With top Broadway tickets costing $125 and more, there's still one place to go for a relative bargain: the TKTS booths that sell discounted, same-day theater seats to most Broadway and off-Broadway shows. • "We get tickets for everything but Wicked, The Lion King and Jersey Boys,'' said David LeShay, director of communications for the Theatre Development Fund, the nonprofit organization that runs TKTS. Those hit musicals, as well as the play Fences, which has a limited engagement this year with Denzel Washington, can sell all their tickets at full prices.
At the Times Square TKTS booth, a spaceshiplike cylindrical structure beneath ruby-red glass steps at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, the lines were long when I visited on a Thursday afternoon in early May. Listed on electronic screens were tickets offered for 28 Broadway and 26 off-Broadway shows, and the discounts ran as high as 50 percent.
I bought an orchestra seat on the aisle to the musical Fela!, which had been nominated for 11 Tony Awards that week, for $68 plus a $4 service fee. At the theater box office, the same seat would have cost almost twice as much.
"The theaters slowly feed us tickets all day long,'' said Bill Castellano, head treasurer of TKTS, presiding over the 12 ticket windows when I was there. On his computer screen, he showed me a sample of what was available: American Idiot, 89 tickets; Billy Elliot, 18 tickets; God of Carnage, 56 tickets; South Pacific, 15 tickets. Along with theater, there are often tickets to other performing arts groups, such as the New York City Ballet.
"On a really big Saturday, we've sold 10,000 tickets,'' Castellano said. The lines for evening performances tend to thin out by 5:30 p.m., when tickets to most shows are usually still available, even for coveted house seats that tend to be released later in the day. Of course, there aren't always great seats available, but the TKTS cashiers are knowledgeable and will give brusque advice on locations and sightlines if asked.
Until its futuristic booth opened in 2008, TKTS operated out of a construction trailer for 35 years, and all transactions had to be in cash; now you can use a credit card. Along with the Times Square booth, there are also outlets at South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. The lines are shorter at these booths away from the Midtown theater district, and you can buy matinee tickets the day before.
Recently, the company started offering memberships to visitors from outside New York that give them a great deal on tickets. It's the same deal that some 85,000 low- and middle-income New Yorkers get by paying an annual $30 membership fee that provides them access to hundreds of theater, dance and music productions for just $20 to $36 a ticket (less than you typically spend at a TKTS booth, and without having to stand in line).
Membership is open to full-time students, full-time teachers, union members, retirees, civil service employees, staff members of nonprofit organizations, performing arts professionals, members of the armed forces and clergy. A TDF national membership (for people living 100 miles or more outside New York) is only $12 a year. For information, go to tdf.org.