This is not an easy topic to keep brief. Buying tickets to Broadway shows is as much art as it is science. Timing, outlet, popularity, and budget are all factors. These eight questions and answers are geared toward visitors to New York City.
I’m going to cut right to the punchline of this blog now. My one big piece of advice for visitors. Here goes… If there’s a show you absolutely want to see, get the tickets as soon as you feel ready, and the best seats you can afford. If you try to play the discount hunting game, chances are you will lose. If you think you can get tickets once you get here -- well maybe you can, but you will pay a steep premium, have poor seats, or not find tickets at all.
1. What’s the best way to buy tickets in advance?
The best way to buy tickets in advance is through the official web site of whatever show you are seeing. That site will direct you to the official ticket buying platform for the show. Often this is Ticketmaster, Telecharge, or SeatGeek. Google carefully. Here’s why: ticket resellers are exceptional at search ranking. So, if you google “Book of Mormon Broadway,” it’s likely that many sites will come up that are resellers first, like Broadway.com, NYTix, Vivid Tickets, and StubHub. It’s not that they are selling fraudulent tickets. They are very likely real tickets, but, as resellers, they often have very high markups, especially fees on the back end. They might discount tickets for 15-20% but will get you at the end of the transaction with fees. Plus, if there’s a problem, who do you call? What happens if you show up and have an issue? The box office may not be in a position to help you. Yes, the official ticket sellers have fees, too (I’m not saying they are cheap either), but usually they are measured, and the transaction is directly connected to the actual box office. Perhaps the show you want is very high demand or sold out, and a reseller is the one option… and you can afford it, then that’s the only way to buy the tickets.
2. How does the TKTS discount ticket booth in Times Square work?
TKTS is the same-day discount ticket dealer in Times Square under the red steps. There is also an outlet near Lincoln Center. TKTS sells Broadway and Off-Broadway shows for 20%-50% off, most toward the higher end of the discount scale. They also sell next-day discount tickets to matinee performances.
As with any type of tickets, there are more shows and tickets available during weekdays and fewer on weekends. You are more likely to get a greater discount on a Wednesday night vs. Saturday night.
The booth typically opens at 3 p.m. for days when there are evening performances, and 11 a.m. on days with matinees.
TKTS has an app which lists what is selling when. During off-hours you can see what was last available, which is a good barometer for the next day’s likely shows.
One more thing. There are some shows that are never or very rarely on TKTS -- Hamilton, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Wicked. Some of the new shows may not be on there too, but there will be plenty from which to choose. Just plan ahead and arrive early. The line starts to form an hour before the booth opens.
Here’s another tip: Before you get to the ticket window, open the seating charts of the shows you are interested in seeing on your phone. Google the show to find the theater name, then google that theater’s seating chart. They don’t have seating charts at the TKTS booth. Ask the attendant for the row and seat number so you can match it on your phone. They will likely only pull up the best available tickets and not hunt around the theater for others. You CAN ask for different, perhaps less expensive seat options.
3. Where are the best seats in the theater?
Generally speaking, the best seats are in the 8th row in the center of the orchestra section. Everything is in view. They are also the priciest seats. If you can afford them, get them. Some people I know love sitting in the mezzanine. Some need an aisle seat. A few of my friends even prefer the boxes on the sides.
Broadway theaters are SMALL compared to the theaters in your hometowns where touring productions play. The largest of the Broadway theaters is the 1,933-seat Gershwin Theatre where Wicked plays. The Helen Hayes is the smallest with 597 seats. The average for all the Broadway houses is 1,231 seats.
For comparison’s sake… the Fox Theater in Atlanta has 4,665 seats. The Pantages Theatre is Los Angeles has 2,703 seats. The Hobby Center in Houston, TX seats 3,150. The Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, FL can hold 2,700 theatergoers.
My point… no matter where you sit in a New York Broadway theater, you’re probably going to be OK. Partial view seats can be a little iffy, but the price will reflect that. Just get the best you can afford in the location you think will be best for you.
There’s also a clever app called “A View From My Seat” which can give you a sense of the view from potential seats before you buy.
