Thoughts on Culture and Live Theater in Phoenix

live theater in Phoenix
The Rocky Horror Show – some great live theater in Phoenix. (photo by Jessica Frieling Photography)

People love to say that Phoenix doesn’t have any culture. It’s a notion that people parrot constantly. And it puts me in the mood to brandish a cricket bat in a threatening manner. What they really mean is one of of the following:

    • I’m too lazy to go out and find any culture in Phoenix
    • The culture in Phoenix isn’t exactly the same as Chicago/Detroit/Whatever Fast-Fading Rustbelt Eastern City I’m From, and is therefore not really culture.
    • There’s no place where other people can see me partaking of the culture in Phoenix, so I’m not interested.

Well, first off – “culture” is a pretty encompassing word. I can’t address it all in one blog post. But I can address one aspect of it. And I feel like talking about live theater in Phoenix. Over the past few years, Sarah and I have made a better effort to see more live theater. Hollywood has aided and abetted this plan by making a bunch of terrible “reboots” and “re-imaginings” of “franchises”

live theater in phoenix
The Pirates of Penzance at Fountain Hills Theater.

(known as “movies” to people with an iota of sense).

Then, when my good friend Todd started acting in live musical theater, we had another reason to hit the theater. We haven’t missed any of his shows, and we drop into other shows, too. I’m ordinarily not into musicals, but seeing your friends devote their time to something they love doing is a very cool thing. And it’s part of a cultural scene that we shouldn’t overlook. I’ll admit, Phoenix does not have on-tap the smorgasbord of high-end theater of bigger, more-established cities. The casts and crews are not the polished professionals you see in the big shows.

So what”

Perfection isn’t the be-all, end-all of any artistic endeavor. They all put some heart into what they do. And yes, there are also some absurdly talented people on their way up. You’ll actually enjoy them, even if you didn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket. And here’s the thing: If you want more live theater in Phoenix and want more big shows and huge productions, you need to get out and push.

You need to show interest, and that means going to see shows with just 250 other people in the audience – or even just 25 other people! Alright, I’ve stated my case. Now, let me give you a few ideas of where you can see some live theater in Phoenix.

Brelby Theater Company – We’ve made a few visits to Glendale to catch outdoor shows from Brelby Theater Company. It was really cool watching lightning in the distance while enjoying some Shakespeare. The casts have all been very young, energetic and innovative. They do a lot with very little space and very little staging.

Desert Stages Theater – Even before Todd got into acting, Sarah and I enjoyed Desert Stages Theater. It’s a very cool space with multiple stages that can hold audiences of varying sizes. My favorite so far was their version of the Rocky Horror Show – some excellent singing, and great use of space.

Don Bluth Front Row Theatre – We just made our first visit to the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. And it’s literally fewer than 50 people jammed into a central Scottsdale strip mall. Don Bluth, by the way, is an animation legend who is throwing his energy into this out of honest love for the theater. A very cool way to use his time and resources.

Fountain Hills Theater – I got a nice little surprise from this theater. Culturally, Fountain Hills doesn’t hold much interest for me: no good coffee shops, and no venues for hard-rockin’ live music. But Fountain Hills Theater put on a version of Pirates of Penzance that added a steampunk look to the story. Some very impressive singing here, too. Good fun!

Scottsdale Musical Theater Company – I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone to see The Music Man. But Todd was in it, so I thought “why not”” This was another impressive cast, both in size and ability. One of my favorite parts of it was recognizing so many elements that Matt Groening riffed on in the “Monorail” episode of The Simpsons.

And look, these are all just a start. There are plenty of other theaters around the Valley. Go see a show. Better yet, audition for a part. If you don’t, just realize that you’re why Phoenix doesn’t have the culture you want.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If I didn’t mention your favorite theater, leave a comment and a link. The whole idea of this post is to expose people to cultural opportunities they don’t about … and take away their reasons for not going to a show.

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By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.


  1. Always glad to see you guys come out for a show. The level of talent I see in the theater community here is mind-blowing. People who not only love doing it but are really good at it. Some other good theaters are the Hale Theater down in Gilbert (, the Broadway Palm in Mesa (, Desert Foothills (, Nearly Naked Theatre (, they’re all over the place. According to some of my castmates Phoenix has one of the largest theater communities in the country.

  2. Oh, and if you want that professional Broadway experience, there’s always the Arizona Broadway Theater (, Phoenix Theater ( (Les Mis this summer!!), and Gammage ( Really looking forward to seeing Wicked somehow next year at Gammage.

  3. Speaking of professional Broadway experiences, consider Valley Youth Theatre ( where two-out-of-four shows every season are done at the Herberger Center Theater.

    Last June, VYT received rave reviews for SHREK THE MUSICAL and starting June 13 of this year it will mount the original Broadway production of PETER PAN, including special effects from the professional flying service that hoisted Cathy Rigby as Pan.

    Backing up, the next show in VYT’s 25th Anniversary Season is the musical comedy SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARFS running April 4 thru 20 at its own 202-seat theater at First & Fillmore streets in Phoenix.

    If you’ve never seen a VYT show, be one of the first six newbies to contact me and I’ll hook you up with a SNOW WHITE ticket!

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