Skip to site content
group travel leader select traveler small market meetings

Showtime in the Heartland

Some of America’s best live theater destinations are in the Midwest.

Cities large and small in the heartland region offer live theater experiences for groups that rival buzz-worthy Broadway musicals, producing some of the finest sketch, improv and standup comedy in the world. Several smaller community and dinner theaters offer new plays and local renditions of worldwide favorites.

Groups that enjoy a good show should include some of these theatrical destinations on their next tours in the Midwest.


Chicago has one of the most robust theater scenes in the country, with plenty of live theater and comedy options for visiting groups to choose from. The city’s theater district features more than 250 theaters, five Tony Award-winning theater companies, diverse neighborhood theaters and one of the country’s best known comedy scenes.

Downtown Chicago’s Loop is where visitors will find lavish theatres such as CIBC Theatre, which opened as a vaudeville theater in 1906; the James M. Nederlander Theatre, a movie palace from the early 1900s; and Cadillac Palace Theatre, an ornate venue that was inspired by the Palace of Versailles. Goodman Theatre, Chicago’s oldest not-for-profit venue, offers classic and contemporary works.

Several independent theaters figure prominently in Chicago’s neighborhoods, including Lincoln Park’s Steppenwolf Theatre, which is known for producing new works. Shakespeare lovers will want to put the Tony Award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier on their itinerary.

Some of the country’s top comedians, including Tina Fey, Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert, got their start at Second City. Down the street from The Second City Theater is Zanies, one of America’s most famous stand-up comedy clubs.

Chicago’s theater scene also includes the Belmont Theatre District, Edgewater Theatre District and an extensive Storefront theater experience. Storefront theater takes place in old storefronts, churches or former movie houses. Groups can check out offbeat premieres at Red Orchid Theatre.

Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio, has deep roots in performing arts history as the home of Cleveland Play House, the first professional regional theatre in the country, and Karamu House, the oldest African American theater company in the nation. Group travelers can experience a wide variety of productions that take place throughout the region with a mix of touring productions and locally produced shows.

Playhouse Square is the country’s largest performing arts center outside of New York City, according to Gordon Taylor III, chief sales officer at Destination Cleveland. The facility encompasses 10 stages in a one-block radius and hosts more than 1,000 performances annually, including Broadway shows, concerts, ballets and comedy events. The opulent theater complex includes five historic venues that have been restored to their former 1920s grandeur and a huge outdoor chandelier to guide visitors to their next performance.

Cleveland Play House produces more than 500 performances every year, and Great Lakes Theater is a classic theater company in Playhouse Square’s renovated Hanna Theatre. It boasts alums such as Tom Hanks and Arthur Lithgow.

Karamu House, on Cleveland’s east side, has a rich history and distinguished African American alumni, including former Cleveland resident Langston Hughes. Cleveland Public Theater in the Gordon Square Arts District is a local hub for progressive theater, modern dance and edgy opera submitted by both regional and national artists.

At Playhouse Square, many shows in the KeyBank Broadway Series include a pre-show Broadway Buzz session where groups can learn about the production. Backstage tours are also offered throughout the year.

Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, has earned its place among the heavyweights of Midwest theater thanks to one organization — the Fireside Theatre.

The Fireside got its start as a restaurant in 1964. A theater was added in 1978 because the owner wanted to give its patrons a reason to return. The theater was built in the round, offering all 665 seats an unobstructed view of the stage. Seats are no more than nine rows away from the stage, and because the restaurant is separate from the theater, patrons are never inconvenienced by servers walking back and forth in front of them during the show.

The restaurant, which can seat 1,000, serves elaborate meals and can easily accommodate large groups. It offers three entrees to choose from before every production, and group rates were lowered after COVID to make the theater more attractive to group travelers. Group rates apply to any group of 13 or more.

The theater is a union facility, meaning it only works with members of Actors’ Equity Association.

“It puts us on a quality level of national tours and other big regional theaters,” said marketing manager Julie Nordeen.

The company produces Broadway musicals that are no longer on Broadway. Its most recent shows include “Jersey Boys,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Nunsense,” “Matilda,” and “Rocky the Musical.”

The theater runs seven shows a week, Thursday through Sunday, including matinees. It also produces Christian concerts four times a year.

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City’s robust theater scene offers groups a choice of intimate community theater shows and touring Broadway musicals. The Music Hall, inside the city’s Art Deco Municipal Auditorium downtown, can seat 2,363 guests. The facility has always attracted first-runs of touring Broadway musicals. It also presents visiting symphony orchestras, opera and ballet companies.

The Unicorn Theatre brings in diverse new productions that have never before been seen on stage in Kansas City or the immediate region. It selects thought-provoking shows about the world and social issues. Many Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays had their premieres at the Unicorn. The Coterie Theater at Crown Center is nationally recognized as one of the best children’s and family-friendly theaters in the country. It also acts as a performing arts lab for new family musicals.

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is a hub for live entertainment in the city, including the Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, concerts and Broadway stage productions. The center offers discounts for groups of 10 or more.

The Starlight Theatre is an outdoor theater that presents Broadway shows, concerts and movies for 8,000 people. The theater can customize group experiences by adding on a tour of the venue, group dining and talkbacks.

Quad Cities

Iowa and Illinois

The Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois boasts a vibrant theater scene, with a diversity of venues from local community theaters and professional dinner theaters to ballet performances and Broadway productions. Groups visiting the region can easily add live entertainment to their agenda, and many theaters in the area readily accommodate large groups and offer group sales packages.

Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, which opened in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1921, is the longest-running family-owned dinner theater in the U.S. The Playhouse can host groups of 12 to 334 in its beautifully restored historic theater and offers several dinner entrees to choose from to enjoy during the show.

The Adler Theatre in Davenport, Iowa, which is a short walk from the Mississippi River, is in the former 1926 RKO Orpheum Theater and features a gold-leaf ceiling, crystal light fixtures, and beautiful details in ebony, walnut, and marble. The theater offers Broadway shows, celebrity headliners and comedians.

Davenport’s Capitol Theatre, which recently underwent a $24 million restoration, offers many types of events, including films, theatrical performances, lectures and concerts. G.I.T. Improv stages live improvisational comedy shows once a month at The Black Box Theatre in Moline, Illinois. The Playcrafter’s Barn Theatre in Moline offers both live theater and comedy shows, and Skellington Manor in Rock Island offers murder mystery dinners and escape rooms.