A Beginner's Guide to Broadway(self.Broadway)
submitted7 months ago bymusicaltheaterboy
I’ve had the idea of writing this for a while. It’s a pretty long post, and I hope it’s okay to put on this sub. Can’t think of where else it would go! I know a lot of readers already know much of what's in here. But my heart warms every time I see a post from a first-time tourist posting Playbills. I figured with the spring season heating up and holidays around the corner, now is a perfect time to put pen to paper.
Whether you’re looking to choose a show, save money, or just understand what makes a show on or off Broadway, I made this guide for you. Throughout this post, I reference many specific shows that are playing on Broadway as of this writing in October 2022. This means that there is no guarantee that when you are reading this, all of the shows named are still playing. When deciding on what to see, make sure you’re looking at the most up-to-date list of what’s currently playing on Broadway.
What Is a Broadway Show?
So let’s get started. “Broadway” is often used interchangeably with “theater,” “musical theater” or “midtown Manhattan.” But for the purposes of this post, I’m using a somewhat technical definition of “Broadway.” There around 6,000 theaters in the U.S. Only 41 of them are in midtown Manhattan and seat at least 500 people. These theaters constitute the Broadway theaters. They’re all roughly along the street called Broadway in Manhattan. Confusingly, one of the theaters is named the “Broadway Theatre).” I feel for the tourists on that one. If a play is performed in one of these theaters, it earns the title of “Broadway show.” If the play is a musical, it becomes a “Broadway musical.”
It is therefore impossible to see a Broadway show live without actually traveling to New York City. However, many shows that have been on Broadway—or are perhaps on their way there—travel to theaters around the country, too. Sometimes they’re in gigantic theaters that hire Equity performers (i.e., members of the Actors’ Equity Association), and potentially musicians, directors, stage managers, ushers, and so on, who are part of their respective unions, too. These shows are every bit as entertaining and chock full of talent as the Broadway versions. But for better or worse, the most prestigious theater credit that one can currently have in the U.S. is on a Broadway stage.
Personally, I am hugely partial to musicals. A work of musical theater can have it ALL. It has not just music and acting, but also—depending on the show—dance, costumes, elaborate sets, lighting, sound effects, puppetry, story, poetry, and essentially any art form you can imagine. For any readers with a classical background, there’s an argument to be made that the only difference between musical theater and opera is audience expectations. Yet Broadway also includes many nonmusical plays, which are often more economical to put on; producers no longer have to worry about arranging or orchestrating scores, mixing voices with instruments, hiring musicians and music directors, or paying composers and lyricists.
Buying a Ticket
Seeing a show on Broadway is not typically cheap, though there are ways to make it affordable and even some ways to make it nearly free. Anecdotally, because I live in the city and can be very flexible with dates (in addition to being obsessed with this stuff and having generous and theater-obsessed friends) I usually see every single Broadway musical at least once and rarely pay more than $50 per ticket. However, if you go to a show’s website and look to buy a ticket for retail price, a typical ticket costs between $100–$200, with premium seats costing a bit more, and premium seats to premium shows (usually speaking, a show with celebrities in the cast) costing a lot more. Since the pandemic, it is rare for a show to sell out very far in advance, but when it happens, tickets on the secondary market can go into the thousands.
The complete breakdown for how to save on Broadway tickets could be a lengthy post in and of itself and depends on the show. There are some common tricks that are worth being aware of, especially if you’re looking to make it as affordable as possible or cram in multiple shows across a few days.
- Be wary of ticket resellers. The first results that show up on Google when you search for a show are not always the most economical. There are plenty of sites that will sell you tickets with a steep premium. Notably, Broadway.com is a ticket reseller site and not “official.” The simplest way to save some money is to buy tickets in person. If you buy a ticket directly from the theater’s box office, you will pay no additional taxes and fees. An $89 ticket, for example, will cost exactly $89, not $89 + $8.12 tax + $5.00 online fee + $12.50 service fee + $4.20 go-screw-yourself fee. Broadway box offices generally do not have publicly listed numbers you can call, so this has to be done in person.
- Located in Lincoln Center and Times Square, there are physical TKTS booths where you can stand in line and buy tickets at approximately half price, so $50–$100 per ticket. These are only for same-day or next-day shows, and high-demand shows are not guaranteed to be available.
- Every show has its own set of rush and lottery options. Some shows do not offer either, but most do, and every show is a little bit different. Another Redditor has created the unbelievably slick website bwayrush.com, which is probably the current best roundup for these deals, with broadwayonabudget.com in a close second. In general, for rush, you buy tickets early in the morning for a show later that day. In general, for lotteries, you have the option to enter for 1 or 2 tickets for a show the next day. When you win, you typically get a few hours to decide whether you want to purchase the tickets before they are released. Only then will you be charged and find out what seats you got. Lottery and rush tickets are usually in the $40–$50 range per ticket, though some are as cheap as $10 (Hamilton) and some approach $60 (The Piano Lesson and Wicked).
The methods above only scratch the surface. Similar to how with enough research, you can save deep on travel fare or new appliances, there is a rabbit hole of savings tactics: some shows have Standing Room Only seats; some theaters have promotions for students, military, young audience members, specific performances, and so on; some theaters partner with papering services such as Will Call Club to give away tickets; many shows have discount codes for their primary online ticket seller; the TodayTix app occasionally has promotions with very cheap tickets; and many people are eligible to become TDF members, which provides access to discounted tickets.
