Wharton Center for Performing Arts

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Wharton Center for Performing Arts
Address 750 E. Shaw Ln. (Wharton Center)
542 Auditorium Rd. (Auditorium)
East Lansing, Michigan
United States
Coordinates 42°43′26″N 84°28′15″W / 42.723978°N 84.470711°W / 42.723978; -84.470711Coordinates: 42°43′26″N 84°28′15″W / 42.723978°N 84.470711°W / 42.723978; -84.470711
Owner Michigan State University
Operator Michigan State University
Type Performing Arts Center
Capacity Cobb Great Hall: 2,420
Pasant Theatre: 600
MSU Concert Auditorium: 3,600
Fairchild Theatre: 600
Opened 1982 (Wharton Center)
Architect Harley Ellis Devereaux
Wharton Center for Performing Arts

Wharton Center for Performing Arts is located in East Lansing, Michigan, United States, on the campus of Michigan State University. It is Michigan's largest performing arts venue, and is the number one performing arts venue owned by a University. Wharton Center hosts over 100 performances per year, including touring Broadway musicals, prominent performing artists, leading classical orchestras and unmatched dance companies. Their 2017-2018 Season includes Disney's The Lion King, Waitress, Vienna Boys Choir, Yo-Yo Ma, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and more. Wharton Center presents the highly-anticipated, Broadway hit Hamilton as part of their 2018-2019 season.

Wharton Center consists of four unique stages of varying size, including Cobb Great Hall, Pasant Theatre, MSU Concert Auditorium and Fairchild Theatre. The facility was designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux.


Wharton Center's goal is to inspire the mind and move the soul through a diverse schedule of performances and events. They stand on the principle that art is integral to living a richer, fuller, more purposeful life. For that reason, they serve to bring renowned arts entertainment and education programs to Michigan residents and beyond. Wharton Center exists to inspire and connect with the creative spirit in all of us - one student, one performance and one community at a time.


Wharton Center is named after former MSU president, Clifton R. Wharton, Jr. and his wife Dolores Wharton, founded on their shared the belief that "the performing arts are a dimension of culture, that when meaningfully exposed, provide you with a more meaningful existence on this planet."

During the 1970s, MSU President Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., and his wife Dolores described the arts as a humanizing, unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural, social, economic, and geographic divisions. Their desire to create a world-class performing arts center for the MSU community and the residents of Michigan became a reality with the opening of Wharton Center for Performing Arts. “Wharton Center is a very special place,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “The Whartons understood in a fundamental way that arts, creativity, the cultural aspects of a university that affect one’s spirit and one’s soul were very important and had to be recognized in the same way that a science complex had to be recognized as an integral part of the university. You have to celebrate arts and culture in the same way you would celebrate a terrific scientific discovery.” Since opening its doors, Wharton Center has become Michigan’s largest and most diverse presenter of performing arts entertainment and education programs - a community gather space for shared experiences that enrich lives and strengthen the value of the arts in everyday life.


Wharton Center is proud to bring the best of Broadway, the finest classical musicians, unrivaled dance companies and an A-list of high profile performers to the mid-Michigan community. Past highlights include Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, Disney's The Lion King, Les Misérables, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Kristen Chenoweth, Yo-Yo Ma, Wayne Shorter, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Russian National Ballet Theatre. They hope to engage and inspire audiences through their multitude of diverse performances.

Their 2017-2018 Season kicks off with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and includes favorites such as The Bodyguard, David Sedaris, An American In Paris, Jeff Daniels and the Ben Daniels Band, Finding Neverland, Yamato - The Drummers of Japan, On Your Feet, Something Rotten and the a tribute to the late Ray Charles starring Maceo Parker and Ray Charles Orchestra.

Wharton Center is also host to over a dozen Lansing Symphony Orchestra concerts per year, and frequent MSU College of Music and MSU Department of Theatre performances.

The facility is also available for rent.


Wharton Center ranked in the top 20 among international venues of its size. Pollstar Magazine, the industry source for concert and tour information, ranked Wharton Center’s Cobb Great Hall #19 among similarly sized venues, based on tickets sold between January 2009 and June 2009. Venues Today, a leading publication covering live music, arts and sports in entertainment facilities around the world, ranked Wharton Center #11 basing combined tickets sold from October 2008 to May 2009 in all four theatres operated by Wharton Center: Cobb Great Hall, Pasant Theatre, MSU Concert Auditorium and Fairchild Theatre. Even more impressive, the rankings in both publications only included performances presented by Wharton Center, and did not include local and educational productions, such as the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, MSU Department of Theatre, and MSU College of Music, all of which present programs in Wharton Center venues.

Currently, Wharton Center is the leading presenting venue among Big 10 institutions, and has the largest programming schedule of any independent performing arts center affiliated with a university in the country. Wharton Center is also recognized internationally for their world premier commissions.

Education and Engagement[edit]

Aside from Wharton Center's impressive success in bringing the best of performing arts to the stage, a key part of Wharton Center’s mission is to enrich lives and strengthen the value of the arts in everyday life. To do so, they have established a myriad of programs aimed to bring arts back into the community. Wharton Center integrates the arts and academics into unique programs like Seats 4 Kids, a scholarship fund providing tickets to economically-disadvantaged children. The Wharton Center Institute for Art and Creativity provides meaningful, participatory lifelong learning programs both at Wharton Center and throughout the state for audiences of all ages.

Disney Musicals In Schools

The Institute has launched an abundance of programs including Disney Musicals in Schools, an outreach initiative developed by Disney Theatrical Group to create sustainable theater programs in local elementary schools, Young Playwrights Festival, a showcase of six original works, written by high school students, produced by students from MSU’s Department of Theatre and performed on the Pasant Theatre stage at Wharton Center for Performing Arts, and the Sutton Foster Ovation Awards, a national celebration of outstanding achievement in musical theatre performance by high school students and their educators. Top performers have added afternoon school performances into their schedules, integrating performing arts into classroom curriculum. Professional development programs like Kennedy Center Partners in Education help educators learn to use the arts as a teaching tool. Another one-of-a-kind program is Take It From The Top, a series of interactive workshops taught by Broadway professionals, allowing participants of all ages to learn from Broadway professionals in a fun and safe environment. These programs, and many others, blend the arts and education into meaningful experiences for thousands of participants each year, including more than 30,000 school children.

“Recent cuts in local, state and national funding have created a void in arts education,” says Michael Brand, Wharton Center’s executive director. “We’re able to help fill that void by integrating the arts into the academic experience and into people’s lives with a diverse array of programs.”

Wharton Center also accommodates to the neurodiversity of the community through Sensory-Friendly Performances. Sensory-Friendly Performances provide a supportive and welcoming environment to make live theatre accessible to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), developmental disabilities, Sensory Processing Disorder, other sensory-sensitive people and their families. Wharton Center has three Sensory-Friendly Performances in the 2017-2018 Season, including Disney's The Lion King, Clementine and The Cat in the Hat.


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