Your Key To A Night at the Theatre: A Guide to the Best Independent Theatres in Philadelphia

Only 100 miles from the bright lights of Broadway, Philadelphia has its own thriving theatre scene. Along with national road shows of popular comedies, dramas and musicals at the Academy of Music, Kimmel Center, Merriam Theater and Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia has a wealth of local theatres, including some of America’s oldest. These local theatres showcase productions ranging from the traditional to the alternative and experimental.

Working as a hotel concierge, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to attend many performances.  Here are my recommendations, highlighting several top independent theatre companies in Philadelphia.

For your convenience, I have included lists of suggested bars and restaurants in the vicinity for a pre-theatre or post-performance enjoyment.

1812 Productions (“1812”)

Producing three main stage shows and several limited engagement comedies each season, 1812 is the only professional theatre company in the country dedicated to comedy.  In 2010, they were honoured as one of only ten theatres in the country to receive a National Theatre Company grant from the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards.  Their annual political satire, This is the Week That Is, is an area favorite.  Jennifer Childs is the 1812 Artistic Director and frequent writer, actor and director.  Her original plays, I Will Not Go Gently and Why I’m Scared of Dance illustrate why she has become a Philadelphia treasure.

Dinner Recommendations:

  • Fine Palate: New American cuisine, globally inspired.
  • Monk’s Café: Belgium cafe featuring world-class beer, moules-frites (mussels and fries).
  • Parc: Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr’s authentic French bistro. Savour the freshly baked bread basket.

Drink Recommendations:

  • bar at + bar: Sip cocktails at this prime Rittenhouse Square location and watch the world go by.
  • The Franklin Bar: Enjoy expertly crafted cocktails at this “speakeasy”, or visit the upstairs tiki bar.

Arden Theatre Company (“Arden”)

Classic and contemporary, intimate and epic, fiction and non-fiction, musical and dramatic, the Arden stage works from great playwrights, as well as sharing the voices of new writers for audiences of all ages.  They also offer an outstanding educational program as well as a community outreach initiative.  Favorites include August: Osage County, Caroline or Change, Clybourne Park, (staged at the Arden weeks before opening on Broadway), Sunday in the Park with George, which received national critical acclaim, and Fun Home.

Dinner Recommendations:

  • City Tavern: Dine in a historic building, complete with colonial cuisine and costumed waitstaff.
  • Fork: Elegant, casual New American neighbourhood classic. Be sure to order a bread course.
  • Continental: Owned by Stephen Starr, Philadelphia’s premier restaurateur (2017 James Beard award-winner for best restaurateur in the country), Continental is one of the hottest night spots in Old City featuring a global menu and an extensive martini list.

Drink Recommendations:

  • Revolution House: Old City’s only rooftop deck.
  • Mac’s Tavern: Two of the actors from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are co-owners.
  • Olde Bar: Iron Chef Jose Garces’ contemporary oyster saloon pays homage to its location where Bookbinders was, for many years, one of Philadelphia’s top restaurants.

Dessert Recommendations:

  • Franklin Fountain: Handmade ice cream served at a fully restored heritage soda counter.

Philadelphia Theatre Company (“PTC”) at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre

For over 40 years, Philadelphia Theatre Company has produced, developed and presented entertaining and imaginative contemporary theatre focused on the American experience.  Located on Avenue of the Arts, PTC produces in its own home – The Suzanne Roberts Theatre – an intimate 362 seat venue with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, unobstructed views from every seat, and complete accessibility.  PTC has participated in more than 140 world and Philadelphia premieres and has garnered local and national praise including multiple Barrymore Awards – the regional equivalent of a Tony Award.  More than half of these world premieres have moved on to New York and other major cities.  Favorites include: The Scottsboro Boys, NERDS, Race, Venus in Fur, and Red Hot Patriot-The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.

Dinner Recommendations:

  • Estia: Authentic Greek Mediterranean cuisine with great ambience.
  • Harp & Crown: Drinks, small bites and entrees in a beautiful, eclectic atmosphere. Advance reservations are strongly recommended.
  • Good Dog Bar: Craft beers and award-winning pub food, including the famous blue cheese-stuffed burger.

Drink Recommendation:

InterAct Theatre Company (“InterAct”)

InterAct is dedicated to commissioning, developing and producing new and contemporary plays that explore the social, political and cultural issues of our time.  Through both its artistic and educational programs, InterAct utilizes theatre as a tool to promote civic discourse and stimulate dialogue around the most pressing and complex issues we face in contemporary society.

(For dining and drink recommendations please see the above listing for Philadelphia Theatre Company)

Wilma Theater (“Wilma”)

The Wilma creates living adventurous art, engaging artists and audiences in imaginative reflections on the complexities of contemporary life.  Wilma presents bold original productions that represent a wide range of voices, viewpoints and styles.  My favorite productions include My Wonderful Day, Angels in America, and Passing Strange.

