|The cast of Anastasia, June 2017|
I don't claim to be an expert at all — just a poor exchange student in NYC trying to watch as much as I can... especially before I head back to Singapore. (Seriously doubt I'll be back in the US anytime soon)
So yes, I've had quite a few people asking me questions about which shows are the best to catch within a limited time, and how I can afford to watch so many despite living on such a meagre income here. Here are all the answers!
1) Where do you find cheap Broadway tickets?
Good seats for Broadway shows can come up to $200 for the big name ones, and $100 for the less famous. Just for reference, I have been paying an average of $40+ for my tickets, with seats ranging from the front rows in the Orchestra section, to back rows of the Mezzanine area or standing tickets.
|Seating chart that's typical of Broadway theatres in New York, in case you catch no ball|
After watching so many shows, I've come to realise that being able to look at the actors up close, along with their expressions, really adds to the whole Broadway experience as compared to when I'm watching ants waving their feelers around from the very last row. It's all up to personal preference though — the singing and plot's just as good no matter where you are seated.
There are a few ways you can get cheap tickets, depending on when and how long you will be in the city for (for example, if you'll only be here for a couple of days, you obviously won't win your tickets in the daily lottery).
a. Broadway Week
Sometimes, seemingly randomly, Broadway show producers all band together and offer a 2-for-1 deal for tickets. I tried doing some googling, but there doesn't seem to be fixed dates every year — you'll just have to do a search yourself when you're coming over to New York.
I watched three shows: Wicked, Matilda and Phantom of the Opera and got good Orchestra seats at around $90 each. Yes, they are quite pricey if you're a student, so I don't particularly recommend this method, but it's a good way to get close-to-front seats for the bigger shows at a discounted price if you happen to be in town. (Ironically, Broadway "week" always lasts for more than a week.)
This is my FAVOURITE site of all time. All time!
Basically, most Broadway shows have something called a digital lottery, which gives a lucky winner the chance to buy a pair of tickets at super cheap prices. They pick only one person a day, so by that virtue, only people staying in NYC for extended periods of time have a chance at winning. (If you're only here for a week, don't bother.)
I say this because me and my friends have only managed to win tickets after applying at these lotteries consistently (read: every single day) for a few months. Yes, we set daily reminders to enter these lotteries. Meanwhile, all my visiting friends have tried applying for a few days and haven't had any luck. Maybe it's a simple case of probabilities, but we truly believe that they have some algorithm behind the selection, so just putting your name in for a couple of days won't work at all.
Shows watched with this method: Hamilton (yes, at $10), Wicked, Lion King, Phantom of the Opera (sold them at a profit), Aladdin. It's a good mix of wins by me and my friend, Ben.
c. Rush tickets
Some Broadway shows don't have lotteries, but instead have rush tickets — last minute tickets which nobody wants to buy. If you head to the box office, they'll sell you tickets for the same day, either at the last row of the mezzanine section, or standing row tickets. Fair warning though, standing row tickets are SUPER popular and sell out real fast, so you have to be there early to queue.
Rush ticket shows I watched: Jersey Boys, Book of Mormon ($27 for standing row), Waitress ($49 for last row).
d. TKTS Booth in Times Square (...no)
Throughout my time here (about 1 year), I have never gone to the TKTS booth to get my Broadway tickets.
Why? Because even though they claim to give half-price discounts, my friends who bought their tickets have consistently been paying upwards of $90. There are a couple of good shows that you can catch at half that price, even if you are only in town for a night or so. Contrary to popular belief, Wicked isn't the only great show in town — go for Waitress, Miss Saigon, or something with rush tickets.
2) Which shows should I watch?
Also, I would totally recommend reading the sypnosis for the show before heading down — it's very helpful for understanding what's going on because sometimes, the plot moves a little fast with the need to condense the whole story into 2 hours.
Here are the summarized answers; skip to the bottom for my thoughts on each show.
a) If you have no time and no money:
Watch Waitress — get rush tickets from the box office on the day of the performance itself.
If it's not available, try Miss Saigon (haven't watched it, but heard it's good).*
*Do NOT buy tickets online, they charge a hefty service fee.
b) If you have no time but have money:
Watch Wicked — it's a classic and embodies all the qualities of a good Broadway show.
c) If you have lots of time and money:
Apply for digital lottery and/or watch the top five shows of the list below...
#1 Lion King
Despite how ridiculous the photo above looks, it was pretty cool in real life. I watched this from almost the last row, and despite not being able to see the lions' faces clearly, loved it all the same.
The biggest reason why this is my favourite show so far is mainly because the Lion King cartoon is a huge part of my childhood, and I remember every single song like it was yesterday. The storyline, needless to say, made me cry and from the sniffling I heard beside me, I'd say many others were into it as much as I was too. Maybe it's something about parental love that gets us all emotional.
Despite ranking at the top of my list, I wouldn't say the singing stood out particularly — it honestly wasn't anything noteworthy. Although it was one of the most memorable shows for me, some might find it childish (you snob!) and it's pretty hard to get cheap tickets for. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as the introductory Broadway experience for noobs.
Before I caught this show, I had no idea the story of Elphaba even existed (don't pretend like you did, you snob!). This was the first ever Broadway show I caught in New York, and arguably one of the most famous among the 'new generation' titles — and for good reason. The acting, comedic timing, singing, storyline was a great introduction to the Broadway scene for me.
