Luke Wehner, Aleisha Force, and Kenny Stevenson perform in the Coachella Valley Repertory production of “Hand to God.”

Where to See Live Theater in the Coachella Valley

Community theaters across the Coachella Valley open season with Broadway favorites, side-splitting comedies, and topical dramas.

June Allan Corrigan Arts & Entertainment

Luke Wehner, Aleisha Force, and Kenny Stevenson perform in the Coachella Valley Repertory production of “Hand to God.”

Luke Wehner, Aleisha Force, and Kenny Stevenson  perform in the Coachella Valley Repertory production of  “Hand to God.”

So much to see, so little time. It’s an apt description of the theater scene in the Coachella Valley. Whatever your taste, inclination, or age category, something will surely appeal, whether it’s a classic Broadway production or an all-new play about a timely subject. The desert has a wealth of performing talent, and its theatrical companies share a desire to make the area a theater destination.

“We’re trying to create an all-around, high-quality theatrical experience. We want to bring Broadway to the valley for the winter,” says Adam Karsten, executive artistic director at Coachella Valley Repertory. the nonprofit theater better known as CVRep in Cathedral City. This season, CVRep will present Cabaret, the comedy POTUS, and Nice Work If You Can Get It. The company’s venue, a former IMAX theater, seats 200 but feels intimate due to its large stage. “You’re never very far away, and there’s literally not a bad seat in the house.”

CVRep also accommodates stage readings of four new works annually through its Origins program. Now in its second year, Origins is a “page-to-stage” platform that results in one play premiering at the theater the following season. This time around, it’s Summer Session With the Bones Brigade. Effectively a hub for writers, directors, and actors to develop new works, the program also benefits CV Rep. “By collaborating with outside artists,” Karsten says, “we’re able to do what we do better and to find and create the next Broadway show.”

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CVRep’s production of “Fun Home.”

If your taste runs to thought-provoking themes, Dezart Performs will likely satisfy. The theater company, which started in a South Palm Springs art gallery and cultivated a salon-style atmosphere and now occupies the Pearl McManus Theatre at the historic Palm Springs Woman’s Club — produces innovative, contemporary plays more common to larger cities.

“I’m drawn to the disparities within the community and within our country specifically, and I try to address those issues,” says artistic director Michael Shaw. “I try to tell the stories of under-represented communities, whether it’s the LGBTQ+, Latino, Black, or Asian communities, etc. — stories that may not be told in a more commercial environment or setting. The theater’s tagline for the 2023–’24 season is “Dezart Performs: Fearless, Provocative, Inspiring Theatre” — and with plays such as What the Constitution Means to Me, A Case for the Existence of God, and Mr. Parker, the company will surely deliver.

This season, the award-winning theater has added a Sunday evening performance during each show’s run.

Desert Ensemble Theatre (DET) in Palm Springs produces plays that underscore the complexity of human interaction. “We want to do new and exciting work that speaks to what’s happening in our community and in our ecosystem of art that gets people thinking but is also entertaining,” says executive director Shawn Abramowitz.

In its 13th season and based at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, DET will host the world premieres of Ellie in March and Sherlock Holmes Confidential in April. Meanwhile, The Lifespan of a Fact, an off-off Broadway show, speaks to today’s political climate and promises to amuse theatergoers in early 2024.

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Dezart Performs production of  “A Bright New Boise.” 

DET also has an educational dimension, training high school interns in the intricacies of technical theater from lighting to set design and costuming to stage management and awarding more than $29,000 in scholarships to college-bound graduates. “We like to work with local actors and local directors,” Abramowitz says. “We see a need for a professional community theater, and that’s us. We’re filling that gap, not just with the art we’re producing, but also with the students that we’re training and educating.”

In their own ways, the desert’s theater companies strive to build community. CVRep runs a Youth Outreach program, providing students with transportation and an opportunity to experience live theater free of charge.

Meanwhile, in addition to its Broadway-flavored lineup of shows, which includes Fiddler on the Roof, Damn Yankees, and Oklahoma! with an optional dinner theater component, Desert Theatricals mounts three junior productions each year at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater. The latter provides free participation and training, plus free tickets to performances, which this season include Elf Jr. and Disney’s Moana Jr.

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Desert Ensemble Theatre’s production of“The Lifespan of a Fact.”

Indio’s nonprofit Desert TheatreWorks is similarly organized to provide education, entertainment, and exposure to cultural experiences to members of the community. It runs a KidsWorks Summer Musical Theatre Camp, which Desert Sands Unified School District students grades 1 through 8 can attend free of charge. Coachella-based Green Room Theatre Company brings professional performances to underserved communities and neighborhoods across the region, popping up in venues as diverse as the Palm Springs Air Museum and The Shops at Palm Desert.

Whatever your mood, somewhere in the Coachella Valley, there’s a theatrical performance to meet the moment. It might be a show at Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs — the area’s longest-running theater company — whose 2024 lineup includes Sordid Lives, Something Rotten!, and Sweeney Todd.

Perhaps it’s an original play like those presented by  a diverse performing arts organization in Rancho Mirage whose mission is to highlight social justice, gender equality, human dignity, and the joy and humor of everyday life among other topics.

There’s even a new entrant on the scene: Revolution Stage Company opens in Palm Springs with a freshly renovated stage and a desire to tell stories that run the gamut from musicals to serious dramas and everything in between. With such a diversity of offerings across the valley, it’s easy to get out to enjoy a show and support local theater in our community.