Finding Out What’s On
Paper magazine listings are dwindling, but for up-to-the-minute dates and schedules for what’s happening in music, theater, dance, and film, you can still pick up the weekly l’Officiel des Spectacles (1€), a comprehensive listing of weekly events which also has a weekly pull-out listings guide, complete with reviews. It comes out in newsstands on Wednesdays, the day new movies are released in France,.
Online, Pariscope has excellent listings (www.pariscope.fr), as do l’Officiel des Spectacles (www.offi.fr) and Télérama (www.telerama.fr). All three sites are in French only. By the way, if you see a sign at a theater or on an events website that says location, that means “box office,” not location.
Many hotels will help you get tickets, and most venues have a reservation link online, but the easiest way to buy tickets is at Fnac, the giant bookstore/music chain that has one of the most comprehensive box offices in the city (follow the signs to the “Billeterie”). You can also order your tickets online in English at www.fnactickets.com or by phone at tel. 08-92-68-36-22 (.40€/min.). Ticketmaster.fr offers a similar service.
Discount hunters can stand in line at one of the city’s three half-price ticket booths, all run by Le Kiosque Théâtre (www.kiosqueculture.com). One is in front of the Montparnasse train station, another on the west side of the Madeleine (facing 15 pl. de la Madeleine, exit rue Tronchet from the Madeleine Métro stop), and a third in the center of place des Ternes (17th arrond.) The first two are open from Tuesday to Saturday (12:30–7.30pm), and Sun (12:30–3:45pm), while Ternes’ is open just Wednesday to Saturday (12:30–2:30pm, 3–7:30pm). Half-price tickets for same-day performances go on sale here at 12:30pm. Don’t dawdle—by noon the line is long. Plenty of ticket discounts can also be had at BilletRéduc, www.billetreduc.com (in French).
Paris has hundreds of theaters, most of which have something going on almost every night. The obvious catch here is, almost all of it is in French. But even if you can’t spit out much more than bonjour and merci, fear not, you have options, including a new English-speaking box office service and a few English-language shows like the hit “How to Become a Parisian in One Hour” (see “Theater in English,” below). Alternatively, you can opt for one of the many avant-garde offerings at theaters like Théâtre de Chaillot or Théâtre de la Ville, where shows that combine dance, theater, and images don’t really need translation. Ticket prices, particularly for the large, state-funded theaters, are remarkably low. For example, the most expensive seats are 41€ at the Odéon and 42€ at the Comédie-Française.
Theater in English
English-language shows are rare, and comics even more so, but a couple of long-standing gigs in town are worth a detour. At press time, the best place to go for a giggle was “How to Become a Parisian in One Hour” (at Théâtre des Nouveautés; reservations at www.oliviergiraud.com), a one-person show written by Olivier Giraud, a Frenchman who spent several years in the U.S. More humor is on tap at SoGymnase, Paris’s only English-language comedy club, on the fourth floor of the Théâtre du Gymnase Marie Bell, 38 av. Bonne Nouvelle, 10th arrond. (www.sogymnase.com; tel. 01-42-46-79-79), Fridays at 9:30pm. And the newest English-language addition is Theatre in Paris (www.theatreinparis.com), a box-office service with tickets to around 10 shows offering English supertitles.
Paris is the nation’s dance capital, and most of the country’s best companies are based here, including the phenomenal Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris. Top French choreographers like Angelin Preljoçaj, Blanca Li, and José Montalvo produce here, as well as other European stars like Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Mats Ek. Two of the biggest dance venues are Théâtre de Chaillot or Théâtre de la Ville. For some reason, dance is often grouped with classical music in magazine and website listings.
Summer Rhythm & Blues
With few exceptions, the major concert halls and theaters are in action between September and June, taking off the summer months. Since the city virtually empties out as Parisians storm the beaches during the annual vacation exodus, many smaller venues and dance clubs also close their doors. On the upside, Paris sees several wonderful summer music festivals, including Jazz à La Villette (www.jazzalavillette.com), an international jazz blowout that takes place in the Parc de la Villette in August and September, and the Festival Chopin (www.frederic-chopin.com), a tribute to the master at the Parc de la Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne in June and July. But if you have your heart set on opera or theater, you’re better off visiting during the colder weather.
