Pocket Guide to Experiencing Broadway in New York
Essential things you should know and what to expect
· 6 min read
If you find yourself in the bustling city of New York, you simply cannot miss the opportunity to experience the magic of Broadway. With its rich history, captivating shows, and unique atmosphere, Broadway is an absolute must-visit for anyone seeking a truly unforgettable experience.
What is Broadway?
Broadway is a term that you'd likely have heard before, but what exactly is it? To be exact, Broadway is the shorthand for Broadway Theatre District in New York City. The district's geographic area is relatively small, with most of the theatres sitting in one block between 42nd Street to 52nd Street in center Manhattan. Broadway theatres have a minimum capacity of 500 seats, and Broadway shows are simply, well, shows that have played performances in a Broadway theatre. Check the official Broadway website for a list of Broadway theatres and the shows that are currently playing.
Additional tidbit: History of Broadway
It all began in the mid-1700s when New York's first theater, the aptly named "The Theatre," was opened on Nassau Street. This modest venue provided a platform for actors and playwrights to showcase their talents, and it quickly became a popular gathering place for entertainment enthusiasts. As the demand for theatrical performances grew, so did the theater scene in New York City.
During the 19th century, Broadway emerged as the epicenter of American theater. The district became known for its melodramas, vaudeville shows, and musical comedies, which captivated audiences with their humor, drama, and impressive performances.
Fast forward to the early 20th century, and Broadway entered what many consider its "Golden Age." This period, which lasted roughly from the 1940s to the 1960s, witnessed the birth of some of the most legendary musicals in history, such as "West Side Story", “The Sound of Music", and "My Fair Lady".
In recent decades, Broadway has experienced another renaissance, bringing a fresh wave of creativity and innovation to its stages. This new era has embraced a diverse range of stories and perspectives, making Broadway more inclusive and accessible than ever before. Shows like "Hamilton," "Dear Evan Hansen," and "The Book of Mormon" have taken the theater world by storm, pushing boundaries and captivating audiences with their modern storytelling and memorable music.
Types of Broadway Shows
Broadway shows are famous for their open runs — a show that has a first performance date but not a final performance date. This means that these open runs can run for years since their opening. One of the most popular shows, The Phantom of the Opera, had run for 35 years and only recently closed; and other shows like Lion King have been ongoing for more than 25 years!
There are some shows (mostly plays), though, that are limited runs; these shows have a final performance date that is set with its first performance date.
When to watch Broadway?
Each show has its own show schedules, but typically have 8 shows per week during their run. Most shows take place in the evening, but some shows also have afternoon performances on Wednesdays or weekends. Shows are usually off on Mondays, but it is not a hard rule.
Top Broadway Shows to See
Broadway is home to some of the most iconic and unforgettable shows in the world. From long-running classics to contemporary hits and hidden gems, there is something for everyone on this grand stage.
When it comes to Broadway, there are certain shows that have stood the test of time. Classics like "The Lion King", "Wicked", and "Hamilton" have been captivating audiences for years and continue to draw crowds night after night. These shows have become cultural icons, weaving together mesmerizing stories, breathtaking performances, and unforgettable music.
If you're looking for something more current, Broadway has plenty of contemporary hits to offer. Some of the most popular shows include “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, “MJ”, and “Aladdin”.
Of course, Broadway isn't just about the big-name productions. There are also hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Some lesser-known shows offer unique and offbeat experiences that can be equally captivating. Take a chance on something new and explore the vibrant off-Broadway scene, where you might stumble upon a hidden theatrical treasure. These shows may not have the same level of fame as their counterparts, but they possess a charm and intimacy that can be truly special. From thought-provoking dramas to quirky comedies, these hidden gems provide a refreshing alternative to the mainstream.
Check Broadway's official site for the list of shows that are currently ongoing in New York City, including information about the theatre that it is playing at.
Watching a Broadway Show
Dress Code for Broadway Shows
One of the most common questions about Broadway etiquette is what to wear. While there's no strict dress code, it's always a good idea to dress neatly and in a way that shows respect for the performers and the venue. Smart casual attire is a safe bet, but if you want to go all out, don't be afraid to dress up and channel your inner Broadway star.
Food and Beverage
You won't be able to bring your own food and beverages into the theatre. However, almost all Broadway theatres will sell some light snacks or candy and a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. You can bring the purchased drinks and snacks to your seat and enjoy it from the comfort of your seat. Plan to arrive earlier so that you will have sufficient time to pick up your food and drinks before the show.
Some shows, usually the longer ones, may have intermissions. The duration of the intermissions range from show to show, and you can use the intermission to relax and use the restroom. Note that the queues for the restrooms could get rather long — but if you are still waiting when the intermission is about to end, the ushers are usually rather accommodating, so don't stress too much about it.
Meeting the Cast (Stage Doors)
When the curtain falls, many theater enthusiasts enjoy the opportunity to meet the cast members outside the stage door. Not all shows have this meet-and-greet session, and for shows that do, not all performers will partake in it. If you are head to the stage doors, be sure to first check where the stage doors are (it differs from theatre to theatre). Each theatre also has its own rules so make sure to stick to the rules.
It's important to approach the experience with respect and consideration. Do be patient and allow the actors their personal space and time. Don't push or overcrowd, and remember that the performers might be tired after a long performance. A polite word of appreciation or an autograph request will suffice to show your admiration for their incredible work.
Tips for Getting Broadway Tickets
Selecting a Seat
After answering the what-to-watch and when-to-watch, the question that you'll probably have is where-to-watch. After you have identified the theatre that the performance of your choice will be held at, you will need to decide which tickets to buy. While the layout of individual theatres differ, they generally have the following sections:
The orchestra section is located on the ground level, and are the seats closest to the stage. They are the most accessible sections as this section usually doesn't have stairs or elevators.
The mezzanine seats are the second level of the seating, and are also commonly known as the circle seats. From the mezzanine, you will get a broader view of the stage.
Located on the higher levels of the theater, the balconies are the farthest from the stage. But while you miss out on seeing the performers up-close, you will get a panoramic perspective to appreciate the choreography and the coordination of the performers from a different angle. Balcony tickets are also often the cheapest.
Best Times to Buy Tickets
When it comes to purchasing Broadway tickets, you have two main options: buying them online or visiting the box office in person. If you are purchasing them online, you can get them from the theatre's own website or official ticketing sources, or from third-party ticketing agents like TodayTix or broadway.com.
To increase your chances of scoring tickets, it is advised to book them in advance or consider attending a weekday performance, as weekend shows tend to sell out faster. Additionally, during the off-season, you might find lower prices and more availability.
How to Score Discounted Tickets
If you're looking to save some money but still experience the magic of Broadway, there are ways to find discounted tickets. Check for last minute deals for same-day shows at some of the ticketing agents like TodayTix.
Or you could also try your luck at a lottery ticket on sites like LuckySeat or BroadwayDirect. Lottery tickets are when you enter a lottery and get a chance to purchase the tickets at a lower price; the lotteries are usually for same-day shows and you can enter these lotteries either at the box office or online depending on the show. It is free to enter the lottery and you will only need to make payment for the ticket after you have won, but do note that with lottery tickets, you wouldn't be able to choose your own seats and they may sometimes include obstructed views.