Dallas is blessed to have a multitude of theater companies that call the city home. From small to large, nonprofit to commercial, experimental to traditional, there seems to be room in Big D for everyone. That’s what makes choosing a “best” list so difficult — each and every theater company in this city possesses merit, works extremely hard, and from time to time presents something amazing.
The companies we chose consistently produce solid work while nudging boundaries and exploring ways to make our theater scene even more incredible.
Dallas Theater Center
DTC isn't on this list because it's arguably the biggest company in Dallas, a distinction that can sometimes turn organizations complacent. It's on here because since Kevin Moriarty became artistic director in 2007, DTC has done exactly the opposite. By commissioning new works from up-and-coming artists (including playwright-in-residence Will Power), initiating collaborations with local arts organizations such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre (The Wiz) and Dallas Museum of Art (Red), and invigorating existing works with fresh approaches (It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!), DTC has grown into a company of national significance.
Its official motto is "dedicated to the development and preservation of the American musical," and Lyric Stage has built a reputation on doing just that. For every beautifully rendered production of a familiar show, such as last season's sublime Oklahoma!, there's a lesser-known work — Pleasures and Palaces, Too Many Girls, The Night of the Hunter — that's given the same five-star treatment. Often that means not only providing the kind of orchestral oomph most Broadway productions would kill for, but also digging deeply into the work's history by restoring lost music or working with members of the original creative team to hone and perfect a libretto or score.
What Undermain accomplishes in its basement space in Deep Ellum is astonishing, but when it moved temporarily to Dallas City Performance Hall earlier this year for Penelope, the result proved that the company itself is astonishing, no matter where it performs. Artistic director Katherine Owens and executive producer Bruce DuBose — who often shows up onstage — select challenging works from around the globe yet always ground the productions in raw truth.
Second Thought Theatre
There's something about STT that attracts the area's best talent like a magnet. Intimate shows, often with uncomfortable yet eye-opening content, and a laser-like focus on performance help elicit productions that sear themselves into your memory. Whether it's Mamet or Rapp, McDonagh or Walters (that would be actor and co-founder Steven Walters, who also moonlights as a playwright), STT's shows are designed to spark a reaction. And isn't that the point of live theater?
Having perfected the art of crowd-pleasing, Theatre Three is working diligently to add some edge to its performance roster. By recently selecting such modern — yet sometimes alienating — works as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and Avenue Q (which returns to the basement space this month after a sold-out extended run last year) and investing in new shows like local hit On the Eve, co-founder and executive producer-director Jac Alder is sending a clear message to Dallas theatergoers: It is possible to be traditional and forward-thinking at the same time.