If you know what you're doing, you can spend a fraction of what the person next to you did
What you'll find in this story: tips for finding tickets to a Broadway show, New York entertainment, secrets for securing Broadway tickets, tips for seeing a Broadway play, where to find tickets
Theater prices have gone sky-high--$100 for a musical is now the norm. But this is New York, and there's nothing New Yorkers hate more than paying retail. The truth is, Broadway has become a lot like the airline industry: If you know what you're doing, you can spend a fraction of what the person next to you did.
Before you leave
Check out Theatermania.com and Playbill.com, the most reliable sites for discounted tickets and up-to-date theater news. Both require you to register, but doing so is free. Circumstances vary from show to show, but tickets can usually be bought from a week to three months in advance for up to 50 percent off (plus fees from the ticket agency, such as Ticketmaster or Telecharge). Don't expect the hottest shows to be discounted, but plenty of big-name productions, including The Phantom of the Opera, The Glass Menagerie, and The Producers, were available at less-than-full price at press time. Broadwaybox.com and The Frugal TheaterGoer's Guide to Discount Tickets (home.nyc.rr.com/frugaltheatergoe ) are useful for finding discounts when others fail to offer the show of your choice.
The day of the performance
Locals and tourists score discounts of 25 to 50 percent by lining up for same-day tickets at the two TKTS kiosks in Manhattan (tdf.org): in Times Square at 47th Street and Broadway, and in the Financial District at the corner of Front and John Streets. The big downside is that you typically must wait more than an hour (sometimes less if you want to see a play; lines are now divided into musical and nonmusical). The most popular shows are unlikely to be available, and you may not get your first choice. Most days, people start queuing up several hours before TKTS opens. Tickets may be released several times a day, so it's still possible to grab great seats by stopping by at 6 or 7 p.m., when lines are shortest. The Times Square location is open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and starting at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. on Sundays (hours are slightly different downtown). They take only cash and traveler's checks.
Currently, two of the toughest tickets on Broadway--that rarely, if ever, appear on TKTS or discount websites--are Avenue Q (the hilarious adult puppet show that won the Tony for Best Musical in 2004) and Wicked (a musical about the Wicked Witch of the West). Most people book far in advance, but tickets for both open up at the last minute for $25 or less. Show up at the theater two and a half hours before the performance (5:30 p.m. for an 8 p.m. curtain) and sign up for the lottery. (Bring a photo ID.) Rent and Hairspray have similar systems.
Several shows, including Little Women and Mamma Mia!, sell same-day rush tickets at substantially discounted prices for students. Check tdf.org or telecharge.com for each show's policy.
30 minutes before curtain
If you arrive at a theater's box office and the show is sold out, don't give up. Many big hits, including Spamalot, Movin' Out, The Lion King, and Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays, offer standing-room only (SRO) tickets for about $25, but not until all regular tickets have been purchased. To find out if a specific show releases SRO tickets, go to telecharge.com, find the show, and click on "Getting Tickets." Standing for two hours isn't ideal, but most theaters at least give you a wall to lean against.
The terms Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway have little to do with theater locations and more with theater size, production values, and ticket price. Off-Broadway shows usually top off at $60. Off-Off-Broadway shows rarely exceed $25. There's plenty worth seeing Off-Broadway. As a matter of fact, several successful Off-Broadway shows have switched over to Broadway, including the hit play Doubt. Check NYC newspapers and magazines for Off-Broadway listings; New York magazine and The Village Voice are particularly good sources.
Theater fans may want to visit New York in August or September, when performances at popular festivals are $15. The New York International Fringe Festival (fringenyc.org) runs from August 12 to 28 this year and features plays, musicals, dance, and multimedia performances. The New York Musical Theatre Festival (nymf.org), from September 12 to October 2, schedules more than 30 original shows. Though the festivals' offerings are hit-or-miss, several productions have gone on to successful runs off and on Broadway. Tickets for Altar Boyz were just $15 at last year's NYMF, and it's now playing Off-Broadway for $60. That's showbiz, kids!