Kauffman Center

All of Kansas City’s a Stage

Experience the city’s vibrant performing arts culture in these favorite local 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. We’ve compiled a list of local favorites so you can start planning for your next trip. Our recommendation? Try to see more than one show while you’re in Kansas City. After all, what good is a performance without an encore?

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. In May of 2015, the Kauffman Center hit an impressive milestone, welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors, including 150,000 students from 29 districts. If you’re not one of them, don’t miss a chance to see one of Kansas City’s most beloved landmarks in person and experience the magic that only a live performance can offer.

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. Since 2000, Broadway shows have become a staple of the Starlight season, which also includes concerts from a variety of nationally and internationally renowned musicians. There’s not a bad seat at Starlight, so no matter where you are, you’ll have a great view of what’s happening on one of Kansas City’s favorite stages.

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. More recently, The Folly was chosen by Downbeat Magazine as one of the top 100 jazz venues in the world and now hosts a captivating blend of live events, including concerts, children’s programming, recitals and more.

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. If you’re looking for an opportunity to enjoy the theatre with the entire family, make sure The Coterie is at the top of your Kansas City itinerary.

Kansas City Repertory Theatre

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.

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.

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.

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.

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