The Detroit Opera House sprawls across an entire city block, its imposing size and elegant design belying its circuitous history. Originally opened in 1922 as a vaudeville palace—and designed by the renowned architect behind the city's Fillmore and Fox theaters—the space played host to live music and recorded films. But despite the venue’s remarkable acoustics and cheery demeanor, it sat abandoned for long stretches of time over the next few decades. Luckily, fate intervened in 1988 when the opera acquired the building, starting an ambitious remodeling project that culminated in an opening gala featuring Luciano Pavarotti. The opera house’s modern iteration mimics the design of Europe's greatest performance spaces, with an the ornate main hall adorned with vaulted ceilings and sumptuous red curtains.
The Detroit Institute of Arts takes the “s” at the end of its name seriously. The immense Beaux Arts building on Woodward Avenue isn’t only a setting for a top-tier collection of visual works that include Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry frescoes, a van Gogh self-portrait, and ancient sculptures from Africa and Asia. It also opens the doors of its lecture halls, event spaces, and auditoriums for craft workshops, wide-ranging talks from historians and people who know how to draw really good cubes, film, and music. The latter two art forms find a home in the Detroit Film Theatre, a gilded, neoclassical auditorium that preserves a sense of coziness amid the grandeur.
Since 1936, the historic Gem Theatre has moved movie lovers to laughter and tears with films in an elegant, comfortable single-screen vintage theater. Peruse current showtimes and choose a first-run film, which may include a romantic romp, a superhero adventure, an independent feature, or Casablanca II: Electric Boogaloo. Guests pick up their sodas and popcorn at the concessions stand in the carpeted lobby, whose ornate table lamps cast soft light on potted plants and flowers. In the red and gold 916-seat amphitheater, upholstered floor seats beckon audience members and balcony perches provide a sky-high view behind marbled wood rails. Before the film, guests watch wrought-iron vines curl around colorful birds in sculptures flanking the screen. Sumptuous gold curtains hide the big screen until showtime, allowing staff members to finish reenacting each film’s climactic scene in private.
During its 20th season of socially engaging theater in southwest Detroit, Matrix Theatre Company continues to create challenging and visually compelling work that includes the community it calls home. The year of six plays begins with Southwest Story (October 14–November 13), a Detroit take on the story of Romeo and Juliet that explores the conflict between African-American and Latino cultures but fails to solve the mystery of how Shakespeare kept his goatee so pointy.
Entering its 54th season, the Detroit Repertory Theatre regales audiences with premiere performances of relatable comedies and dramas. This season, Engagement Rules splits sides with a comical analysis of love, spotlighting two couples who fight to maintain their relationships through personal turmoil and heated arm-wrestling matches. Burying the Bones weaves a thought-provoking story of a woman haunted by the ghost of her missing husband in post-apartheid South Africa, and Dead and Buried and Taking Care of Mimi fill the spring with inspiring tales of camaraderie and hardship.