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A Music Hall Series to Shape Your Stay Around

It may be known as The Music Hall, but don’t let that lead you to believe that this historic performing arts center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire – located a stone’s throw from Wentworth by the Sea – is dedicated solely to live music. Rather, the robust roster of diverse programming casts a wide net.


When Tina Sawtelle is asked what she thinks makes The Music Hall so special, so one-of-a-kind, she doesn’t talk about how it’s the oldest operating theater in New Hampshire, or how its 2006 capital restoration brought it back to its Gilded Age grandeur, or how it has been named an American Treasure by The Department of the Interior. 

Rather, she points to something less tangible: A sense of connection – specifically, the shared experience that coming to an event within this downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire non-profit venue provides. “We live in an on-demand world, where we can stream whatever we want, whenever we want, right from home. Experiencing art collectively with others – at the same time and in person – is becoming rarer,” says Sawtelle, who serves as the 1878 grand theater’s executive director. “But when you come to The Music Hall – whether that’s to see something in our 900-seat theater or in our neighboring, intimate lounge space – you’re attending with other patrons who you may not know but are clearly like-minded people. Something brought you here that you share in common. I think that’s really special.”

And what makes it even more special is the diversity of year-round programming that The Music Hall provides to make that connection – everything from comedy, literature, film, dance, music, and more. Here, we profile a cross-section of ongoing series that visitors should shape a stay around – while soaking up a special shared experience in the process.

See an Upcoming Music Hall Series With Your Name On It?

Make it into an impromptu getaway and browse our last-minute deals at Wentworth by the Sea , located a stone’s throw away from The Music Hall.
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AFFORDABLE & INTIMATE COMEDY WITH A CLUB VIBE

Comedic Relief Nights

A comedian performs on The Music Hall Lounge stage.

© Monte Bohanan, courtesy of The Music Hall

© Will Zimmermann, courtesy of The Music Hall

© Will Zimmermann, courtesy of The Music Hall

Comedy in the Historic Theater comes in the form of top national stand-up personalities, improv troupes, and local legends (New Hampshire-native Juston McKinney is something of an end-of-year staple). But if looking to experience face-to-face comedy in a club-like vibe – something akin to what you’d find in New York City late-night venues – look no further than the monthly Comedic Relief Nights

Hosted in The Music Hall Lounge – which opened in 2022 and is located just around the corner on Congress Street – the series brings in both local and bigger-name acts to the 100-seat setting that boasts a nightclub vibe with small tables set with lamps and soft lighting. Each event features a lineup of three to four comics to the tune of $15 per ticket – which is pretty impressive given that the series has hosted the likes of David Koechner (a.k.a. “Todd Packer” from The Office) and Ben Bailey (of Cash Cab fame). And since it’s a more intimate setting, expect the acts to not shy away from audience interaction (read: If you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of a punch-line, you may get called out).

AN EXCLUSIVE PEEK OF FILMS FRESH FROM THEIR DEBUTS

Telluride by the Sea

The mainstage of The Music Hall.

© David J. Murray Clear Eye Photo, courtesy of The Music Hall

What’s the next best thing to attending the acclaimed Telluride Film Festival? Attending The Music Hall’s Telluride by the Sea, a three-day (Friday through Sunday) event held every September. That’s because of The Music Hall’s exclusive relationship with the Colorado film fest, where seven hand-picked films fresh from their debuts come direct and only to the Seacoast before they’re released anywhere else.

But the weekend isn’t just packed with peeks of the latest in international cinema on the Historic Theater’s big screen. When you purchase a patron pass or a weekend pass, you also get access to other festivities like private post-screening parties, music under the arch on Chestnut Street, brunches catered by local seacoast restaurants, and inspired conversations with other cinephiles of all ages, tastes, and backgrounds.

AN AWARD-WINNING STAPLE SERIES

Writers on the New England Stage

An author talks on the mainstage at The Music Hall.

© Sydney Bilodeau Photography

© Monte Bohanan, courtesy of The Music Hall

There’s nothing that draws the crowds more to this Portsmouth performing arts venue than its various talks and forums, bringing in notable educators, thought leaders, actors (save the October 21, 2023 date for an evening with John Cusack), and authors for intimate discussions on the stage. And while it technically falls under the “literary” series category more so than “talks,” you just can’t deny how downright conversational the landmark Writers on the New England Stage series is.

First launched in 2005, the award-winning series – that has been described as “half lecture, half intimate conversation” – has brought in such celebrated authors as Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Judy Blume, and Dan Brown to read from their latest works and talk about their creative process under the Historic Theater’s iconic muraled dome. Hosted in partnership with New Hampshire Public Radio, the series sells out fast, so this is one you have to be quick to book. Prefer the vibe of The Lounge? Check out the Lit. At The Lounge series.

HOLIDAY HITS PERFORMED JUST FOR THE MAINSTAGE

The Ogunquit Playhouse at The Music Hall

Actors from The Ogunquit Playhouse perform on the mainstage at The Music Hall.

© Sydney Bilodeau Photography, , courtesy of The Music Hall

Since The Music Hall first opened its doors in 1878 as a vaudeville theater, you better believe that it delivers exceptional performance theater – everything from musicals and cabaret to symphony and all types of dance. But the annual series that has everyone scrambling to grab seats November through December? The Christmas-themed performance put on by The Ogunquit Playhouse, a world-class regional theater hailing from a few towns north in Maine. 

A collaboration that dates back almost a decade, the holiday production is a chance to see one of the last remaining summer stock theaters sing and dance in 24 shows during their off-season. And because they’re not a touring company, that means the set and selected production are custom designed to best take advantage of The Music Hall’s Victorian-era theater for a performance that truly dazzles. Past performances include Elf The Musical, White Christmas, and Annie. In 2023, they’re bringing down the house with The Sound of Music

MUSIC (& DANCING) ON THE MAIN DRAG

Live Under the Arch

A band performs under the Chestnut Street arch.

© Monte Bohanan, courtesy of The Music Hall

© Monte Bohanan, courtesy of The Music Hall

Of course, it wouldn’t be called The Music Hall without music – and scores of it, too, across all kinds of genres performed by legends and stars to soon-to-be stars. And while you’ll find plenty of year-round programming across both the Historic Theater and the lounge, the five-show Live Under the Arch summer series is special in the sense that it’s the only performance set outside under the Chestnut Street Arch, an ornate 37-foot steel and aluminum arch that marks the entrance of Chestnut Street from Congress Street.

First borne during the pandemic as a way to offer open-air socially-distanced concerts right outside the Historic Theater, the series has stuck around not just for its stage set in a scenic setting in the heart of bustling Portsmouth, but for the way it offers an area for dancing, unlike the other Music Hall venues. Sure, there is always scattered seating available, but when that jam-band beat kicks in, it’s not unusual to see the crowd springing to their feet.

**Note Regarding Ticket Resales: Please do not purchase tickets from websites other than TheMusicHall.org. Those are not sales through The Music Hall, and you will pay much more than the actual ticket cost with no guarantee of receiving tickets (real or counterfeit). Purchases made through these third-party websites are not actual Music Hall transactions and cannot be returned to or validated by the venue.
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