City’s Theater District among the best

Houston's vibrant performing arts scene is one of the city's proudest attractions, with the busy downtown Theater District as its heart and hub.

Spanning 17 blocks, the district boasts four spacious complexes with a total of seven stages that house the performances of nine major organizations: Alley Theatre, Broadway at Hobby Center, Da Camera of Houston, Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony, Society for the Performing Arts, Theatre Under The Stars and Uniquely Houston. In addition to their chief tenants, the venues also host performances by a wide variety of small, mid-size and emerging arts groups.

More than 2 million people attend events in the district annually.

The Alley, Houston Ballet, HGO and Houston Symphony are the grande dames – nationally and even internationally admired institutions that make Houston one of the few U.S. cities with world class resident companies in all major performing-arts disciplines.

The Houston Symphony this year is celebrating both its 100th birthday and the recent announcement of Andrés Orozco-Estrada as its new music director, replacing Hans Graf who is stepping down after 13 outstanding seasons that made him the longest-serving music director in the orchestra's history. Jones Hall, whose 2,883-seat concert hall opened in 1966, is primary home for the orchestra's busy schedule of classical and pops concerts, as well as special seasonal and summer programming. Jones Hall also is the chief home for Society for the Performing Arts, the presenting organization that brings to Houston leading dance companies, instrumental ensembles, solo artists and every type of attraction from avant-garde performance art to "family fun" events.

Founded in 1947, the Alley is one of the nation's oldest resident professional theater companies. Its two-theater facility at 615 Texas, opened in 1968, is the company's third home. On the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage, the Alley presents a variety of classic and contemporary plays, including world premieres and recent hits from New York and London.

Wortham Theater Center, opened in 1987, was created chiefly as a home for the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, each ranked among the nation's top companies in their respective disciplines. Wortham's 2,423-seat Brown Theater is home to the two companies' main subscription seasons, and they occasionally present smaller productions in the 1,100-seat Cullen Theater. The Cullen also hosts other organizations, including concerts by jazz and chamber music presenter Da Camera of Houston and the period orchestral ensemble Mercury.

The two-theater Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, opened in 2002, boasts the 2,650-seat Sarofim Hall and the 500-seat Zilkha Hall. Sarofim Hall's chief tenants both specialize in musicals: Theatre Under The Stars alternates its own productions with national tours; Broadway at Hobby Center imports tours of recent Broadway hits. Zilkha Hall provides a downtown showcase for small and mid-size companies, grouped under the innovative Uniquely Houston series, spanning such attractions as period music group Ars Lyrica, contemporary classical ensemble Musiqa and the Dominic Walsh Dance Company.

The district also encompasses the Bayou Place entertainment complex, featuring restaurants, clubs, the eight-screen Sundance Cinemas and Bayou Music Center, which hosts rock and pop concerts.

Around town

While the Theater District is the center, the performing arts scene stretches throughout the city with a rich variety of mid-sized, smaller and alternative companies in all disciplines.

The Ensemble Theatre, Main Street Theater and Stages Repertory Theatre are institutions in their own right: mid-size professional companies producing consistently strong work, each company now in its fourth decade and located just minutes from downtown. Another exciting contributor is Catastrophic Theatre, the leading alternative company, specializing in cutting-edge new works and classics of the avant-garde.

Along with the aforementioned Da Camera, Mercury, Ars Lyrica and Musiqa, the classical scene is further enhanced by the Houston Chamber Choir, Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Houston Early Music and other valued groups and presenters. Opera fans delight in the intimate productions of Opera in the Heights and the inventively varied programming at the University of Houston's Moores Opera Center.

In dance, Houston boasts a number of small contemporary troupes and independent choreographers, with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Karen Stokes Dance, Hope Stone Dance, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and Suchu Dance among the standouts.

Houston's performing arts scene offers something for everyone, and a whole lot more. If you can't find a show or concert to set your pulse racing, you're not looking. The accompanying lists should help in connecting with the different groups and learning about current programming.