Although things get quiet in summer, you’ll generally find the Phoenix Symphony, the Arizona Opera Company, and Ballet Arizona offering full seasons in downtown Phoenix through the fall and winter. And as the Valley has grown, new state-of-the-art performing arts centers have appeared in the suburbs. Aficionados should check all the listings—it’s not uncommon these days to find acts like Yo-Yo Ma, Alvin Ailey, or high-end rock singer-songwriters performing out in the ‘burbs.
While you’ll find box-office phone numbers listed below, you can also purchase most performing arts tickets through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com; tel. 800/745-3000); just about everyone adds on those exorbitant “ticket fees” these days. For sold-out shows, check with your hotel concierge, or try the biggest local scalping operation, Tickets Unlimited (www.ticketsunlimited.com; tel. 800/289-8497 or 480/388-3888), or StubHub (www.stubhub.com), which is owned by Ticketmaster.
Major Performing Arts Centers
Built in the early 1970s, Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St. (www.phoenixconventioncenter.com/symphonyhall; tel. 602/262-7272) is an austere and impressive place to see just about anything downtown. It is home to the Phoenix Symphony, Ballet Arizona, and the Arizona Opera Company, and also hosts touring Broadway shows and various other concerts and theatrical productions. Also downtown is the Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington St. (www.livenation.com; tel. 602/379-2800 or 602/379-2888), a 5,000-capacity modern pop- and rock-concert hall presenting prestige acts from all genres of entertainment. A splendid piece of Spanish baroque Revival, built downtown in 1929 and successfully restored in the 1990s, the Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St. (www.phoenixconventioncenter.com/orpheum-theater; tel. 602/262-7272) hosts a variety of cultural events and some rock concerts.
A few miles east of downtown, Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St. (www.celebritytheatre.com; tel. 602/267-1600) is a Phoenix classic. Outside it’s a big round building with almost Brutalist architecture; inside there’s a vast room with a revolving stage in the middle, making for pretty good sightlines for everyone—for half the show, anyway. It’s definitely worth going there if an act you like is appearing. The lineup is crazy eclectic, from Latino stars to country to comedy to classic-rock acts.
On the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium (1200 S. Forest Ave.; www.asugammage.com; tel. 480/965-3434) is a spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright work (completed after his death). Top-name acts and touring Broadway shows, from Wilco to Hamilton, are the mainstays at this 3,000-seater. Just about anything is fun to see there, but this is now a very old building; a run to the restrooms is quite a trek! A quick walk over the Mill Avenue Bridge from Tempe’s downtown, the Marquee, 730 N. Mill Ave. (www.marqueetheatreaz.com; tel. 480/829-0607), is a 2,500-capacity music venue featuring lots of mid-level touring rock, hip-hop, and pop artists amid local bands and tribute acts. Also in Tempe, on the shore of Tempe Town Lake, the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy. (www.tempe.gov/TCA; [tel] 480/350-2822) has water views out its big wall of glass. Its two performance halls present frequent jazz concerts, as well as performances by the Tempe Symphony, Tempe Little Theatre, and Childsplay, a local children’s theater company.
The Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale (www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org; tel. 480/994-2787), has become one of the Valley’s preeminent venues for dance, classical, jazz, and public-radio events like This American Life. It’s set among restaurants and nightspots ringing the gracious Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.
The beautiful Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St. (www.mesaartscenter.com; tel. 480/644-6500) is part of a spectacular plaza with canopies, sculptures, and water features; the big names it books are often worth the 15-mile trip from downtown Phoenix.
A testament to the East Valley’s explosive growth, the Chandler Center for the Arts, 250 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler (chandlercenter.org; tel. 480/782-2680) often hosts top-tier names in dance, pop, country, and the performing arts in its gorgeous theater.
Outdoor Venues & Series
Ak-Chin Pavilion, 2121 N. 83rd Ave., Phoenix (www.ticketmaster.com; tel. 602/254-7200), about 10 miles due west of downtown with corporate branding from a local Indian community, is a somewhat faded concert “shed,” tending to the rowdy end of top-name stars (Kid Rock, Kendrick Lamar) with a lot of variety throughout the year, from country to metal to classic rock. Beware lawn seats in all but the winter months.
The relatively small Mesa Amphitheater, 263 N. Center St., Mesa (www.mesaamp.com; tel. 480/644-2560) holds an idiosyncratic variety of concerts in spring and summer, and sometimes hosts the Phoenix Symphony.
Throughout the year, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale (www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org; tel. 480/994-2787) stages outdoor performances in the adjacent Scottsdale Amphitheater on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. The Sunday A’fair series runs from January to April, with free concerts from noon to 4pm on selected Sundays of each month. Performances range from acoustic blues to zydeco.
On Sundays from February to May, Music in the Garden concerts are held at the Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy. in Papago Park (www.dbg.org; tel. 480/941-1225 or 480/481-8188). The season always includes an eclectic array of musical styles. Tickets are $30; garden admission is included.
