Most “Broadway” shows are presented in theaters in the general Times Square neighborhood, although only 4 of the 39 “Broadway” theaters are actually on the street called Broadway. This is a huge part of the New York City tourism scene, and seeing at least one play or musical in the area can be a great idea even for those of us who are not traditional theater fans.
Tickets have been going way up in price in recent years, but there are a few ways to get cheaper tickets, even at the last minute, although normally only for the less-popular shows of the moment. The prime seats now can have a face value of well over $100 each, however it’s usually possible to get a seat for something less popular for close to $20 at the TKTS office (described below). These shows are quite a spectacle, and even those who mock them should at least make a point of seeing one once in order to validate their future mocking.
Some quick definitions before we go on:
- Broadway Theater – A house with 500 or more seats that generally hosts plays and musicals. There are currently 39 such theaters in New York City, although not all have something running at any given time. Except for one about a mile away in Lincoln Center, all these theaters are within a few blocks of Times Square. With only rare exceptions, every production you’ve ever heard of is playing at a “Broadway Theater.” The smallest of these has 597 seats and the largest has 1,935. Most have close to 1,200 seats.
- Off-Broadway Theater – Again, this has nothing to do with addresses. Off-Broadway is officially any theater with between 100 and 499 seats. Many are within the Times Square area, but others are down in the Village and elsewhere. Off-Broadway theaters are almost always cheaper to attend, and some of them are put on by non-profit organizations. Occasionally, productions will begin life as Off-Broadway and then move to a larger theater after some success. Avenue Q and Rent have done this, as well as older hits such as Hair and Little Shop of Horrors. Blue Man Group has continued its entire run in an Off-Broadway theater in the East Village.
- Off-Off-Broadway – These theaters hold fewer than 100 people, and are generally small, experiment productions, mostly downtown rather than near Times Square. Tickets are usually quite inexpensive, and many amateur productions fit into this category. There is a movement to re-brand this as “Indie Theater” instead of Off-Off-Broadway, and that seems like a decent idea and a far less clumsy and confusing name.
Most all Broadway shows operate on exactly the same schedule, with 8 performances per week. Obviously you’ll want to check on the ones you are interested in to confirm.
Tuesday – Saturday evenings: 8 p.m.
Wednesdays and Saturdays: 2 p.m.
Sundays: 3 p.m.
You can buy tickets for all Broadway shows by telephone or online in advance, as well as from each theater’s box office all the way up to show time. Of course, the most popular shows can be sold out for weeks in advance, but occasionally they release seats on the day of the show, even for the big hits.
Getting discount tickets
An outfit called the Theatre Development Fund has been running booths called TKTS since 1973 as a way to fill seats for performances that might otherwise go unfilled. There are two TKTS offices:
- Times Square – This one used to be in the center of the intersection, but it’s currently been moved to the Marriott Marquis Hotel on 46th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue while the main booth is dramatically expanded.
- South Street Seaport – This booth replaced the one that used to be in the World Trade Center lobby until September 11, 2001.
These booths accept cash and traveler’s checks, but no credit cards. Outside you’ll see a list of all the shows they have tickets available for, which they offer at discounts of between 10 and 50% for that day’s shows only, or for the following day’s matinee at the Southstreet Seaport location. Not surprisingly, you’ll normally only see tickets available for the less popular shows at the TKTS booths, but sometimes the hits will have a new block of empty seats available as well. Well over half the shows sell at least some tickets through these booths, so it’s always worthwhile going by.
Evening shows – Monday – Saturday 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m. until the latest curtain time of shows being sold (Sunday evening shows are rare, though)
Matinees – Wednesdays and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lines here are often long, especially at the Times Square location.
Other ways of getting tickets
There are dozens of small ticket agencies that deal in Broadway show tickets in addition to concerts and sporting events. Of course, prices tend to be quite high through these agencies, but they do tend to have tickets for the hottest shows, even at the last minute.
There are also scalpers stationed in front of some sold-out theaters. They usually operate discreetly so you might have to look around a bit.
You can also try looking for tickets on Craigslist under the Tickets category. You’ll mostly see sports and concert tickets, but occasionally you’ll see an offer for some cheap tickets by a local who can’t make it that night. If you’ve got computer access while in town, it’s worth a quick look.