Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Jersey's Theater District

By Brianne Harrison

I had the pleasure this past weekend of attending the Dublin Symphony Orchestra's performance at the State Theatre of New Jersey in New Brunswick. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, despite the fact that I've lived less than 40 minutes away for the past three years, I'd never been to the State Theatre. I'd hardly ever been to New Brunswick. After this weekend's performance, however, I definitely plan to return to both.

The State Theatre looks tiny from the outside, but once you're inside you're in a huge space that doesn't appear to have a single bad seat. The acoustics are great; the decor tastefully art deco. And the entertainment's top-notch too. The Dublin Orchestra has moved on, but there's something for everyone in the coming months: The Russian National Ballet Theatre will be performing Cinderella, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra takes the stage on March 7 and 22, Dora the Explorer Live runs March 10-11, Hairspray takes its bows two nights in a row, the National Acrobats of China will arrive in April, and Opera A La Carte will present the Mikado. If you're looking to introduce the younger members of your family to theater, there's Milk and Cookies, a lively, interactive series of free performances featuring storytelling, music, puppetry, and more. Six of these events (three in spring and three in fall) are staged each year. The next one is scheduled for March 14.

The State Theatre's location, in the middle of the cultural district, means it's easy to make a trip to the theater a night out. The Heldrich Hotel, which houses Christopher's Restaurant and Daryl Wine Bar and restaurant, is right across the street, and surrounding the theater are a number of chic restaurants and bars offering anything you could possibly want for dinner (or lunch, if you're catching a matinee).

If nothing at the State Theatre appeals, there are several other theaters in the immediate area, including the George Street Playhouse and the Crossroads Theatre Co., which won a Tony Award for best regional theater in 1999.

New Brunswick is one of New Jersey's most successful urban-renewal stories, and the cultural district is an excellent example of that. It's definitely worth a visit--or three.

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