Boston Theater Refuses to Be Upstaged

R ECENTLY, playwright David Mamet moved to Cambridge. Maybe he knows something that New York theater-goers would be reluctant to

RECENTLY, playwright David Mamet moved to Cambridge. Maybe he knows something that New York theater-goers would be reluctant to admit--that Boston has a perfectly vibrant, active theater scene of its own. Most of this scene is located in or around the the area known as the theater district, near the Boylston stop on the Green Line, but theaters proliferate outside the area as well.

Several theaters tend to show current hits with big name stars. One of these is the Wang Center for the Performing Arts (270 Tremont Street, 482-9393). The Wang Center was booked for 39 out of 52 weeks last season, 16 of those weeks given to the Boston Ballet Company which claims the Wang as its home.

The theater, built in 1925 as the Metropolitan Theater, has been called the Wang Center since its restoration five years ago. Not only does the theater have one of the largest stages in the world--60 feet by 90 feet--but it is also the largest theater in Boston, with a seating capacity of 4225. Because of its size, the Wang also hosts a number of benefit concerts and other events each year.

There have been problems with acoustics over the years, especially with touring productions. Some touring companies do not have sound systems adequate enough to reach every seat in this large auditorium.

The Wang Center has attempted to cope with the problem by improving the orchestra pit, a spokesperson says. The ticket prices at the Wang Center reflect these renovations, as each ticket includes a 50 cent restoration fee. The theater is currently showing the Boston Ballet's production of La Sylphide, which will run until October 16. South Pacific is the next scheduled show.

The Wang Center does offer some student discount tickets, but the availability depends on the individual production. The Boston Ballet provides its own student discounts.

The other two large theaters in Boston which present big-name shows are the Shubert Theater (265 Tremont Street, across the street from the Wang, 426-4520) and the Colonial Theater (106 Boylston Street, 426-9366, with a seating capacity of 1600).

One other major theater in the theater district offers a slightly different variety of plays. The Charles Playhouse (74 Warrenton Street, 426-6912) tries to attract longer-running shows to its stages. As a result, Nunsense has been playing on its Main Stage for almost a year. The main theater seats 525 people. The other stage, known as Stage II (426-5225) has a seating capacity of 196 and has been showing Shear Madness for an unprecedented nine years. The Charles also houses the Comedy Connection with a seating capacity of 135.

Both stages feature seating at tables on the floor as well as regular seats, and cocktail service is available at the tables. The two shows currently running include audience participation, and offer a more casual approach to theater.

A spokesperson for the Charles says that the acoustics are good because of the small size of the theaters and because each stage is a "four-wall rental" and the show's companies bring all their own equipment.

THERE are also many viable theater options outside of the theater district. One unique show that also features tables and cocktail service is Forbidden Broadway, a cabaret-style, musical spoof shown in the Terrace Room, a function room turned theater at the Park Plaza Hotel (Arlington stop on the Green Line, 357-8384). The show, now in its fifth year, is revised every season to incorporate newer material, such as the current spoof of the hit Les Miserables. The musical director for the show is veteran Hasty Pudding Theatricals composer David Chase '86. There are no student discount tickets, but for hungry theatergoers, there is a dinner/theater package available in conjunction with the Cafe Rouge restaurant in the hotel.

Professional equity actors and directors at the Huntington Repertory Theater (near the Symphony stop on the Green Line, 266-3913, 855 seats) produce five shows a year, one of them a musical, with 26 performances of each show. The theater is affiliated with Boston University, whose students utilize it for three productions each year.

The professional company tries to present a variety of shows, which are, in the words of a theater spokesperson, "not too avant-garde." One of its recent presentations, a hilarious revival of the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers, went on to have runs in other cities with the same principal actors.

The acoustics in the theater are good, and each show's crew decides whether or not to use microphones for the show. With a student ID, ticket prices are $13 for all shows except Saturday nights and openings. Regular ticket prices run from $15-$28. The current production, Arthur Miller's The American Clock, ends Saturday.

On the other end of the scale from the large theaters is the Lyric Stage (54 Charles Street, 742-8703). The small theater seats 114 people and it likes to term itself as "the best little intimate theater in Boston."

The theater works on a rotational repertory basis, with each show running for six weeks. Most of the productions are American and British classics, such as Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw (currently playing) and Noel Coward's Hay Fever.

The professional company, which has been in operation for 15 years, has won awards for its size and intimacy. The center section, of the theater has two rows, and the right section, the largest one, has seven rows, making every seat great, and the acoustics are not a problem.

Ticket prices are regularly $12.50 to $15.50, but on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday at 5:00 and Sunday at 3:00, students with a college ID can take advantage of a $1 discount.

The Lyric's spokesperson points out that there are always openings for what she terms the easiest ushering job in Boston. Students can come early and then see the show for free.

These are just a handful of the theater options in Boston, not to mention the surrounding communities. Whether you prefer big, glittering productions of old, familiar musicals or small, recent discoveries where the actors perform at armslength, there is definitely a theater out there for you. And who knows--you might want to stop by the new Stage Deli in the theater district after the show. It's at least as good as New York's.