Seeing the Show Without Breaking the Bank
Seeing the Show Without Breaking the Bank
By SETH KUGEL - New York Times, 10/5/2008
PRESIDENT BUSH and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have announced bold initiatives to calm the nation during these times of financial crisis, and Congress has weighed in. But no one has mentioned any relief whatsoever for one vital sector of Americans: theater fans planning a trip to New York City. One hundred and twenty dollars plus fees for an orchestra seat to see a Broadway show? In this economy?
When the government fails to act, Weekend in New York must step into the void. There are plenty of ways to go to the theater — and even get great seats to Tony Award-winning Broadway shows — for under $50.
Probably the best deal is the front-row ticket lottery for shows like “In The Heights,” “Avenue Q,” “Hairspray” and “Wicked.” There is no better feeling in theater fandom than standing on West 46th Street in front of the Richard Rodgers Theatre and hearing your name called by the friendly folks who run the lottery for “In The Heights,” the Tony Award Best Musical for 2008. Winning snags you a pair of front-row orchestra seats for $26.50 each on the day of the show.
The odds are actually not bad. Weekend In New York’s attempts to win were successful on the third try, landing two tickets right-of-center, close enough to see the sweat drip from the dancers in the upbeat story of a Latino neighborhood in northern Manhattan. (Boy, do they sweat.)
And it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of luck: an average of about 80 people have been entering the lottery lately, and there are 11 sets of two seats available. If you run the numbers, a couple visiting New York who enters the lottery for three of five weekend shows stands about a 60 percent chance of winning at least once.
Here’s how it works: You and your companion bring photo ID’s and cash to cover the tickets to the theater two to two and a half hours before the show (though times vary for the other shows). You each fill out a little slip of paper, and then wait for the drawing. No problem arriving at 5:59 for an 8 p.m. show; in fact, that’s the best way to do it, since early birds have no advantage. (Just one of you has to be there to win a pair, but your odds are sliced about in half since you can only fill out one slip.)
And there’s a great consolation prize: The theater is on the same block as the TKTS discount ticket booth, where they sell same-day seats for sharp discounts, usually 25 to 50 percent. Thirty seconds after you lose, you can be in line there. (And it’s only a couple minutes’ walk from the other theaters.) On those three recent visits, the wait at 6 p.m. at TKTS was negligible.
As always with TKTS, bring a magazine or newspaper with theater listings, so you can look at the ever-changing screen that announces what’s available and choose wisely. Since even half-price tickets on Broadway can go for more than $50, the Off Broadway shows on the right side of the screen are often the best bet. (Off Broadway theaters have fewer than 500 seats; Broadway theaters have 500 or more.)
If you’re intent on seeing a Broadway show, but don’t want to take your chances with lotteries or last-minute discounts, several shows have tickets for under $50, usually for seats in the back rows (not bad) or with obstructed views (kind of bad). Among them: “Spamalot” (excluding holiday periods) for $36.50; “Phantom of the Opera” for $26.50 if you go Monday through Thursday, and “In The Heights” for $41.50. As of recently, many performances had cheap seats available just a week in advance.
Off Broadway shows are cheaper, although not necessarily cheap. At New World Stages, a sort of multiplex of Off Broadway shows on West 50th Street, a few shows offer seats for $25 or under. Tickets for “Altar Boyz,” the absurdly funny mock concert given by a Catholic boy band (with one accidental Jew), are $25, and all you need is a decent neck: the seats are on the far ends of the front row, and aren’t bad at all.
That’s the regular price, but there are also discounts available for many Off Broadway shows. The Best of Off-Broadway is a user-friendly site that doles out codes for sharp discounts on around 20 shows, saving you 20 to 40 percent and sometimes more on good seats. (Registration is required, but easy.) Other Web sites offering discounts are broadwaybox.com and goldstar.com, and there is a comprehensive discount page on nytheatre.com that also mentions rush tickets, which are last-minute bargains often restricted to students with ID.
But the absolute easiest way to find inexpensive theater is to hit Off Off Broadway, by definition theaters that seat fewer than 100 people. The shows are usually $18 or less, and take place in cool spots like Performance Space 122, housed in an old public school building in the East Village, and the SoHo Repertory Theater, which even offers 99-cent seats for Sunday shows, though good luck getting those.
Since the shows’ runs are short and attract less press attention, a couple of Web sites can help you sort through the mess. Indietheater.org has thorough, impressively up-to-date and easy-to-read listings with links to learn more about each. Offoffonline.com’s listings are less helpfully formatted and not as up-to-date, but the site publishes its own reviews and feature articles. That’s an invaluable service: sure, trying for front-row “In the Heights” tickets sounds risky, but choosing an Off Off Broadway show without guidance? That’s the real lottery.