Dance, Opera, Music, and more
In addition to theater, New York is one of the premier cities in the world for ballet and contemporary dance, opera, and classical music. Start your search with a visit to the websites of three of the biggest performing arts centers: Lincoln Center (www.lincolncenter.org), Carnegie Hall (www.carnegiehall.org), and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (www.bam.org). They all have detailed events calendars, and their listings demonstrate the sheer depth of great performances available in New York. It's also helpful to consider the time you're visiting. Many arts groups schedule the bulk of their performances from September through May, with special holiday events planned in November and December. Although the number of performances in many venues tapers off in the dog days of summer, the period also brings lots of festivals and outdoor performances, many of them inexpensive or free. Finally, it's smart to also check out the websites of any museums you think you might want to visit while in town. The Frick, for instance, has been hosting world-class classical-music concerts in its 165-seat Music Room since 1938, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art periodically stages concerts and other performing arts events in locations like the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, or in its enviable gallery of musical instruments.
The New York Times (www.nytimes.com/events) listings are probably the single best place to find out what's happening in the city. The New Yorker's Goings On About Town listings (www.newyorker.com) are more selective, while New York magazine (www.nymag.com) gives a slightly more opinionated spin on the performing arts. The theater sites www.playbill.com, www.theatermania.com, and www.offoffonline.com (for Off-Off-Broadway) provide information like synopses, accessibility info, run times, seating charts, and links to buy tickets. Sites like www.broadway.org, run by The Broadway League; www.offbroadway.com, run by the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers; and www.broadwaycollection.com, geared toward the travel trade, but with information in multiple languages, are each a wealth of information.
Broadway and Off-Broadway—What's the Difference?
There are just over 40 Broadway theaters in New York, and although you might expect their shows to be the best ones in town, the definition depends on theater capacity (which must count at least 500 seats), not quality. Nearly all are within a few blocks of Times Square. A show must be performed in a Broadway theater as part of the eligibility requirements for a Tony Award. Off-Broadway theaters, which are scattered throughout the city, have 100 to 499 seats; Off-Off-Broadway venues seat fewer than 100.
Buying Tickets at Full Price
How much do tickets sell for, anyway? The average price paid for a Broadway show runs just over $100; not counting the limited "premium seat" category (or discount deals), the low end for musicals is in the $25–$75 range. Nonmusical comedies and dramas start at about $25 and top out at about $160. Off-Broadway show tickets run $30–$90, and Off-Off-Broadway shows can run as low as $15–$25, or even less if you find a deal. Tickets to an opera start at about $25 for nosebleed seats and can soar to more than $400 for prime locations. Classical music concerts go for $25 to $100 or more, depending on the venue and the performers. Dance performances are usually in the $15 to $70 range, but expect choice seats for the ballet to cost more, especially around the holidays.
Scoring tickets is fairly easy, especially if you have some flexibility. Always start with the website of the venue or theater company to see what going rates are (and if any deals are available). If timing or cost is critical, the only way to ensure the seats you want is to make your purchase in advance—and that might be months ahead for a hit show. In general, tickets for Saturday evening and for weekend matinees, or for Broadway shows featuring big-name stars for limited runs, are the toughest to secure, and the priciest.
For smaller performing arts companies, and especially for Off-Broadway shows, try Ticket Central, on Theater Row; service charges are nominal here. SmartTix is a reliable resource for (usually) smaller performing arts companies, including dance and music; their service charges are nominal as well.
Sure bets for Broadway (and some other big-hall events) are the box office or either Telecharge or Ticketmaster. Virtually all larger shows are listed with one service or the other, but never both; specifying "premium" helps get elusive—and expensive—seats. A broker or your hotel concierge should be able to procure last-minute tickets, but many regard brokers as legal scalpers, and their prices may even exceed "premium" rates. Be prepared to pay steep add-on service fees for all ticketing services.
