newish 440-seat main-stage completes a campus with no fewer than four performance spaces—one of them a casual outdoor stage.


Glen Echo Park

Theater Puppet shows Maryland

Until 1968, Glen Echo was a popular amusement park just a trolley ride from Downtown. Today, it is preserved by the National Park Service (2pm weekend tours) and run by a non-profit group as a site for theater, art and dance. It also has a playground, picnic tables, plenty of places to explore and a charming 1921 carousel. The following are highlights of the activities on offer:Adventure Theatre 301 320 5331, See website for showtimes and tickets. One-hour plays for fours and over based on fables, fairy tales, musicals and children’s classics, using puppets and actors. Living Classrooms 202 488 0627, From a former stable building, this program offers hands-on outdoor activities in the park, including live animal encounters for children up to 15. Puppet Company Playhouse 301 634 5380, See website for show times, but usually 10am, 11am Thur, Fri; 11.30am, 1pm Sat, Sun. Tiny Tots shows 10am. Plays for all ages, most of them adaptations of classic stories for children such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book. Reservations recommended.

Round House Theatre

Theater Bethesda

An established company successful enough to have opened not one but two new spaces in recent years, Round House was home to the world première of Columbinus, a thoughtfully disturbing response to the Colorado school massacre. (It went on to get a well-received production off-Broadway.) Its main home is in the close-in suburb of Bethesda, but it also offers a regular slate of performances (including a cabaret series) near the other end of the Metro’s Red Line, in a black-box space at the AFI Silver complex in Silver Spring. At Bethesda, new comedy Seminar by Theresa Rebeck is being staged in early 2014, followed by Pulitzer-winning August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, a poignant, humorous portrait of African-American life in the 1960s.


GALA Hispanic Theatre

Theater Northwest

Ensconced in the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, Teatro GALA stages Spanish-language classics such as Calderón de la Barca’s La Dama Duende and García Lorca’s Blood Wedding, plus modern plays by writers such as Venezuela’s Gustavo Ott (Evangélicas, Divorciadas y Vegetarianas) and the occasional Latin-flavored musical—at the time of writing the Helen Hayes Awards-recommended DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story was playing. Performances are generally in Spanish with a supertitled translation.

Best cinemas in DC


Movie theaters Independent Chevy Chase

Abandoned by its corporate operator, the city’s oldest surviving moviehouse was rescued and restored by a neighborhood group. Both inside and out, the 1923 structure has more charm than any number of the cookie-cutter megaplexes that have sprouted like mushrooms in the suburbs. It now shows a mix of foreign, independent, documentary and Hollywood fare, as well as classic and children’s films. The small second screen upstairs is nothing special.

West End Cinema

Movie theaters Independent Foggy Bottom

Opened in late 2010, the city’s newest arthouse reclaims a three-screen cinema abandoned by a national chain in 2004. The theaters are small, but the equipment is state-of-the-art and the projection excellent. Early offerings have been heavy on documentaries, but also include films by Gaspar Noe, Jean-Luc Godard and Woody Allen. Upscale snacks and alcoholic drinks are available.


Freer Gallery of Art cinema

Movie theaters National Mall

The films shown here come from the countries represented in the gallery’s collection, predominantly Asia and the Middle East. It is one of the best places in town to see movies from India and Iran, but arrive early—the theater soon fills up with émigrés from those countries.

Landmark E Street Cinema

Movie theaters Independent Downtown

The eight-screen Landmark is the city’s leading arthouse. Screens are big, even in the smallest of the auditoriums. This is one of only three DC cinemas with a liquor license; other amenities include upscale concessions and an espresso bar. Landmark also operates the roomier Bethesda Row in suburban Maryland, which also shows artsy flicks, but the Downtown theater’s bookings tend to be more adventurous.


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