Making It a Wonderful Town: Insider Tips for the Broadway Visitor

Special Features   Making It a Wonderful Town: Insider Tips for the Broadway Visitor You've never been to a Broadway show or to New York City — or maybe you're a native, or a regular visitor. Whatever the case, Playbill.com has collected some essential tips that every Broadway visitor should know.
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Photo by NYC & Company

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Here are some secrets (some well-kept, some well-known) to making your Broadway experience a richer one.

SHOE BUSINESS

For the visiting theatregoer who is also spending the day shopping or sightseeing, our No. 1 recommendation is this: comfortable walking shoes. Leave the high heels at home, ladies. The surest way to blisters and bandages is high heels and tight dress shoes. What about sneakers? Michael McDonald, the Tony and Desk Award-nominated costume designer of Broadway's current revival of Hair told us, "Many theatregoers are tourists who spend a lot of time on their feet, so I understand the need for comfortable shoes. But whenever you wear sneakers to the theatre you are crossing the line to me. Its not a soccer game."

PUT AWAY YOUR SUNDAY CLOTHES While there is no real dress code for attending a Broadway show, business casual is status quo, but jeans and shorts aren't uncommon. Some dress up, others dress way down. It's not necessary pick out a new ball gown for the trip, and the tie-phobic husbands can rest at ease. Even at starry opening nights, there's a mix of tuxes, suits and (usually in the balcony) tourists. Hair costume designer McDonald, says, "You don't have to dress to the nines, but make it an 'event' by adding a blazer to your best jeans and dress shoes. You can take your daytime sightseeing outfit right to the theatre just by adding a jacket. On both men and women, the jacket takes it to the appropriate level. Darker colors for evening also add sophistication." And matinees? "I always cringe when I see mobs of teenage girls all dressed up like they are going to the junior prom to see a Wednesday matinee. Short cocktail dresses and spiky mules just look silly at 1:30 in the afternoon."

AVOIDING THE LONG LINES AT "TKTS"

The Brooklyn TKTS booth
photo by David LeShay

"Most people enjoy the event of waiting in line at Theatre Development Fund's TKTS Discount Booths for the unique urban fellowship it provides," remarks David LeShay of TDF. The three TKTS Booths in Brooklyn, downtown Manhattan's South Street Seaport and Times Square offer discounts of up to 50 percent off of same-day (or next-day matinee) tickets for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. What's the least crowded time to go to the booths? LeShay says, "Both of our satellite TKTS Booths, at South Street Seaport and downtown Brooklyn, have much shorter, to no lines at all. For evening performances, both of these TKTS Booth open at 11 AM as opposed to 3 PM in Times Square. At the main TKTS Booth in Times Square, the longest lines may be found when we open at 3 PM. During the summer months those can look daunting, but they do move quickly. If you arrive closer to curtain time, say after 5 PM (for a 7 PM or 8 PM performance), your wait will be diminished considerably. Since tickets are released to us continually during the day, the 'best seats' aren't necessarily in the system at the time we open at 3 PM." TDF's website is also a great resource. If you're coming to town and want to get an idea of what has recently been "at the booth," check out www.tdf.org/tkts.

TWO MORE DISCOUNT IDEAS

There are no fees to joining our Playbill Club, and membership entitles people to benefits and discounts from 10 percent to 50 percent off regular priced seats, plus discounts to restaurants, hotels and attractions. Did we mention that membership is free? Click here.

Avoiding the TKTS lines altogether, you could get a Theatre Development Fund (TDF) Membership, which offers hundreds of Broadway, Off Broadway, music, and dance productions each year for only $20-$36 a ticket, and you have the advantage (as with the Playbill club) of ordering in advance. Full-time students, full-time teachers, union members, retirees, civil service employees, not-for-profit staff members, performing arts professionals, clergy, and military professionals are eligible for this $30 a year membership. Visit www.tdf.org.

WHEN THE SHOW IS SOLD OUT

The Saturday night performance of Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys and Wicked are sold out? There may be a way to get a hot ticket without paying broker's fees. If you are desperate, head directly to the box office. Shows often release a certain number of unused house seats (coveted tickets reserved for industry professionals) for general sale. Each theatre has a different policy for when and how they release these seats to the box office, but they are often released two to three days before the performance. You pay full price but they are usually the among the best seats in the house. Bottom line: Ask at the box office, and don't be afraid to ask if there is a time when house seats might be released.

THE EXTRA MAN (OR WOMAN)

A theatregoer who got stood up is a way to get a cut-rate single ticket to a sold-out show. Among the throng outside of a theatre a half-hour before a show you will inevitably find a person holding up a single ticket. Their seat companion is a no-show (partner is stuck in traffic, daughter is under the weather, buddy opted for the ball game). They want to get rid of their ticket — sometimes at any price. If the seller looks like your Aunt Mabel, it's a good bet that she's not a ruthless scalper with a phony ticket. As it gets closer to curtain, they might even take below face value. (And you might just make a new friend.)

