Full disclosure: we love Broadway. A lot. Supporting the arts in a variety of ways, including frequent ticket sales, is just something we do. And lucky for us, our kids like Broadway as much as we do. But it can be a very expensive passion, especially right now as tickets to hot shows on Broadway are, well...hot. So we put in a little hustle and wind up seeing top shows (and sometimes not-so-top-shows) for 75% or more off the standard box office ticket price, which generally run about $200 for an orchestra seat.
One week's haul of shows. It was a good week.
While $200 may seem like a lot for a night at the theatre, that's for a orchestra seat (and not all views inside the theatre are created equal). Now there's also a new phenomenon for "premium" tickets, which can cost upwards of $850 per ticket for a preferred section of the theatre for "ultra hot" shows (i.e., Hamilton, or other productions that have big name stars like Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly). Depending on the production, premium tickets can sometimes include the entire center orchestra, and are sold to deter scalpers from buying and reselling what once was the standard $200 orchestra seat for enormous profits (like scalper resale tickets to Hamilton that during the first year of its run would sell for $1,000-$2,000 per ticket...in a blink of an eye). Even though a premium ticket may make you feel like you just paid a scalper's price, at least you know all the money just went back to the production and its investors, instead of a scalper's pocket.
Here's how we see mass amounts of Broadway shows, sometimes scoring amazing seats, for a fraction of the cost of the full box office.
Two of our favorite shows from the week, both incredibly moving.
Rush/Student Rush: This is our favorite way to buy tickets. The tickets are cheap (usually $30-$50), it gives us guaranteed plans for that night, and the seats are decently good (they may be in the first 5-10 rows but usually off to the side of the stage). Rush tickets are available starting when the box office opens and on matinee days you can buy tickets to either the matinee or the evening performance, whichever may still have availability. Before our desired show night, we ask the box office how early people have been arriving and plan accordingly. The best way to get tickets to the show you want is to be among the top 2-3 in line. Each person in line can purchase up to 2 tickets (so for our family we need 3 people in each line). On matinees we always divide into two shows so we can get tickets to both a matinee and and evening performance. Playbill.com lists the policy's each show has regarding their rush tickets and we map out our top few shows and try to score tickets. We have seen Bette Midler in Hello Dolly, Come From Away, Color Purple, School of Rock and many others this way.
Early bird got the worm. Getting to the box office at 5am paid off! Seeing Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler was a HOT ticket!
Lottery: Lottery tickets are a random drawing that enables a small group of people to purchase tickets to a Broadway show dirt-cheap. Prices will vary by show, but typically run $10-40, and many times the seats for lottery winners are in the front row. There are two types of lottery ticket options - digital or in-person. Digital means you can enter on your phone and you’ll get a text or email if you’ve won, and then you have a certain amount of time to purchase and pick-up your tickets before your “win” becomes void. There are literally thousands of people, if not more, that apply for certain lotteries each day (especially for the most popular shows). So odds can be tough, and most emails we get with our lottery results begin with an "unfortunately..." so we already know we didn’t win. But occasionally you will, particularly we have found if it is a B level show. That doesn’t mean a bad show, it just means not as popular and an abundance of lottery winners and tickets seems like a way to fill an otherwise partially empty theatre. This fall I won for War Paint and got to see 2 Broadway legends perform from my 5th row seat. We like the odds of the in-person lotteries best, although they are a bit of time-suck on your sightseeing days. You go to the theatre at a set time (usually 2 ½ hours before showtime, which means in the late afternoon for an evening performance), enter your name into a raffle bin, and after a little fanfare the winning names are drawn right then and there. It’s exciting and we have won this way more frequently than the digital lotteries. A tip for this is to make friends with as many other people that are there and make a deal to give the others a second winning ticket in exchange for theirs. We managed to see Book of Morman and Newsies this way because two people in a group were both drawn so they let us have two of their tickets.
We met one of the actors of the Bronx Tale in the street the day of the show, took his (biased) recommendation to go, and we all LOVED it!
