Kansas City’s Performing Arts Venues

By Katy Ryan Schamberger

Kansas City’s performing arts venues are as diverse and captivating as the performances they host.

Whether you’re in the mood for a touring Broadway musical, a family-friendly performance or a quirkier creation from a local playwright, you’ll find all of these—and more—in the city’s performance spaces.

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Looking at the majestic, Moshe Safdie-designed Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, it’s hard to believe one of downtown Kansas City’s architectural icons began as a napkin sketch. Outside, the Kauffman Center is an eye-catching part of Kansas City’s skyline. Inside the nearly 285,000-square-foot facility are two main performance halls that host everything from concerts and lectures to ballets and operas.

The Kauffman Center is home to several resident organizations, including the Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera and the Kansas City Symphony, and also regularly welcomes national and international performers. 

Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Affectionately called the “The Rep,” the Kansas City Repertory Theatre is the professional theatre in residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and, for more than five decades, has given theatre students a chance to work side-by-side with professional actors, designers and directors. Each season offers a captivating blend of performances ranging from well-known works like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Our Town” blended with lesser-known—but just as enjoyable—works.

As a result of the enduring success of the KC Rep, a second, smaller theatre opened in 2007: the Copaken Stage in Kansas City, giving theatre-goers even more opportunities to appreciate what’s become a mainstay in the Kansas City performing arts community.

Starlight Theatre

If you enjoy your performances and concerts al fresco, Starlight Theatre is unmatched in Kansas City. Although the theatre has welcomed performers and guests since it opened in 1950, Starlight reached a new level of prominence in 2000, when the Jeannette and Jerome Cohen Community Stage opened and welcomed Starlight’s first-ever presentation of nationally touring Broadway mega-hits.

The stage alone is reason enough for a Starlight visit: a 10-story, 12,000-square-foot stage house that’s fully enclosed and climate-controlled. 

The Folly Theatre

The Folly Theatre is one of the historic gems of Kansas City’s performing arts community. After it opened in 1900, The Folly first offered vaudeville and burlesque as main attractions, later transitioning into a blend of burlesque and more traditional theatre performances and, in the late 1950s, movies.

The Folly’s stunning list of appearance credits include the Marx Bros., Humphrey Bogart and Shirley Boothstar, among others. The Folly underwent a remodeling and renovation in May of 2000, re-opening in September of that year to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The Coterie Theatre

Thanks to a mission that includes “redefining children’s theatre to include families and diverse audiences,” The Coterie Theatre at Crown Center has become a beloved destination for families who want their children to experience all that live theater has to offer. As a result, TIME magazine called The Coterie one of the top five theatres serving families and young audiences in the U.S.

The Coterie’s mainstage series includes performances for older students and adults, as well as those for younger audiences and families with an emphasis on new or recent works. The Coterie also serves as a performing arts lab of sorts, with programs like Coterie’s Lab for New Family Musicals, which began in 2004 with a Theatre for Young Audiences version of “Seussical,” adapted from Broadway. 

The Music Hall

Municipal Auditorium Kansas City

The Music Hall is as steeped in local history as it is in Art Deco architecture. After opening in 1936, the venue served as the main hall of the Kansas City Philharmonic for decades, and is also the home of the 1927 Robert-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ originally housed in the Midland Theatre. When you’re inside the spacious proscenium theatre, be sure to pay special attention to the Art Deco lighting fixtures, which inspired the Sky Stations atop Bartle Hall’s pylons.

Throughout the year, the Music Hall hosts a variety of performances, including touring Broadway shows, visiting symphony orchestras, ballet companies and operas, among other events.

Fishtank Performance Studio

What started out as an under-the-radar performing arts space has flourished into a haven for local writers and performers. The Fishtank offers a low-risk, low-cost environment in which work can be developed from concept to concert, including the Fishtank Residency, “open to generative performing arts focused on developing concepts for production while proactively supporting other Fishtank Residents,” according to the organization.

Given that focus on helping local creators and performers flourish, it’s no surprise that The Fishtank is located in the heart of downtown Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District, a neighborhood that’s become the epicenter for Kansas City’s creative community. The Fishtank hosts a variety of performance series throughout the year, including First Fridays at The Fishtank and the Kansas City Fringe Festival.