Heaven-Sent Music Venues: Concerts in Churches
Many of Paris’s most beautiful churches and cathedrals, including Notre-Dame, St-Eustache, and Ste-Chapelle, host organ and other classical music concerts. Not only is the setting delightful, but the acoustics are generally otherworldly. While there is no ticket central for these artistic houses of God, concerts are usually listed in the weekly-listings magazines and websites (Pariscope, l’Officiel des Spectacles; see above) under classical music. Most churches print monthly music schedules, which they display near the entrance to the sanctuary (and sometimes post on their websites). Ticket prices are reasonable; sometimes they’re free, and if they aren’t you likely won’t pay more than 25€.
At the end of the 19th century, cabarets and music halls opened in Montmartre, frequented by oddballs and artists, as well as bourgeois, aristocrats, and demi-mondaines looking for a good time. These nightclubs offered an offbeat reflection of the times, where singers like Aristide Bruand would sing about the life of the destitute and sharp political satire would share the stage with cheeky dancing girls dancing that new step, the can-can. Those days are long gone. Although some visitors feel they simply haven’t enjoyed the true Paris experience without seeing a show at the Moulin Rouge or the Lido, there is nothing particularly Parisian, or even French, about them anymore. Today’s audiences are more likely to arrive in tour buses than touring cars, and contemporary shows are more Vegas than Paris. What you will see here is a lot of scenic razzmatazz and many sublime female bodies, mostly torse nue (topless). If you still want to see one of these shows, do yourself a favor and have dinner somewhere else. The food in these establishments is expensive for the quality. (The following theaters have strict dress codes as well, so be sure to inquire about them when making reservations.)
Chanson: The Next Generation
You’ve all heard it, the tremulous voice, the monotonous tunes, the intense sincerity of it all—yes, that’s chanson, those peculiarly melody-challenged songs that Edith Piaf sang. If you don’t understand the words, it’s hard to understand why so many French people get all misty-eyed when they listen to it. But that’s just it; with chanson, it’s the words that count. Each song is a poem set to music, in fact some lyrics are the works of famous French authors. In recent years, a new generation of young singers/writers have been coming up with their own poetic versions of the trials and tribulations of life, and their heroes are not so much Piaf and Aznavour as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The biggest venue for contemporary chanson these days is Les Trois Baudets, 64 bd. de Clichy, 18th arrond. (www.lestroisbaudets.com; tel. 01-42-62-33-33; Métro: Blanche), which has a hip bar and restaurant. But if you fancy a cheesier, more traditional foray into the singing genre go to Au Lapin Agile, 48 bis rue Custine, 18th arrond. (www.au-lapin-agile.com; tel. 01-46-06-85-87; Métro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt). This legendary spot was once the hangout of then unknown artists and poets like Picasso, Utrillo, and Apollonaire. Despite being a tourist destination, the shows are nostalgic and heartfelt, with the audience often joining in.
Live Rock, Jazz & More
Paris has a wide range of places to hear live music, from tiny medieval basements to huge modern concert venues. Whatever your musical tastes you are bound to enjoy your outing: Not only do many of the world’s greatest musicians swing through the city on a regular basis, but you can’t beat the walk to the nightclub/bar/theater with the lights of Paris twinkling in the background.
Paris has been a fan of jazz from its beginnings, and many legendary performers like Sidney Bechet and Kenny Clark made the city their home. Still a haven for jazz musicians and fans of all stripes, Paris boasts dozens of places to duck into and listen to a good set or two. We've listed some of the best.
An increasing number of venues are so multifunctional they defy any attempt to fit them under the usual headings. Sure, you can enjoy music and dance in these places, but you can also go to a screening, check out a poetry lounge, visit an art expo, happen in on a lecture/demonstration, and of course, eat, drink, and be merry. Many are all-day affairs, where the activities change as the sun goes down, others are purely for night owls. With so many variables, checking the venue’s program online is the best way to find out what’s on during your stay.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.