Today Tix: A good app for Broadway tickets is Today Tix. It offers the opportunity to purchase tickets a few weeks in advance with varying price levels (depending on the area of the theatre). Once you purchase through the app, a Today Tix representative will meet you outside the theatre with your tickets 30 minutes before show time. It’s ultra convenient, but beware of service fees which can eat into the discount compared to rush seats, which don’t have added service fees. Some digital lotteries are also available on Today Tix.
Opening night, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We've waited to see this since our last trip to London's West End.
While we love the rush lines and the lotteries, we try to avoid the TKTS Booth. Back in the day, this was THE way to get reduced priced Broadway tickets - and still is for many. The TKTS Booth is a brick-and-mortar structure lined with ticket windows and digital boards showing the discount for various shows on Broadway (those with same-day seats to sell). There are several "TKTS" booths around town (Times Square has the most popular) where you can wait in line the day of the show and get 30-50% off most seats. The advantage to purchasing tickets through TKTS are the seats may be better than the rush line (because the theatre is getting more money per ticket) and you can choose your seats (which you can't when you rush - you get whatever the ticket agent at the box office spits out). But the downside is the cost: the tickets are only 30-50% off the box office price, so you're still paying $100 or more per ticket after the discount. It's still a decent deal, but for a family of our size that wants to see a lot of shows in a week, it becomes cost prohibitive. Plus, the TKTS booth doesn't open until later in the day and we don't want to spend the prime part of our day waiting in a ticket line instead of seeing sites. We'd rather lock in our evening plans first thing in a rush line over anything else and have the rest of the day free for enjoying our day.
At the intersection of the Schubert Alley and one of our favorite streets in NYC right now.
Cancellation Lines: If there is a sold out show you have to see, and you don't want to pay thousands of dollars for resale tickets, then there's always putting your time in to wait for cancellation tickets if the show offers it. Cancellation tickets are sold from the theatre box office at regular price and are usually seats held by the production for special guests. Once the box office has their final guest count, they may release any of these seats for the public's use. Cancellation tickets are therefore released same day or, most likely, last minute (as in minutes before the show starts), so there are no guarantees until show time if you're getting in. However, cancellation tickets allow you to score amazing seats for shows that are otherwise completely unattainable. We managed to get Hamilton tickets this way when most of the original cast was still in it. One parent and two of our kids headed out at 4:30 am and were awarded matinee seats where political elites, uber-famous actors, and other notables get to sit as when they are guests of the show for face value price of $200. It may sound like a lot, but Ticketmaster resale was over $2,000 a ticket that week, so $200 for one of the best seats in the house was, in that respect, a bargain.
Dedication - the Come From Away rush line, 5am. 2nd in line.
Second Hand Sellers: If a show is a "must see" while you're in town, then there's always secondary resellers like Ticketmaster or Stub Hub. We prefer Ticketmaster and Stub Hub over other ticket resellers because we can track the pricing trends for various shows and days, pick the exact seats we want based on location in the theatre or price, and both companies offer various guarantees to ensure the tickets you buy aren't counterfeit. (It happens.) This fall my daughter and I bought front row/center for Aladdin about 90 minutes before curtain, sitting right behind the conductor (we could read his sheet music we were so close!), and paid significantly less than face value. And that was an incredible and memorable night!
Front row seats right behind the conductor made Aladdin incredibly memorable.
And lastly, always stop in the box office and ask about tickets and ticket deals. We walked into Dear Evan Hansen on a Thursday afternoon and they had randomly just released 10 tickets for Friday and 10 tickets for Saturday. We snatched some up and saw the hottest show on Broadway on Saturday night. The night of our show the cancellation line had at least 50 people in it, some who had been there overnight, and most of them never got in.
Front row, Dear Evan Hansen. This was the purpose for the whole trip. One of the most moving shows we've ever seen.
I almost waved to Ben Platt while he sat right in front of us singing Waving Through a Window.