IN A RUSH?

Theatres often offer same-day, last-minute discounted seating to students with a valid I.D., or cheap seats as part of a lottery, or special discounted seating (onstage, sometimes). Check out Playbill.com's frequently updated Broadway Rush and Standing Room Only Policies for detailed information on policies and offers for specific theatres.

EAT LIKE A LOCAL

The strip of chain restaurants in the middle of Times Square can make us all feel like we're back in Kansas. We recommend stepping slightly off Broadway, to the west, to take in the true tastes of Manhattan. The storefront restaurants of Hells Kitchen along Eighth and Ninth Avenues between 42nd and 54th Streets offer everything from international cuisine to local diner food to delicious bargains. Hells Kitchen sounds scary, but the neighborhood is clean, safe, and popular among locals and tourists alike (less so 15-20 years ago).

On Ninth Avenue, the Thai-flavored Yum Yum Bangkok (between 45th and 46th streets) has multiple locations, is quick and affordable — and is a favorite of chorus boys and girls.

A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE

Looking for a casual meal that's healthy, fast and affordable? Broadway actors trust Green Symphony (255 West 43rd Street, between Broadway and Eighth). Tom Deckman (Spamalot , Good Vibrations) says it's "a hidden gem, sort of a health-food deli. They'll blend you any kind of fresh juice you want, with as many types of fruits or vegetables you want." Graham Rowat (Guys and Dolls, LoveMusik) agrees: "During rehearsals or between shows, it's sometimes frustrating to dine out in the theatre district, where prices can be skewed to take advantage of tourists. Green Symphony offers a large variety of healthy food choices — including vegan — and prices its food by weight. I regularly have a great meal for less than $10."

Bottom line? Be creative and curious.

STAR G(R)AZING

Want to star gaze over dessert, a late supper or a drink? Head to Joe Allen (326 West 46th Street), Bar Centrale (324 West 46th Street), or Angus MacIndoe (258 West 44th Street) and you'll be surprised at who you might rub elbows with. But please, be discreet. Sarah Jessica Parker knows you love her and have seen all of the episodes of "Sex and the City." Let her enjoy her cocktail in peace. Reservations are strongly suggested. Maximum star-gazing time is anytime after 10 PM. THEATRE DISTRICT SHORT CUTS

If you're running late to your Broadway show and you want to speed through the Forties, you can avoid the pedestrian traffic-jams on Broadway or on Eighth Avenue by using a number of secret shortcuts in the middle of the block between Broadway and Eighth.

If you need to get from 41st to 42nd in a jiffy, cut through either the lobby of the Hilton Times Square or the McDonalds a few doors down. Performers often use the "The Broadway Shuffle" to beat the crowds from 44th to 47th Streets. Storied Shubert Alley is the beginning to this shortcut, linking 44th and 45th Streets. You can continue on to 46th Street beneath the Marriott Marquis Hotel and then through the Edison Hotel lobby to 47th. The giant Morgan Stanley Building used to have an open lobby that would let you out on 48th but now you have to go around. There's another walkway beneath the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza that will allow you to move between 48th and 49th with speed.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH TOM COLICCHIO?

Bryant Park

Central Park is just a stone's throw above Times Square but we recommend checking out Bryant Park. Head east on 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues to this "urban oasis" (the setting of the tented Fashion Week). There are plenty of café tables and chairs from which to people watch; children can ride "Le Carrousel" for $2 while parents sip coffee from "Top Chef" host Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft kiosk; and the wide lawn allows for urban sunbathing. Lavishly restored and replanted in 1992 after years of neglect (thanks, Bryant Park Restoration Corporation), the park on what is essentially the back porch of the stately New York Public Library offers blooming gardens, statuary (find Gertrude Stein in a Buddha pose) and a refreshing fountain. (Bring your takeout from Green Symphony — see above — and have a park picnic before or after a show.) THEATRE HISTORY LESSON

If you're looking for air conditioning and culture, take in the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street), which boasts Perform, an ongoing exhibit on the History of Broadway and theatre in New York City "through costumes, historic photographs, drawings, ephemera, and other objects from the Museum's theatre collection," according to www.mcny.org.

TOP OF THE HEAP

The Empire State Building isn't the only place to catch a bird's eye view of Manhattan. The views from the Millennium Hotel (145 West 44th Street) and Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway) are spectacular, as is the popular Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza). Our new favorite spot for aerial people watching is the top of the cascading steps above the TKTS Booth at 47th Street in Times Square. Climb all the way up the 27 ruby-red steps to people watch as you face downtown and catch one of the best shows in town — the kinetic, colorful Times Square itself.

Got a tip or a secret that makes your visit to Broadway better? E-mail managing editor Kenneth Jones at kjones@playbill.com.

An aerial view of the new TKTS booth in Times Square
An aerial view of the new TKTS booth in Times Square