|"Book of Mormon" ticket lottery|
For last-minute discount tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, the Times Square TKTS booth isn't so much an open secret as an in-your-face must-stop for every single visitor to New York City. The booth is in a can't-miss location smack dab in the middle of Times Square, underneath glowing red stairs that offer a nice respite for aching feet.
The deals are there -- 50 percent off, more or less -- but not for every single show. And I'm not sure the discounts are ever on the cheapest seats (which are still pretty expensive). Instead, the discounts always seem to be on the really expensive seats, and slashing the prices in half often still make them pricier than the cheap seats in the back of the theater. So you basically have a choice: (1) Plan ahead and get the cheapest seats furthest away from the stage, or (2) wait until the last minute and get fairly good seats that are a bit more expensive.
The best Broadway deals, however, come from shows that offer "rush" tickets. But these tickets are far from assured and are inconvenient to boot.
First you have to determine if the Broadway show you want to see offers rush ticket lotteries. This page from Playbill is useful and frequently updated.
Rush policies vary by show, but here's how the shows we've wanted to see generally run their lotteries:
Get to the theater 2 1/2 hours before the show starts. Complete an entry card provided by the theater. The drawing takes place two hours before showtime. About two dozen seats are available for around $25 or $30.
If you're a student, you have it a bit easier. With a high school or college ID, you can often get discounted tickets when the box office opens. We arrived in New York too long after earning our diplomas to take advantage of that, however, so I'm not sure how many tickets are generally available or how easy they are to get.
As for the lottery system, we've had mixed success. The very first time we tried, we got two front-row tickets to "In the Heights" for $26.50 apiece. But I tried to get a rush ticket to "West Side Story" when Paul was out of town with no luck, and last weekend we failed to get lottery tickets for the popular "Book of Mormon." There had to be more than 100 names in the hopper.
On another occasion, I tried to get rush tickets for "A View from the Bridge," but there was no lottery system. Instead, you wait in line before the box office opens and hope tickets are still available. After waiting in line for two hours on a cold February morning, the last of the rush and standing-room-only tickets were gone four people in front of me.
So all in all, I would not unequivocally recommend trying to get rush tickets. If you have extra time and the weather is at least halfway pleasant, it can be a good deal and not a bad wait. But more likely it'll be a great waste of time.