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Philadelphia - United States
Philadelphia has a history of introducing new entertainment to the rest of the country. Broadway shows used to regularly try out their material here before moving on to New York. The popular television show, "American Bandstand" originated here and introduced rock and roll to millions of American homes. There are still lots of new plays and touring companies that perform here and this is still a town where they talk about the Philly Sound.
One of the world's best collections of Impressionist paintings is the Barnes Foundation, in the suburb of Merion. All of the pieces here are instantly recognizable from reproductions, but only a small number have ever traveled, and then only recently. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and its small companion, the Rodin Museum, represent a brief history of world art on the Ben Franklin Parkway: Ancient Egypt, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism and Post-Modernism comes with guided tours and souvenir reproductions available in the gift shop.
Because of the city's rich history, there are plenty of historic sites that are innovative in the way they educate and entertain at the same time. One of the most famous Philly landmarks is the Liberty Bell, the bell from the Pennsylvania Statehouse commissioned by William Penn in 1751. Another key piece of American history found in this fair city is Independence Hall, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For some literary history, the Edgar Allan Poe House, where the famous poet penned “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” among other masterpieces. Another famous residence, Franklin Court, was once the home of Benjamin Franklin, and now houses seven different museums chronicling different aspects of this historic American’s life and contributions to the world.
Every possible sound is available in Philadelphia on Wednesday through Saturday nights. On other nights, the choices are narrower, but if you look carefully there's always something going on. Philadelphia has always been a popular stop for national acts. There are concert halls from the massive stadiums of the Susquehanna Bank Center to the comfortably mid-size Trocadero, Tower, Electric Factory or Keswick, right down to the overheated and cramped rooms of the legendary bars where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Roots paid their dues. There is a string of clubs along Delaware Avenue on piers jutting into the Delaware River and more around South Street.
It is possible to find a string quartet, opera or symphony performance every night of the week. With the Curtis Institute and the various college programs, the quality of street performers brightens the parks and sidewalks in the spring. The Philadelphia Orchestra is legendary for conductors like Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Ricardo Muti and Sir Simon Rattle.
Theater & Dance
For nearly a hundred years, Philadelphia was mainly known as a "tryout" town. New York producers would try out material here before opening on Broadway. These days it's more likely a play will originate here. The Walnut Street Theatre has produced the American premieres of two Tom Stoppard plays that were hits on London's West End, but have never played New York. InterAct hosts a new play reading every January which supplies work to regional theaters across the country. Keep an eye out for anything by Brat Productions, a young edgy company that often stages strong works in a bar.
The first ten days of September, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival takes over the Old City district with a mix of local acts and visiting troupes from the Edinburgh, Toronto and New York. There are still national touring companies that perform big Broadway musicals at the Forrest, maintaining a healthy balance of new and recognized work. From the Pennsylvania Ballet to The Philadelphia Dance Company (known as Philadanco), the dance performance scene here is low profile, but substantial. The city often acts as a lab for companies that are seen and celebrated in New York or Washington. Once again, because of the numerous collegiate dance programs, there are always visiting professional and resident performers to see.
Philadelphia pays particular attention to its younger visitors. The National Park Service provides tours and multimedia, interactive, educational displays at Independence Hall. At the Please Touch Museum, children are encouraged to put their mitts on everything and the entire museum is scaled to kids. There are similar setups in the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Franklin Institute. Don't forget the popular petting pen at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Many of the larger chain bookstores around town have Saturday programs for children with readings and performances. The Free Library often has scheduled activities, including readings, films and performers. Then there are the children's theater programs at the Arden and Annenberg. To make your travels more convenient, children under the age of 12 ride free on SEPTA's buses and subways on Saturdays.