The splendid Federal-style National Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theater in Washington (since 1835) and the third oldest in the nation. It's exciting just to see the stage on which Sarah Bernhardt, John Barrymore, Helen Hayes, and so many other notables have performed. The 1,672-seat National is the closest thing Washington has to a Broadway-style playhouse. Recent productions included the musicals The Color Purple and Mamma Mia, which gives you a pretty good idea of the kinds of shows staged here.
The National's commitment to offering free public-service programs has never flagged: Saturday-morning children's theater (puppets, clowns, magicians, dancers, and singers) and Monday-night showcases of local groups and performers are offered September through April, plus free summer films. Call tel. 202/783-3372 for details.