Although online ticket services provide seating maps to help you choose, the advantage of going to the box office is twofold: there are no add-on service fees, and a ticket seller can personally advise you about sight lines—and knee room—for the seat location you are considering. Broadway box offices do not usually have direct phone lines; their walk-in hours are generally 10 am until curtain.
Buying Discount Tickets
The cheapest—though chanciest—ticket opportunities are found at participating theater box offices on the day of the performance. These rush tickets, usually about $25–$40, may be distributed by lottery and are usually for front-row (possibly neck-craning) seats, though it can vary by theater; there are also standing-room-only seats available on occasion (usually for under $30). Check the comprehensive planner on www.nytix.com, or go to the box office of the show you are interested in to discover whether they make such an offer and how to pursue it. Obstructed-view seats or those in the very rear balcony are sometimes available at deeply discounted rates, for advance purchase.
For advanced discount purchases, the best seating is likely available by using a discount code. Procure these codes, good for an average of 20% to 50% off, online. (You need to register on each website.) The excellent no-subscription-required www.broadwaybox.com posts nearly all discount codes currently available for Broadway shows. As with the discount codes provided through online subscriber services—TheaterMania, Playbill, and Best of Off Broadway among them—to avoid service charges, you must bring the printout to the box office, and make your purchase there.
For seats at up to 50% off the usual price, get same-day discount tickets by going to one of the TKTS booths (www.tdf.org): there’s one in Times Square, another at South Street Seaport, and a third in downtown Brooklyn. Although they do tack on a $4.50-per-ticket service charge, and not all shows are predictably available, the broad choices and ease of selection—and, of course, the solid discount—make TKTS the go-to source for the flexible theatergoer. You can browse available shows for that day online or via a TKTS app (www.tdf.org/tktsapp), or check the electronic listings board near the ticket windows to mull over your options while you're in line. At the Times Square location (under the red glass staircase), there is a separate "Play Only" window (for nonmusical events) to further simplify (and expedite) things; they also offer a 7-Day Fast Pass, meaning if you buy tickets today, you can come back within the next seven days to make another purchase without having to wait on line. Times Square hours are: Monday and Wednesday–Saturday 3–8, and Tuesday 2–8 for evening performances; for Wednesday and Saturday matinees 10–2; for Sunday matinees 11–3; and for Sunday evening shows, from 3 until 7. The South Street Seaport location, at the corner of Front and John Streets, is open Monday–Saturday 11–6, and Sunday 11–4, except in winter. Brooklyn hours are Tuesday–Saturday 11–3 and 3:30–6. All ticket sales are for shows on that same day (one exception: the Brooklyn location's matinee tickets are for next-day performances only). Credit cards and cash are accepted at all locations. Ticket-booth hours may vary over holiday periods; also note that the longest lines are generally within the first hour of the booths' opening.
Best of Off Broadway. New York, New York. 877/633–4746; www.bestofoffbroadway.com.
Playbill. New York, New York. www.playbill.com.
SmartTix. New York, New York. 212/868–4444 ; www.smarttix.com.
Telecharge. New York, New York. 212/239–6200; 800/447–7400; www.telecharge.com.
TheaterMania. New York, New York. 212/352–3101; 866/811–4111; www.theatermania.com.
Ticket Central. Playwrights Horizon, 416 W. 42nd St., between 9th and 10th Aves., Midtown West, New York, New York, 10036. 212/279–4200; www.ticketcentral.com. Daily noon–8.
Ticketmaster. New York, New York. 866/448–7849; 800/745–3000; www.ticketmaster.com.
TKTS Downtown Brooklyn. 1 MetroTech Ctr., at corner of Myrtle St. Promenade and Jay St., Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn, New York, 11201. 212/912–9770; www.tdf.org/tkts.
TKTS South Street Seaport. South Street Seaport, John and Front Sts., near rear of 199 Water St., Financial District, New York, New York. 212/912–9770 ; www.tdf.org/tkts.
TKTS Times Square. Duffy Sq., 47th St. and Broadway, Midtown West, New York, New York. 212/912–9770; www.tdf.org/tkts.