Not to be a downer, but when I watched the show for a second time seated further back in the Orchestra section, it just wasn't super appealing to me anymore. This could be a combination of reasons: 1. watching a show for the second time is just a bad idea, and 2. you can't really see their expressions from too far back, which diminishes the strength of the emotions that they are portraying, and 3. the person you watch with. HAHA the first time I watched it with Xinyee, my friend who has produces very good reactions and appreciates the little details in Broadway shows, while the second time with Ben who isn't easily impressed about these things.
So yes, I'd say it's above average in all the areas I can think of, and you would be suitably impressed if you catch this as your first Broadway show.
Straight up, I'll say that the plot isn't fantastic. It's a very... basic, sob story type about being strong throughout the ups and downs of life, and can be inspiring to er, some people (I suppose).
However, the lead singer — WOW. Jessie Mueller is out of this world. She sounds like a freaking angel, and was able to channel the emotions of her character so effectively that I teared simply from listening to her sing. I would go as far to say that being able to hear her sing live is a privilege and a steal at $49, and NO I am not being a drama mama about it. Waitress is a must watch, if just to catch her phenomenal singing.
I know, I know — this is an immensely popular show, and it's super hard to even get tickets to watch it. They're always booked months ahead, and normal tickets cost up to $300+.
So why'd I rank this so (relatively) low? Two main reasons: firstly, I don't know much of American history, so even though I read the sypnosis, the plot didn't mean much to me at all. It was cool seeing the producer's interpretation of how characters acted at that point in history, but it felt kind of "oh, okay" to me (compared to the other Broadway shows). Secondly, nearly the whole show was done in rap, and even though it was very unique, it just wasn't my thing — no chills, no wows from vocal runs. Just "oh, cool".
It's a great show, and I enjoyed it, but it's just not worth the hype for non-Americans. If you can get tickets priced at $10 from the digital lottery, I would say go for it, but otherwise, don't bother.
Right up front, I would say that the female lead was the best singer out of everyone in the cast. The rest were good, but nothing particularly groundbreaking. The first act was reaaaallllyyyy boring, especially when the guys took the stage, but the second — oh wow, the second. I loved every single moment of it! There was both laughter and tears and the older performers really stepped up to bring it to another level. Overall, I would say it's definitely worth a watch.
Of course, it helps that the main guy lead is pretty cute haha.
#6 Jersey Boys
I really liked this show because it was a throwback of all the songs by Frankie Valli and The 4 Seasons. I went in not expecting anything — imagine my surprise when they started singing Sherry! All the nostalgia just welled up in me at that moment and I was soooo happy.
Unfortunately, my friends who watched the show too didn't like it as much, mostly because of the plot, I guess. I personally liked watching the story of how they got together and got quite a few laughs out of it, plus think that it's really cool that the original members are contributing to the musical, but if you're not a musically inclined person I don't think you'd appreciate it very much.
As of now, Jersey Boys is no longer showing in NYC, but I'm sure they'll make a comeback someday and recommend people who like old school music to watch it when it does - it'll be a treat.
Went for a standing row ticket because it was unbelievably cheap, so I stood in minor discomfort throughout the 2 hours or so. (Still worth it.) Even then, it didn't detract from how hilarious the show was, which was a given seeing that it was produced by the creators of South Park.
The low ranking isn't indicative of how good it was, just that I much preferred the others over this. It's an all-around belly laugh kind of comedy show, but there isn't much in terms of meaningful plot, which is something I really like in Broadway shows. Don't watch this if you're looking for a tearjerker, but do watch it if you're in tears and are looking for a pick-me-up. Ha.
Personally, although it had a nice storyline (I mean, it's Roald Dahl), Matilda felt a little too childish for my liking. It was obvious that the show was geared towards kids, and even the singing seemed a bit too Hi5-esque for me.
I don't mean to blast it, like I said, it would definitely be a good show if you went with your five year old kid. The cast, as usual, was impeccable with their acting and singing, and there was a good amount of humour injected throughout, but that's about where the appeal ends (to me).
Gosh. This was THE ultimate disappointment out of all the shows I have watched — I had relatively high expectations because it was one of my favourite childhood stories, and... how can you screw up something like that, right?
I personally felt that everything, from the singing to the set, was subpar and didn't have that awww or wow or boohoo factor at all. Sure, there were a few laughs here and there because the genie was pretty funny and interacted with the audience a little, but everything felt a bit meh at best. At worst, I don't even feel like it was worth my thirty bucks.
I'm going to be totally honest, I only hate POTO because I couldn't understand what they were saying at all. Naturally, as in the title, they sang in opera mode, but even the normal talking scenes were done an opera tone which made for 99% garbled articulation.
My english isn't poor, but sometimes, I do struggle to catch nuances when listening to caucasians talk — especially if they have a strong accent. However, this wasn't a problem at all with the eight shows above, so I'd like to think the problem isn't me.
I paid $90+ to watch this, so imagine how pissed I was when I fell asleep during the show. Haha. I must say that the set was very grand, with the falling chandelier and boat on a lake, but it wasn't my cup of tea at all. In fact, it reminded me of the opera show I caught at the Met lol.
Hope this brief guide is helpful to whoever's visiting New York, be it for a long or short period of time. I really love Broadway shows and hope you will be as inspired by the performers as I always am. Feel free to shoot me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org!