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Boston's lively arts

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Theater: Boston was once the most active theater town after New York. Now the town is down to three major stages --one of the finest straight playhouses in the Eastern seaboard. The Colonial is probably the most beautiful musical house in the country today, and now one of the oldest.The Shubert is due for a complete redecoration this summer. In Boston, all the road tours of Broadway hits -- "A Chorus Line," "Annie," "Deathtrap" -- play from two- to 26-week runs.

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But the local theater scene is also quite active -- at times the mainstay of the entire season. The Charles Playhouse, site of a fine repertory company in the '60s, uses a good deal of local talent in its productions of smaller hits. The Boston Rep Theater, which also housed a now-defunct repertory company, is a charming small theater. The Next Move Theater produces revues, new plays, and revivals for much of the season. And in Horticultural Hall, the Boston Shakespeare Company presents its highly popular evenings.

Several smaller groups that go in and out of production -- such as Reality Workshop Theater and Little Flags (the gifted Maxine Klein's political theater) -- as well as Boston University, and Harvard student productions also contribute to the local scene. And now, Robert Brustein has begun his Yale-type work at Harvard's Loeb Theater (one of the finest, most flexible modern facilities on any university campus), and there is once again hope that the Boston area will have a full-fledged repertory company to enrich its seasons.

Boston offers several theater clubs that ensure seating for the season's productions, just where you may want it, and save the hassle of racing around to get tickets for what is usually a limited run. A convenience not available in all cities.

In the good old summertime there's still theater to be found around Boston. Summer theaters on the North Shore, at Cohasset on the way to the cape, and on the cape itself, offer a full season of entertainment. It used to be musicals and a few dramas, but these days the events are usually personal appearances by headliners from films and television, with the occasional play thrown in. And all within about an hour's drive to the city.

Music: Symphony Hall Dominates the music scene in Boston. The Venerable home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is also one of the finest concert halls in the world -- austere, severe in seating, but with glorious acoustics, a rich but not suffocating reverberation. Seiji Ozawa is music director, with Sir Colin Davis principal guest conductor, for the season that runs from September through April. In May, the Boston Pops takes over the hall, now under the direction of Hollywood film scorer John Williams.

It should be added that while season tickets are available for the entire Symphony year of Friday-Saturday concerts, you can also get shorter-series tickets, say for Tuesday evenings, or Thursdays. That makes the best music the world has to offer available at less-than-prohibitive cost.

On non-symphony nights, the hall is a showcase for many of the finest soloists, recitalists, and visiting orchestras of the world. Just about a block away from Symphony Hall is Jordan Hall, a concert hall that is also part of the New England Conservatory of Music. It is one of the best recital halls in the country, ideal for the newer pianists, and most of the eminent chamber groups that play Boston regularly.

After the BSO, Boston's most visible and prestigious institution is Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston, now in a permanent home at the B. F. Keith Memorial Theater -- a flagship vaudeville house beter known in recent years as the Savoy movie house.

Student orchestras of both the N.E. Conservatory and the BU School of Music offer outstanding concerts throughout the year.Some enterprising student groups in Harvard also sponsor concerts, such as this year's complete Beethoven Trio cycle by the Beaux Arts Trio. The historic Handel & Haydn Society is heard at least four times a season in Symphony Hall. Two community-type orchestras further enrich our season.

In the summertime, music moves out of doors, onto the streets and squares of Boston, onto the peaceful Charles River-side Esplanade, with the well-known Hatch Shell (seen on nationwide TV July 4, 1976). And, of course, the BSO goes out to Tanglewood, only 2 1/2 hours from Boston, in the rolling verdure of the Berkshires.

Early music fans will already know that Boston is also a haven for outstanding performers -- amateur and professional alike -- in such groups as the Boston Camerata, Banchetto Musicale, and a host of independent recitals and productions that involve these exceptional players.

It is not just the diversity, but the unusually high quality of the performers and their performances that sets the Boston music scene apart from any other in the country. Boston musicians care about their results, and rare indeed is the slipshod or substandard performance by the more notable of local ensembles and soloists.