(For dinner and drink recommendations please see the above listing for Philadelphia Theatre Company).

Walnut Street Theatre (“Walnut”)

Founded in 1809, the Walnut is America’s oldest theatre, the official Pennsylvania state theatre as well as a National Historic Landmark.  With more than 55,000 season ticket holders, the Walnut is the most subscribed theatre company in the world.  The most noteworthy actors of the last 300 years have appeared on stage at the Walnut.  The illustrious list includes the Drews and Barrymores, George M. Cohan, Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers, Helen Hayes, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Jack Lemon and William Shatner.  Pre-Broadway tryouts included Marlon Brandon in A Streetcar Named Desire, A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier, and Mr. Roberts starring Henry Fonda.  The Walnut produces large-scale musicals, as well as dramas. Two smaller studio theatres offer a wide range of productions.  Some of my Walnut favorites are The Buddy Holly Story, Harvey, and Other Desert Cities.  Having seen Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, first with Herschel Bernardi and then with Alfred Molina, the production at the Walnut is my favorite of the three.  It was staged in a manner that seemed very personal and approachable.  It felt less like a staged play than being a part of the characters’ story.  Bonus: Walnut offers behind the scene tours on a seasonal basis for $10.00.

Dinner Recommendations:

  • Kanella Grill: Popular BYOB offering Cypriot-style kebobs, gyros and shawarma.
  • Talula’s Garden: One of James Beard award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr’s finest restaurants specializing in locally sourced ingredients, curated cheese plates and seasonal outdoor seating.
  • M Restaurant: Romantic atmosphere with indoor and seasonal outdoor seating located in the historic Morris House.

Drink Recommendations:

Lantern Theater Company (“Lantern”)

Lantern Theater Company is committed to an authentic and intimate exploration of the human spirit in their choice of classics, modern, and original works for the stage, performed in an intimate space with flexible seating.  They expose audiences to great theatre, inviting participation in dialogue and discussion, engaging audience members on artistic and social issues, and employing theatrical language and techniques to enrich learning in the classroom.  Since the inception of the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater in 1995, (our local version of the Tony’s), Lantern has received 96 nominations and 19 awards.  It has received more nominations for Outstanding Overall Production (eight over the last seven years) than any other theatre company in the region.  It also received the 2009 Barrymore for Excellence in Theatre Education and Community Service.

(For dinner and drink recommendations please see the above listing for Walnut Street Theatre).

Other well respected local theatre companies, producing excellent work include: Inis Nua Theatre Company and Theatre Exile.

Insider Tip: Always check with your hotel concierge for tickets.  While some shows may sell out, there are generally tickets available for most performances.  There are also some companies that offer half-priced same-day tickets.

Have fun visiting the great independent theatre companies on your next trip to Philly!

Meet the Author
Fran Nachman

After earning a B.A. in Theater Arts from Pennsylvania State University, I began my career working for a local film production company, followed by 26 years as a business owner. During this time, I earned an MBA from Temple University. In 2005, I sold my company with the intent of returning to Temple to study for a doctorate in Tourism and Hospitality. My career path took a different route when I realized my true passion was to work as a hotel concierge. For the last decade, I have been the Lead Concierge at the Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square (formerly the Crowne Plaza). In 2017, our hotel received the first annual Sonesta Culture of Caring Award, and as the Chair of the Care Committee, this was a gratifying personal moment for me. Since 2013, I have been a proud member of Les Clefs d’Or, attending both National and International Congresses, as well as a Leadership Conference. Since 2009, I have served on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Area Concierge Association as President, Treasurer, and Philanthropic Director, and I am currently the Director of Business and Social Events. In 2012, I reached a career milestone when I was awarded Where Magazine’s Key to the City, recognizing the top concierge in Philadelphia. I am incredibly proud of my son, a 2014 graduate of Suffolk University and a Senior Project Manager for a local company. I share my home with my boyfriend, David, and two affectionate shelter cats: Snoop Kitty and Jazz. Having traveled the world, I love coming back to my hometown where there are always new restaurants, bars and venues to discover and share with visitors to the city.

Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square

Located steps away from Rittenhouse Square, the art inspired Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square has 439 luxurious guestrooms and suites.  Guests of the hotel enjoy complimentary high speed wireless internet, access to our 24 hour fitness center, business center and seasonal rooftop pool.  Experience our “Food is Art” culture by sipping an art inspired cocktail at Art Bar or conveniently ordering room service.  Wander through our rotating lobby art gallery or view our record breaking 22 story mural above our front doors.  Boasting 16,000 square feet of meeting space with 16 conference rooms, Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square is perfect for gatherings large and small.  Enjoy our convenient location close to world class shopping, restaurants, universities and museums.  Stay Stylishly when in Philadelphia. Now Open! Our in-house restaurant, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse!

+1 215-561-7500

Related Articles