Forget Broadway, Tour Towns Are Where It's At for Theater Nerds
For the uninitiated, a Tour Town is a place juuuuust big enough for Broadway touring musicals to come through regularly, but, alas, not big enough to have a permanent Broadway musical rotation. Where are these places? Portland. St. Louis. Dallas. Cincinnati. Salt Lake City. Broadway Across America will basically tour a show anywhere with upwards of three stores devoted solely to tap shoes and flesh-colored leotards.
Sure, we don’t have a major theater district or twenty shows playing a night, but do not pity the citizens of a Tour Town! Broadway might be where dreams come true, but Tour Towns are where dreams are born and where young thespians realize for the very first time that the "townsfolk" on stage are only pretending to talk in groups of two and three. Like there's a reason Rachel Barry is from Lima, Ohio, and not Manhattan's Upper East Side—you've got to leave room for the crescendo.
Here's why it's better you're from Nowheresville USA than the West End.
1. It's the best place to see a huge Broadway star... before they're a star.
If Phantom taught me anything, it's that even if you're talented it can be hard to break out as an understudy without the help of a horribly disfigured maniac in the wings. A better way to establish yourself as a legit Broadway legend is by taking on a role in a traveling show—being "the traveling Idina Menzel," so to speak.
You know how actors on big Broadway shows sometimes act like they’re too cool for school after the show? Like only contest winners are allowed to touch them? It’s the opposite in a Tour Town. They know they’re treated like royalty in these towns, so they’ll stay around to take pictures, and you can get your drool on up nice and close. Check out every picture taken with a Broadway star on Instagram: Twenty bucks says they were taken with an actor from a touring company.
2. Would you like pizza with your Spring Awakening?
New York food is amazing. Los Angeles food is amazing[ly portable]. But when it comes to bringing your food inside the theater, there’s nothing like a Tour Town.
Yes, they’ll let you bring it inside. But the kitchens attached to small theaters will also treat you right. There are REAL Tour Town theaters that will serve you pizza, fresh baked cookies and soda. All of which you can eat during the show. The smaller the theater, the chiller the kitchen. It’s awesome.
There is also a 0% chance you'll end up sitting next to six M&M shopping bags outside of 42nd Street in New York.
3. It's only the good shows that tour, and there are LOTS OF THEM.
The constant cry of the Tour Town kid: “What’s coming around this month?”
The answer is: everything.*
*Everything that has passed the smell test in New York or L.A. or London. I'm sorry not sorry to say that the Xanadu reboot—which everyone was SO READY to hate on before it even opened in New York—continues to triumphantly tour the world (the Xanadu reboot is credited with bringing the world Cheyenne Jackson in cutoff jean shorts).
Everything you could ever want to see is playing in a Tour Town somewhere right now. If it’s not playing now, just wait. It’ll come around within a year.
If you're worried that you'll go broke attending shows (birthday present?), the theaters in Tour Towns are so desperate for people to come to the shows that they’ll offer discounts all the time. They have something to prove, after all. The more butts in seats, the more likely the show, and the dreamboat in the cutoff jean shorts, are to come back.
4. The dancing is always amazing.
We all know Broadway dancers are insanely fit human beings. But dancers on tour on Broadway are a different breed altogether. They have something to prove, and they are jazz hands at the ready to prove it.
There’s a real argument that tour dancers may be even better than those who work in the main company. They’re more versatile. They’re ready to strut their stuff on any stage, from Cape Town to Busch Gardens and back again. These dancers know it backwards and forwards. They have to be able to take on any Tour Town. FAME! They want it.
5. But sometimes the actors make… interesting choices.
Tour Towns are where actors go to try out new stuff. It’s a smaller crowd, so there’s less chance of a terrible review that will doom the entire tour.
However, this can lead to text conversations like this:
New York friend: Hey, how was Phantom?
Portland friend: OMG it was great! It was weird tho, he ripped off Christine Who's skirt in Point of No Return
New York: Wait what
Portland: Yeah, kinda intense. Thanks for letting it be a surprise
New York: Dude that didn’t happen in my show
Portland: ? Wasn’t that where the tour started?
New York: Yeah that totally didn’t happen. He just kinda held her
New York: Stuff’s heatin up yo
Portland: We have to call Cynthia. Seattle’s gonna be nuts
6. Theater newsletters are ON POINT.
We should check the local theater’s website to see what’s playing? HA. Good one, Dad.
More often than not, Tour Town theaters have online newsletters. Or even better, paper. Pick that stuff up outside whenever you’re downtown. Done. They're run by the marketing departments of the theater, which means they got the DEETS. Interviews? Check. Details about the cast? Gotcha. They know we’re reading to learn what our next obsession should be. More often than not, they give early notice about a show and deliver on the details. And the best ones will even hook us up with the best behind-the-scenes videos. Tour Town theaters know what’s up.
7. You've just found your next crush.
The thing about original cast recordings is that you're liable to listen to them 100 times then cry, "COLM WILKINSON IS THE ONLY JEAN VALJEAN!" and take a dramatic leap off a barricade when you encounter the next person to inherit the role. But in this universe, there can be more than one Valjean. There can in fact be 17 Valjeans, each more powerful than the last. Traveling shows allow you to discover a new fav.
8. Hecklers/sing-alongs occasionally happen.
Oh girl… there are no hecklers like Tour Town hecklers. These fools will talk over any show and every show. I'm anti-heckler obviously (show some respect!) but spontaneous singalongs are one of the heart warmiest surprises in a Tour Town. Who knew your dentist knew all the words to Into the Woods?
9. You'll never get that chill atmosphere in the big apple.
The truth is though, once you go Tour Town it’s hard to go back. It’s just too much fun to see a show in such a relaxed setting. Getting all fancy, paying twice or even three times as much for a ticket and being harassed by a busker in an Elmo costume on the way there... the big cities aren’t always as good as they’re cracked up to be.
Small towns can be boring. But they’re sometimes the most fun places to see a Broadway show. There are ushers that let you in when you’re running to the door, kids dressed as Cinderella, and drinking soda in plastic cups in the theater. There’s nothing like a Tour Town performance.
Do you live in a Tour Town? What was the last show you caught?