Lunch and a Show
At downtown Phoenix’s Herberger Theater Center (www.herbergertheater.org; tel. 602/254-7399), lunch break means the actors hit the stage while the audience grabs sandwiches for Lunch Time Theater. (It’s in a small theater around the corner from the main entrance, at 3rd Ave. and Van Buren St.) Through much of the year, 30- to 45-minute plays are staged at noon Tuesday through Thursday. Tickets are $7, and inexpensive boxed salads, sandwiches, and pasta salads can be ordered in advance.
Classical Music, Opera & Dance
None of the main performing-arts organizations in town are second-rate, but Ballet Arizona (www.balletaz.org; tel. 602/381-1096) stands out. Under impresario Ib Andersen, a principal dancer for Balanchine in the early 1980s, the ensemble delivers superior presentations. (I’m not joking; if during the holidays you’re in the mood for a ravishing Nutcracker, for example, you won’t be disappointed.) The 2019 schedule includes an all-Balanchine program the first weekend in May. The group performs at both the Orpheum Theatre and Symphony Hall; tickets typically run $35 to $150.
The Phoenix Symphony (www.phoenixsymphony.org; tel. 800/776-9080 or 602/495-1999), the Southwest’s leading symphony orchestra, performs at Symphony; most tickets run $25 to $100. Programs run from the standard repertoire to the creative pops-oriented programming many such orchestras rely on to keep the keisters in the seats. It’s worth checking the schedule out if you’re staying downtown and feel like walking over for a show.
The Arizona Opera (www.azopera.org; tel. 602/266-7464) enthusiastically delivers the warhorses you’d expect in Symphony Hall, and more experimental works (like Charlie Parker’s Yardbird) at the smaller Herberger Center up the street. A highlight of the 2019 season is the Pulitzer Prize–winning Silent Night, set during the 1914 Christmas truce on the front lines of World War I. The company puts on shows in Tucson as well. Tickets cost $25 to $100.
Phoenix isn’t a major theater center, but it does get some touring shows, and there are a couple of respectable local operations, in addition to some plucky local troupes.
The city’s main venue for live theater, the Herberger Theater Center, which vaguely resembles a Spanish colonial church, is located downtown at 222 E. Monroe St. (www.herbergertheater.org; tel. 602/254-7399). Its two Broadway-style theaters together host hundreds of performances each year, including productions by the state theater company, Arizona Theatre Company (www.aztheatreco.org; [tel] 602/256-6995). ATC splits its performances between Phoenix and Tucson. Tickets run $40 to $110.
Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Rd. (www.phoenixtheatre.net; tel. 602/254-2151) shares a building with the Phoenix Art Museum on the corner of McDowell Rd. and Central Ave. It has a strong artistic director and delivers credible work across the spectrum, including rousing musicals. Tickets to most shows are $29 to $79; be aware of a dispiriting $7 ticket fee if you buy online.
For touring Broadway productions, you have two choices. Downtown, the Theater League (www.theaterleague.com; tel. 800/776-7469 or 602/262-7272) brings shows to the restored Orpheum Theatre; tickets range from $50 to $60. In Tempe, Broadway Across America–Arizona (www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/tempe; tel. 480/965-3434) brings shows to ASU’s gorgeous Gammage Auditorium; tickets usually cost between $50 and $150, more for blockbusters like The Book of Mormon, which will be there in the fall of 2019.
If you’re looking for something to do with the whole family, the Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, 4720 N. Scottsdale Rd. (www.desertstages.org; tel. 480/483-1664) stages primarily musicals and children’s theater productions in new digs at the upscale Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. Tickets range from $22 to $28, less for teen productions.
One of the more enterprising—and longest-lasting—underground-y outfits, Nearly Naked (100 E. McDowell Rd. www.nearlynakedtheatre.org; tel. 602/254-2151) aims for the edgier side of the spectrum. The group puts on shows on one of the small stages at Phoenix Theater (above).
In a comfortable, intimate 150-seat theater a mile or so east of downtown, The Black Theater Troupe, 1333 E. Washington Ave. (www.blacktheatretroupe.net; tel. 602/258-8129) puts on ambitious programming throughout the year. You can’t go wrong if they’re staging a musical, from the popular (The Wiz) to unearthed obscurities (The Three Sistahs).
Arizona State University has an enormous number of events in any given week, including author appearances in a dizzying number of fields. It’s a bit difficult to find out about them, but it’s worth looking at the school’s events web page at asuevents.asu.edu. Current-events junkies should search for events at the law and journalism schools, both in downtown Phoenix. Fiction fans should take note of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing (piper.asu.edu/events/upcoming), on the Tempe campus, which has an ongoing schedule of author appearances. The Poisoned Pen has a bursting schedule of crime and mystery writers, and the Valley’s major independent bookstore, Changing Hands, has a full schedule of appearances by authors major and minor, and many family and kids’ events. Finally, the Desert Foothills Library in Cave Creek, 38443 N. Schoolhouse Rd. (www.fdla.org; tel. 480/488-2286) has a surprising number of free author events each month.
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.