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Ask ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Broadway Ticketholders Waiting in Line answers your — and sometimes our own — theatre-related questions in the return of our popular feature.


Ask is a monthly column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and staffers. Here's a question a lot of New Yorkers ask, but few tourists seem to wonder about.

Question: Why do some Broadway theatregoers wait in line to get in the theatre when they all have tickets with assigned seats?

Answer: Any seasoned Broadway theatregoer who has passed the Majestic Theatre at showtime has probably stopped at one point or other to wonder at the lines of people that snake from the entrance and down West 44th Street. These are not folks waiting to buy tickets to The Phantom of the Opera, which has been playing for more than 20 years. They're ticketholders in no danger of not getting a seat for that day's performance. One sees similar lines all around midtown at popular shows like Jersey Boys and, more recently, American Idiot. So, since there is no such thing as general seating in any Broadway theatre, why wait in line, sometimes for as long as a half hour?

The quick answer is that the waiting mob is suffering from combination of ignorance and excitement. "Phantom is lucky to have among its audiences a healthy percentage of tourists from across the U.S. and around the world," said Michael Borowski, a press agent who has handled the musical for many years. "For many of them, it's their first time seeing a Broadway show. So even though every ticket holder has assigned locations, it can be a new concept that one doesn't have to arrive early to get the best seat." However, even if they knew they didn't have to arrive early to the show, they might do so anyway. "To a majority of our audience," continued Borowski, "Phantom is an 'Event.' People [are] celebrating anniversaries, birthdays — even making wedding proposals. So they tend to get there on the early side to make sure they don't miss a minute of the entire Phantom experience."

Borowski spied one additional reason for the lines: "Phantom also attracts a large number of groups. In our experience, they (and also many tourists) tend to arrive earlier than usual — mostly because they've budgeted extra time in case there are any traffic or subway issues getting to the theatre." Borowski added that the lines have been a staple at Phantom since the show first opened in 1988.

Long lines to get into the theatre appear to be a more recent phenomenon on Broadway, and may be indicative of a larger number of people being unfamiliar with the rituals of going to see a Broadway show that was the case in earlier times. "[Lining up] was never a repeated occurrence in the days that I was working," said veteran press agent Merle Debuskey, who was active from the 1940s to the mid-1990s. "It could be that the constituency of the audiences today are unfamiliar with going to the theatre and get there earlier than is necessary, creating a crowd. The percentrage of out-of-towners is much higher than it once was, or so I have been told."

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A crowd queues outside <i>A Little Night Music</i> on Broadway.
A crowd queues outside A Little Night Music on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Blank

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