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Mamma Mia! Utah Theater Knows How to Play

By Kathleen Clove
October 04, 2023

Big or small, silly or serious, local stages bring the talent and the shows.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote, and Utah took it to heart. There are six professional theaters in the state, where you can see both Broadway standards and original works. And musicals. Lots and lots of musicals. There’s something exciting, something inviting, something for everyone … it’s Utah theater tonight!

Hale Center Theatre

A theater-in-the-round, Hale Center Theatre opened in 1985 and quickly began bursting at the seams. Audiences loved the intimate setting — every seat was a good one — and the talented performers, including founders Nathan and Ruth Hale.

The original 220-seat theater proved so popular, it underwent several expansions (much like your waistline) and moved into two new homes. Today, it’s a state-of-the-art theater in Sandy, Utah, that seats 911. With room to expand, of course. The theater is still lauded for its exceptional casts, gorgeous sets and costumes, and now its remarkable special effects. 

You can still have the cozier show experience in the Sorenson Legacy Jewel Box Stage, which seats less than 500. The proscenium thrust-style theater may be smaller, but the plays and talent are no less charming. There is a Hale stage in Orem, as well, which is also a theater-in-the-round. 

HCT shows include a rotation of musicals and mysteries. One staple, though, is “A Christmas Carol,” shown annually from Thanksgiving through December at both the Sandy and Orem theaters.

Eccles Theater

The stunning Eccles Theater opened in 2016 on busy Main Street in the heart of downtown. It’s hard to miss, with its five-story retractable glass walls, giant snowball chandeliers and outdoor terrace.

The 2,500-seat main theater is an experience in itself. The copper walls and tiered seating were inspired by southern Utah’s red rock canyons. You may feel as if you’re sitting on a cliff edge, but the seats are much more comfortable. There’s even a star-filled night sky above you — a fun feature that some productions incorporate.

Eccles Theater is home to two touring companies. Huge Broadway shows such as “Hamilton” and “Wicked” have been on stage here, part of the Broadway Across America series. In addition, MagicSpace Entertainment presents a series of programs, from concerts to comedy shows to talks. 

The 250-seat Regent Street Black Box theater hosts local productions including concerts, dance, theater and film. Private and community events are held there, as well.

Pioneer Theatre Company

Pioneer Theatre Company is the theater-in-residence at the University of Utah. Established in 1962, the fully professional company performs seven plays per season, from September to May. Productions include celebrated musicals, comedies and classics, but it also performs contemporary dramas. You may even catch a murder mystery, on occasion.

It was the first regional theater allowed to produce “Les Misérables,” in PTC’s 2006-07 season. The show was well-received, selling out for 82 performances, and proved the troupe’s acting and producing chops.

PTC has produced several Utah and regional premieres over the years. Some of those — and a few actors, too — have even made their way to Broadway, including 2023’s “Shucked.” 

Plan-B Theatre

If you prefer more cerebral theater, head to Plan-B Theatre in Salt Lake City. It’s Utah’s first professional arts organization led by a person of color, and its commitment to diversity and representation is not taken lightly.

The company produces works by local playwrights, particularly those with a side of social conscience. The nearly 100 shows at Plan-B include first productions of plays written by Asian American, African American, Latina and Persian playwrights from Utah. 

In addition, Plan-B is committed to creating at least one LGBTQIA+ work every season. Plays are performed at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Plan-B also produces an original play specifically for elementary age students each year,  and takes the free show to schools across the state. 

Tuacahn Center for the Arts

The most unique live Utah theater — in setting at least — may be the Tuacahn Center for the Arts. It’s an outdoor amphitheater nestled in a red rock canyon. Its first production, “Utah!” was written just for the new theater and included a flash flood on stage, showing the unique possibilities of the outdoor venue.

After everyone in the neighborhood had seen it — and knew the theme song by heart — the Tuacahn amphitheatre switched to Broadway musicals. Now it produces a rotation of six well-known shows from May to December. As an outdoor theater, it can be quite hot in the summer months, but the setting kinda makes it worth a bit of sweat. Just bring a water bottle.

Aside from big-budget plays, Tuacahn also hosts a few concerts and comedians throughout the year. Brian Regan even filmed a Netflix special there. Unfortunately, he did not incorporate the water feature.

Utah Shakespeare Festival

Much like the plot of a musical, the small town of Cedar City was on the brink of disaster — the new Interstate was going to pass right by it! One man — Fred Adams — jumped into action. “Let’s make this town the place to be,” he cried, rallying the town to put on a show. 

Picture the montage: Volunteer actors quickly getting to work, memorizing lines, sewing costumes and crafting props. The handsome leads raise an outdoor platform. As with all good stories, it worked. A two-week season of three Shakespeare plays brought in more than 3,000 people and a $2,000 profit. A festival was born. 

Today, the Utah Shakespeare Festival welcomes more than 100,000 people every summer for its plays by the Bard and other, more recently written, shows from June to October. Shakespeare plays are presented in the Adams Theater, a modernized replica of London’s Globe Theater. 

Epilogue: The USF won a Tony award in 2000 as America’s Outstanding Regional Theater, 38 years after its debut. Still at the helm, Adams — who acted in and directed many of the plays over the years — accepted the award. Right there in New York City.

Community Theaters

Because everyone has big dreams, there are several community theaters sprinkled across Utah. And many of them can hold their own amongst the bigger stages.

Cache Valley Center for the Arts, in Logan, offers more than 100 shows per year, including dance concerts, bands and comedy shows. It’s home to Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater, which produces five musicals each summer. Discount tickets are available to college students with a current ID, so they’re pretty nice, too.

In Centerville, CenterPoint Legacy Theatre presents crowd-pleasing musicals throughout the year on its main stage. For a more beatnik experience, see a show in its small Leishman Hall theater. The black box puts on a couple of dramatic plays during the summer.

SCERA Center for the Arts is Orem’s answer to family-friendly entertainment. The shows — some especially for kids — include musicals and national touring concerts either on the outdoor or indoor stage.

Ziegfeld Theater, in Ogden, isn’t particularly attractive to look at, but the shows always include A-list local talent. Its musical theater at its most enthusiastic.

If you’re around Bear Lake, stop in for a show at the Pickleville Playhouse. Depending on the season, you can catch an improvisational melodrama (Boo! Hiss!) or a traditional musical. 

Get dinner and a family-friendly show at the Sundance Summer Theatre at the base of Sundance Mountain Resort. Performances are from March to mid August.

After some starts and stops, St. George Musical Theater has proven to be southern Utah’s most successful (and resilient) community theater. It produces six shows per season. 

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Utah has fine arts in abundance — live theater, yes, and also orchestra, ballet and opera companies, as well as a world-renowned choir and an elite film festival. Ol’ Willy would be proud.