The Pabst Theater (144 E. Wells St., 414/286-3663, www.pabsttheater.org ), an 1895 Victorian piece of opulence that still today seems as ornate as ever, is a majestic draw in its own right (free public tours are given at noon on Saturdays if show schedules don’t conflict), but it also continues to attract national acts of all kinds.
The Marcus Center for Performing Arts (MCPA) (929 N. Water St., 414/273-7121, www.marcuscenter.org ) has a regular season of theater, symphony, ballet, opera, children’s theater, and touring specials. It is the home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Ballet Company, the Florentine Opera Company, and much more.
A detailed, painstaking postmillennial restoration of the Milwaukee Theatre (500 W. Kilbourn Ave., 414/908-6000, www.milwaukeetheatre.com ), a historic 1909 gem, has created a state-of-the-art facility for concerts and theatrical productions.
Milwaukee  has nearly two dozen theater companies performing in many locations. The Skylight Opera Theatre (414/291-7800, www.skylightopera.com ) and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (414/276-8842, www.chamber-theatre.com ) are residents of the lovely Broadway Theatre Center (158 N. Broadway, 414/291-7800) downtown. The Chamber Theatre’s language-centered contemporary plays are always a challenge.
The nation’s only African American professional theater group is the Hansberry-Sands Theatre Company, which performs at the Marcus Center (929 N. Water St., 414/273-7121, www.marcuscenter.org ).
The Milwaukee Repertory Theater (108 E. Wells St., 414/224-1761, www.milwaukeerep.com ) is part of an international network of cooperating organizations and offers classical, contemporary, cabaret, and special performances September–May.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (700 N. Water St., 414/291-6010, www.milwaukeesymphony.org ) is one of the nation’s top orchestras. No less than New Yorker magazine, with an all-too-typical coastal undercurrent of surprise, described it as “virtuoso.”
A low-cost alternative is the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music (1584 N. Prospect Ave., 414/276-5760, www.wcmusic.org ), which offers performances of faculty, students, and guest artists.
A personal favorite is Present Music (1840 N. Farwell Ave., 414/271-0711, www.presentmusic.org ), a group commissioning and performing eclectic, challenging works from modern composers.
Milwaukee  has a thriving modern dance culture; New York City companies make regular visits to do performances in numerous sites around the city. Ranked among the top ballet companies in the country is the Milwaukee Ballet Company (504 W. National Ave., 414/643-7677, www.milwaukeeballet.org ).
Nationally renowned is Milwaukee’s modern Ko-Thi Dance Company (414/442-6844, www.ko-thi.org ), committed to the preservation and performance of African and Caribbean arts. Wildly popular shows are held in spring and fall at the Pabst Theater.