4. What are RUSH tickets?
Many shows offer RUSH tickets, which are day-of tickets available for a steeply discounted rate (like $35 or $40) and sold at the box office. You have to get to the box office first thing in the morning when it opens, usually 10:00 a.m., or 12 p.m. on Sundays. For more popular shows, lines can form quite early. There’s no guarantee that RUSH seats will be available. There may only be a limited quantity, especially if the show is popular. There are a few shows that issue rush tickets via the TodayTix app. It’s a bit of a fastest finger approach when tickets go live through that app. Here’s a helpful link from B’way Rush to help you sort this out.
5. How do ticket lotteries work?
This topic could be its own blog, but here’s a brief take. Along with a RUSH option, many shows offer ticket lotteries. At this point, nearly all lotteries are done via an app or website. Wicked still does an in-person lottery, as well as an online one. (Ticket lotteries started with the show RENT, by the way.)
Most lotteries are played a day or two before the show. If you win, you are alerted and can buy online or via the app. You can also decline if you win, so there’s no commitment until you pay. There are several platforms for lotteries depending on the show, including Broadway Direct, Lucky Seat, Rush.Telecharge, and Today Tix. The Hamilton lottery is done through its own app. Use this link to find most of the lottery links in one place. If it’s not listed, the lottery is probably conducted through TodayTix or there isn’t one.
There’s no trick to winning these. For visitors, if you have the time and are here long enough, go ahead and play as many as you’d like. You might get lucky! Just know that if you count on rush and lotteries for tickets while visiting, you are likely to be disappointed. Ho hum.
6. How far in advance should I buy tickets?
As soon as you figure out what you want to see, buy them! You aren’t the only one considering buying tickets. Before the pandemic, nearly 15 million people attended Broadway shows. While Broadway is still “coming back,” crowds are growing every week.
7. How can I find out if a show is any good?
This is a tough one. Tastes vary widely. What’s good to me, might be quite poor to you. I pay attention to critics, sure. But reviews don’t always focus on qualities like entertainment value or fun, so it’s tough to rely on them to match what you might be looking for. I often turn to a website called Show-Score. It’s like Rotten Tomatoes but for theater. It’s a place for us “regular theatergoers” to offer our take on a show by giving it a score from 0-100 and a brief reasoning as to why. It’s way more helpful in my book than theater critics. You can even join for free and score shows yourself!
8. Are Off-Broadway shows high quality?
You bet! New York is the place every theater actor wants to be. They all want to work. They want to be seen and hone their craft. There is top talent Off-Broadway for sure. They might have smaller budgets, but some of the best and more daring shows are Off-Broadway. They are always in smaller theaters. Some of them are not in the Times Square area, so know that. Usually, the shows have much shorter runs from a month to six months. Some Off-Broadway shows are staged with hopes of an eventual transfer to Broadway. It’s a little more challenging to figure out what these shows are when you don’t live here. They don’t have budgets to promote nationally like Broadway shows. But dig a little (Show-Score is a great resource for this) and you might find a gem!
9. Is there a dress code at the theater?
Not anymore. Jeans are fine. Shorts are even fine, but flip-flops are discouraged. But don’t be a slob. Even though there isn’t a dress code, many people like to make an event of going to the theater. Dressing up nicely is NICE! Avoid hats though. You don’t want to be that person wearing a hat and blocking someone else’s view.
Well that’s A LOT! And there’s more… more information, more nuance, more strategy. It can be a rabbit hole of doubt. Don’t get overwhelmed. Circle back to the first piece of advice I offered. If there’s a show you absolutely want to see, get the tickets now and the best seats you can afford.
And if you are up for a Broadway chat while we’re on a tour, I’m your guy. Scarily, I wrote this whole thing off the top of my head, which tells you how much I love theater.
I Know A Guy NYC Tours (me) gives wonderful private walking neighborhood tours for families and small groups (when I’m not at a show). I even do a lovely one of Times Square and Broadway for the diehards.
You can even check out what other tour guests have said about their experience with me on Google reviews!
Give me a shout at email@example.com so we can find the right adventure for your family or group. I’m even happy to offer some Broadway show recommendations to make sure everyone gets to see something they will love.
Thanks for reading this blog! If you would like to chat about your upcoming trip and possible tour ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm quite friendly!
© All photos by Adam Guy