In terms of location, location, location, Long Island theater lovers may well be the luckiest in the country. Not only is all of New York City just a short train ride away, but satisfying theatergoing experiences are available everywhere you turn on L.I. itself.
Beginning on the far end of the island, on Sag Harbor's Long Wharf, we find the Bay Street Theatre, a professional, not-for-profit venue with a season running from March to December. Known for quality productions, the 300-seat Bay Street is adored by audiences and, judging by the number of world premieres it hosts, much loved by playwrights. During the decade since the theater was founded, works by Horton Foote, Jon Robin Baitz, Terrence McNally, Arthur Laurents, and Lanford Wilson have all debuted here. In terms of theatrical pedigree, the company is very hard to beat: its co-artistic directors are Sybil Christopher (mother of Kate Burton) and Emma Walton (daughter of Julie Andrews and Tony Walton).
On the Great South Bay in Bellport sits an estate, designed by the famous architect Stanford White, which once housed a popular, family-operated hotel called the Gateway. In a nearby barn, the children of the family would entertain guests with skits and musical acts--and thus was born the Gateway Playhouse. Since the '50s, Gateway has evolved into one of Long Island's leading summer stock venues. The playhouse offers a mix of classic and modern musicals, frequently taking on shows with challenging production requirements (e.g., Show Boat, Tommy). Like the Bay Street shows, Gateway productions often include actors and actresses fresh from Broadway, who are drawn to Gateway because of its wonderful location and its reputation. Nearby is the Patchogue Theatre, where Gateway shows occasionally appear and which also has its own impressive season of events and touring shows.
A far cry from the resort-like Gateway is the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Old Bethpage, tucked away in the corner of a strip mall. CAP dabbles in both popular and adventurous fare; standards like Annie and The Sound of Music dot its lengthy season schedule, but eyebrow-raisers turn up as well. (Last year, the theater gave the 1998 Broadway musical Parade its regional debut, and did a stunning job with it). Then there are the big-budget, fresh-from-Broadway shows: Jekyll and Hyde is on this year's schedule, promising to draw crowds of people who never got to see the show on the Great White Way or who enjoyed it so much they want seconds.
Not far from Gateway, over in Bohemia, is the Airport Playhouse. The theater presents 10 full-scale productions a year; its seasons are comprised of a variety of plays (such as Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosenweig, recently seen here) and musicals (like the upcoming staging of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Pirates of Penzance). In conjunction with Dowling College, Airport also offers reasonably priced acting and performance classes during the summer for theater buffs who aspire to the stage themselves.
East Farmingdale's Arena Players Repertory Company of Long Island is in performance year round, offering both adult and children's plays. Shows on their Main Stage, which seats up to 240 people, play Thursday through Sunday, while the 100-seat Second Stage welcomes audiences every Friday through Sunday. Kids shows are on the weekends, and acting classes for all ages are available.
Folks living up in Port Jefferson can find a little of everything at their own Theatre Three, so named for its three separate stages. Seven shows are presented in the beautiful main stage theater each year--four are musicals, two are plays, and the seventh is always that perennial favorite A Christmas Carol. Smaller productions and special event shows of various types play on the Second Stage, while the in-house children's theater offers a full season of classic fare such as Rapunzel and The Emperor's New Clothes.
And, finally, here is a tale of two cities: Merrick and North Merrick, which between them boast a pair of theaters well worth mentioning. The Stage, The Stage, conveniently located under the Merrick station of the Long Island Railroad station, offers a variety of classics and new classics; its productions are perfect for those who love to see solid productions of familiar shows (the current season includes Inherit the Wind, Oliver!, and Grease). The Lantern Theatre presents all of its shows at The Brookside School, mixing classics with newer plays that may not have reached a wide audience in their inaugural productions. For instance, Lantern gave the Long Island premiere of Douglas Carter Beane's critically acclaimed As Bees In Honey Drown just a year after the play closed Off-Broadway. Like many of the theaters profiled above, the 49-year old Lantern is fortunate to have a dedicated group of members who happily alternate in performing the many jobs--from actor to usher--that must be done in order for a theater company to thrive.