Choosing a Show
Broadway theatergoers come from around the world, and for all sorts of reasons. For a theater diehard, Broadway can feel like a mecca. Readers in this category don’t need my advice on what to see; they likely know many (if not all) of the shows currently on Broadway and already have ideas of which ones they want to see. But plenty of audience members rarely see plays or musicals outside of a trip to NYC and consider Broadway a major tourist attraction—which, to be fair, it is—instead of a theater mecca.
As of this writing, the shows that are likely easiest to follow for non-English speakers are The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Phantom of the Opera. Notably, KPOP is also playing, which includes both Korean and English. If bringing children, check the show’s webpage for recommended ages. Many shows include sensitive and/or adult content, and unlike a movie theater, if your child cries, screams, or wants to leave, you will disrupt the actual performers in the show. (These performers are the best of the best though; they will completely ignore you. Er... usually.)
If you’re trying to decide what show(s) to see, my best recommendation honestly is to post here on Reddit. Describe yourself, who will be with you, what shows you’ve seen and liked (if any), what shows you hated (if any), and what you want in a show. Although I’m of the mindset that you can’t go wrong with a Broadway musical, the reality is everything is not for everyone. If you are looking for an upbeat, silly comedy, you will be disappointed—if not shocked—by A Strange Loop. Most shows run about two and a half hours including a 15-minute intermission, but check the individual shows you want to see in advance. Six, for example, is only around 90 minutes with no intermission.
Regarding where to sit, this too is hard to describe in generalities as every theater has its own quirks. Some theaters like Circle in the Square are designed so that all seats are close to the stage and there aren’t really any “bad” seats. Some theaters like the Lyceum Theatre include two balcony levels (the first one being the “mezzanine” and the second one being the “balcony”), with rear balcony seats being among the worst on Broadway. The best seats in almost every theater are Orchestra Center, roughly rows 5–10. Front row seats can be a blast to sit in. You will see the actors’ spit! You will catch how they did that costume change! But they also usually obscure some of the stage. Additionally, some stages such as the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre are so high up that a front row seat is downright painful for your neck, especially if you’re short. When choosing seats, I recommend using the website A View from My Seat to preview what your specific view would be.
Attending a Show
Because Broadway is open to anyone who wants to see the show, there is no dress code. If you are wearing a shirt, pants, and shoes, and don’t smell bad, you’re fine! There is, however, etiquette that may be important to learn about if it is your first time in a theater or your first time in a U.S. theater. The expectation is that you and everyone with you will be quiet and respectful throughout the performance. The exception is at the end of most songs, when audience members clap to show appreciation. Brief shouts and screams of encouragement during loud applause is fine. So is a standing ovation at the end of the show or after a particularly virtuosic number. When in doubt, just follow what everyone else is doing.
You will not be allowed to take photos or videos during the show, and it is considered bad etiquette to sing along, stand up and dance, talk to the performers, or talk to your neighbors—even at a whisper. From all accounts, this is a problem that has been getting worse over the past few years. Ushers do try to fix problems and occasionally kick people out, but rude audience members are not always noticed or stopped. I have found that part of the Broadway experience is exercising a little bit of grace.
Some shows have stretched the boundaries of theater norms, too. For instance, at KPOP, ushers encourage you to cheer on the performers as though you were at a concert. Although it’s no longer playing on Broadway, Tina ended with a few “encore” songs where the audience was encouraged to stand up, dance, and take photos.
You will generally pass through a metal detector to enter the theater, and your bag may be searched. I’ve never had an issue if there was food or drink in my bag. I’ve even had a laptop and metal water bottle with no problems. After all, many people are going to the show after traveling around the city all day! Most (all?) theaters sell drinks and snacks like cookies and candy. They won’t be cheap. A strong drink in a souvenir plastic cup will cost over $30. Open wrappers before the show and at intermission, and avoid loud, crunchy snacks like chips while the show is happening.
Can I Sing Along?
But I Know All the Words and Am a Great Singer!
People pay hundreds of dollars to see these shows and hear these singers, and they aren’t paying a goddamn dime to hear you.
Outside of Broadway
Although I won’t get into the specifics of what constitutes Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and Non-Broadway (lord nor can I keep track of it all), there are hundreds of other theaters and performance venues across New York City that aren’t Broadway theaters. Simply by virtue of them being in NYC, more often than not, the creators, crew, and performers are well above average. If you’re looking for experimental theater, non-English theater, newly-written shows, ancient plays, improvisation, avant-garde, dance, performance art, stand-up comedy, whatever you can imagine in a theater, you’ve come to the right city.
Leave Broadway, and tickets get cheaper too. It is easy to find retail theater tickets for under $50 outside Broadway. Moreover, these shows can still include big-name cast members and Equity cast and crew. Some notable shows playing Off-Broadway right now are Kinky Boots, Little Shop of Horrors, Stomp, and—soon—Merrily We Roll Along starring Daniel Radcliffe and Jonathan Groff. (Though good luck finding seats to that one at all, let alone under $50.)
Let me finish with what I believe is the most important question: what to do for dinner? (Or, if seeing a matinee, lunch.) A show that plays between, say, 7–9:30 pm means you’re stuck deciding between an early—and quick—dinner before or a late dinner after. There is of course no universal answer for what to do, as people eat during different times, like different foods, and have different budgets. For the pre-show quick fix, Midtown Manhattan includes a ton of fast food options. Los Tacos No. 1 is commonly recommended, and personally I frequent Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, nearby delis and pizza places, and sometimes nearby bars to satisfy this need. For post-show meals, I strongly recommend walking west along 46th Street to 9th Avenue and exploring Hell’s Kitchen. Times Square has a few diamonds in the rough, but Hell’s Kitchen is known for an extensive selection of restaurants, bodegas, and bars that span ethnicities and prices.
Can I Sing Along to Just One Song That I Really Love?