Yardley Hall

On the Johnson County Community College campus, Carlsen Center hosts three theaters, including Yardley Hall, a beloved local venue thanks to impressive acoustics. Inside Yardley Hall’s modern layout, the performing arts space offers an exciting and varied season that includes musicians, ballet troupes, comedians and plays. During a typical season, you might see a big-name act like Blue Man Group, a lively celebration of local culture and traditions from a group like the African Culture Connection or a visiting international orchestra.

Yardley Hall also hosts family shows, hour-long performances that are ideal for young theater-goers. In short? No matter what type of show you want to see, there’s a good chance you’ll find it at Yardley Hall.

American Jazz Museum

The sights and sounds of a uniquely American art form come alive at the American Jazz Museum.

Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland

Historic beauty with modern amenities! Welcome to downtown Kansas City’s premier indoor venue for live music and special events. Located downtown in the Power & Light District, the original Midland Theatre opened in 1927 and hosted many well-known artists throughout its history.

City Stage

Enjoy dramas, comedies and musicals! Our day and nighttime performances are for theater lovers of all ages. And, every seat is a good one in this state-of-the-art theater. For current performances and showtimes, visit boxoffice.unionstation.org.

Copaken Stage

Founded in 1964, Kansas City Repertory Theatre is nearing its golden anniversary as one of the country's premier regional theatres. Serving as the professional theatre in residence at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), the Rep produces mainstage plays and special events at Spencer Theatre on the UMKC campus, located just east of the Country Club Plaza and at Copaken Stage in downtown Kansas City, adjacent to the Power & Light District.

Crossroads KC at Grinders

The Crossroads KC @ Grinders was born out of a deep passion for live music and the arts. It is no coincidence that our new venue is in the Crossroads Arts District just few blocks south of downtown KC. We have a long history and tradition of being an extremely fan-friendly promoter always fighting for affordable ticket prices and service charges. The Crossroads KC @ Grinders features a very diverse array of musical groups, from rock to reggae and bluegrass to hip hop. Our mission is to provide the very best live music experience in a festive and enjoyable outdoor environment.

Folly Theater

The historic Folly Theater, which is Kansas City's oldest theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the "Grand Lady of 12th street" presents and hosts a wide range of quality events for the community. Live theater, features world class jazz series, national touring shows for children and a variety of programming. Restored turn-of-the-century burlesque house, on National Register of Historic Places. Theater capacity: 1,078 ppl; private space: 120 ppl. Box office 816-474-4444.

Gem Theater

Originally named the Star Theater, the Gem was built in 1912 by the Shriner and Powellson Amusement Company as a silent movie palace serving Kansas City’s African American population. It was renamed the Gem in 1913, and by the time motion pictures could talk in 1929, it had become an established fixture on 18th Street. Unfortunately, its years as a movie theatre ended in 1960 and by the 1980s, it had faded into a shadow of its former glory.

Harriman-Jewell Series

The Harriman-Jewell Series is a nationally recognized presenting organization that brings the best from the worlds of music, dance and theatre to downtown Kansas City performance halls. Many know that the Series presented tenor Luciano Pavarotti in his professional recital debut in 1973, but the story of discovery neither begins nor ends here. Discovery -- along with the co-tenets of quality and variety -- run the full length of the Series' existence.

Kansas City Ballet

Kansas City Ballet has earned the respect of the national dance community and is a source of pride for our city and region. The versatility and depth of Kansas City Ballet takes center stage each year as the company continues to hone its reputation as one of the best mid-sized ballet organizations in the nation. Kansas City Ballet presents three repertory performances each year that pay homage to established masters of ballet while reaching out to explore contemporary works by emerging choreographers.

Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, The

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is one of the nation’s preeminent big bands, performing classic and original repertoire in a variety of settings. With the beautiful Kauffman Center For The Performing Arts as a home base, KCJO’s concert season puts forth engaging themed shows ranging from Duke Ellington’s early works to brand-new reimaginations of pop music, “celebrating the past, and embracing the future.” The Orchestra plays a variety of concerts, dances, and festivals, engaging audiences from Kansas City, Missouri to Hannover, Germany, and beyond.