Live! On Stage In Michigan

Echoing with classical symphonies and contemporary Broadway plays, Michigan’s ornate metropolitan opera houses and intimate community theaters offer the chance to unplug and experience the art of live stagecraft.

Motor City Footlights - Second Largest U.S. Theatre District

Gilded columns, Byzantine tapestries and a curving staircase with a golden rail impress 5,000 guests filling seats in downtown Detroit’s Fox Theatre. The sconces and scrollwork fade to black and phone screens switch off as footlights flash on for the opening scene of the hit Broadway musical Annie. The Fox, along with Orchestra Hall, the Detroit Opera House and The Fillmore make up the Motor City’s quartet of luxe early-20th-century theaters designed by renowned architect C. Howard Crane.

With programming spanning symphonies, Broadway productions like Wicked, stand-up comedy by Jay Leno and even smackdown pro wrestling, the perfect acoustics and painted frescoes of Detroit’s theater venues welcome audiences.

This season, classical music buffs find a Mozart festival at Orchestra Hall, home to weekly performances from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Kids giggle at Ernie’s rubber ducky anthem in Fox Theatre’s Sesame Street Live. The Detroit Opera House’s sweeping grand staircase and glittering crystal chandeliers provide the perfect backdrop for sultry arias sung in Bizet’s Carmen and the whimsical pirouettes of A Cinderella Story danced by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

The ornate and historic Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan.

Small Towns, Big Acts

The curtain rises to reveal award-winning actor Jeff Daniels performing a one-man show at his intimate Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea. North in the Keweenaw Peninsula’s Copper Country, Arlo Guthrie’s folk ballads echo around the ornate Calumet Theatre.

Live performances enthrall audiences throughout the state’s network of small-town historic theaters and opera houses hosting international dance companies, The Moth Radio Hour storytelling sessions and local acting troupes performing everything from Shakespeare to Chicago.

Launched in 1866, the Croswell Opera House in Adrian is Michigan’s oldest theater, drawing crowds to its quality large-cast productions staffed by community actors.

Microphones are seldom needed at Coldwater’s Tibbits Opera House. In the acoustically superb 19th-century theater, show tunes naturally reach the 527 seats during shows and musicals like The Addams Family. In downtown Traverse City, marvel at the colorful Victorian grandeur restored to the City Opera House during an $8.5 million renovation. The stage is only a little more than 19 feet deep and hosts minimal set/cast acts such as musical performances by Marc Cohn and Wynton Marsalis; C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, a one-act play written and performed by Charlie Ross; and readings by authors like Tom Brokaw during National Writers Series events. 

Backstage All-Access Pass 

Whether you yearn to air conduct above an orchestra pit, deliver a punch line on stage or peek into the costume closet, behind-the-scenes tours are a great way to learn the stories and inner workings of Michigan’s historical theaters.

Venues like the Calumet Theatre offer self-guided walking tours, but most private tours for individuals and small groups require advance booking. A donation to the theater or a tip for the tour guide says thanks for the special access.