September is the best month to score super cheap theater tickets in NYC

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman
Theater and Dance Editor, Time Out USA
War Paint
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusWar Paint

The theater season kicks into gear a few weeks from now, with a rush of new productions on and off Broadway. But while you wait for the best fall shows to open, you can see some that are already running for much less money than usual, thanks to discount initiatives designed to boost sales during a traditionally soft time for theater box office. Broadway has Broadway Week, which actually last for two weeks (September 4–17) and provides two-for-one tickets to most shows on the Great White Way. Even cheaper seats are available to Off Broadway shows via the 20at20 program (September 5–24).

Here's what you need to know

Through NYC & Company's Broadway Week, you can get discounted tickets to 21 of the 27 Broadway shows that will be running throughout the promotion. (Four shows opted not to participate—Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Book of Mormon and Come from Away—and The Lion King and Aladdin have already sold out their allocations.) All you have to do is visit the Broadway Week website and follow the links and instructions you'll find there. The discounts are steep, but the main advantage is convenience: Discounted tickets to many of the shows are available at TKTS, but Broadway Week gives you roughly the same savings with the advantage of being able to plan more than a few hours in advance (and without waiting in line).

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Be warned, though, that the tickets sold through Broadway Week tend to be ones that producers are most eager to sell: in balconies, mezzanines, side areas. For an extra $20 per ticket, you can get an "upgrade" to better seats, but even those pools of seats don't include many of the most desirable locations. And the “upgrade” language is potentially confusing. You might assume that paying the extra $20 bumps you up to better seats at the same base price. In fact, it only gives you access to buying better—but more expensive—seats in the first place. For example: A seat in the mezzanine for War Paint, usually priced at $119, will cost you $60.50. If you pay for the $20 upgrade, you’ll be able to buy a side seat in the orchestra section—but that seat won’t cost $80.50. It will actually cost $105.50: 50 percent of that orchestra seat’s regular $169 price, plus $20 on top.

Also, you’ll need to buy at least two tickets. And taking advantage of the Broadway Week discount is easier on some sites (like Telecharge, which factors it in automatically) than others (like Ticketmaster, which requires you to enter the discount codes yourself).

Bearing those caveats in mind: Even if the discounts end up being 37 percent instead of 50 percent, Broadway Week is a good opportunity to catch up on shows you haven’t seen yet before the new ones come rolling noisily in. We recommend Bandstand, 1984 and A Doll’s House, Part 2, as well as Hello, Dolly! (with the very capable Donna Murphy playing the title role for all the Broadway Week dates). And the lower price makes shows that are flawed but worth seeing—like War PaintGroundhog Day and The Play That Goes Wrong—more attractive. 

Not to be outdone by its fancier relatives, the Off Broadway Alliance has come up with its own discount-ticket promotion for these sleepy box-office weeks. Thanks to 20at20, 25 Off Broadway productions are offering $20 tickets to audience members who show up 20 minutes before curtain time. To maximize your chances of seeing something good, your best bet is to head to New World Stages, which houses most of the most appealing shows on the list: Avenue QPuffs, Gazillion Bubble Show, The Imbible and a testosterone-infused new staging of A Clockwork Orange. Among the other options that might be worth your time and your twenty are Spamilton at the 47th Street Theatre, The Suitcase Under the Bed at Theatre Row and The Violin at 59E59 Theaters.

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