theater

You guys, I saw Hamilton on Broadway. For free. And it was fantastic.

Did that really just happen?

Did that really just happen?

Yesterday was my best friend’s birthday, and we had a lovely evening planned: reading in Central Park, catching a movie, possibly getting a drink at the bar around the corner. But all of that went quickly out the window when I WON THE BROADWAY BOX TICKET LOTTERY and got FREE ORCHESTRA SEATS TO HAMILTON ON BROADWAY which ONLY JUST OPENED ON THURSDAY.

I’m still a little in shock. Can you tell?

After seeing the show last night, I can now confirm that all of the press and accolades this show is receiving are 100% earned. A hip-hop historical musical told almost entirely via rap lyrics is something that likely wouldn’t have made it to Broadway at any other time in history. Now, it’s the hottest ticket in New York. Hamilton probably has the Best Musical Tony on lockdown, which controversial Fun Home took home this year. I just love watching the huge, exciting risks Broadway is taking right now. (Speaking of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening… but I digress.)

I saw a commenter on the Broadway World boards asking whether it was possible to enjoy the show if you don’t like rap music. The answer to that question is solidly yes. I’d argue that people who love musical theatre but aren’t into rap are exactly the people who should see this show. You might find a whole new appreciation for the art form and its storytelling capabilities, especially when in the hands of a lyricist as visionary as Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The first thing I want to comment on is the pacing. This show moves. Basically, try not to blink for the entire three hours. (OK, you can blink during intermission. Unless you’re scouring the audience for celebs, whom you’re more than likely to find. We sure did.) The lyrics go by fast and the plot points go by faster. That’s not a complaint; it’s furious pacing in the very best way, and I had no trouble keeping up. I only wish I had more time to appreciate each and every rhyme. I’m definitely looking forward to buying the soundtrack when it comes out, and listening while reading the lyrics.

The rotating stage, which I noticed when I first sat down, plays a small but inspired part in that pacing. At first I didn’t think would be necessary; the set is minimal, the story grounded and historical rather than fantastical. But what the rotation does is visually add to how frenetically the show moves along. Actors are able to go from one side of the stage to the other more quickly, as they’re spouting lyrics quickly, and it makes the entire show feel like its constantly and inevitably in motion. I don’t know if a rotating stage was part of the set at the Public, but I would be surprised if it weren’t, because the choreography looks to have been designed perfectly around it. And that’s a good segue into my favorite part of the show:

The ensemble. The choreography. I mean, I’m speechless. The dancers are so talented, there were times I found myself watching them when I was supposed to be focusing my attention on a lead. The movement is strong, and the choreography is unlike anything else I’ve seen on Broadway. Each dancer’s style and interpretation is oh-so-slightly different, yet they come together in a way that tells a united story. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has done a masterful job.

All of the actors are fantastic, but there were definite standouts. In my opinion, Renée Elise Goldsberry kind of steals the show. I was surprised to find myself tearing up during her number in the first act, in which a wedding scene is recreated from her (devastating) point of view. I hadn’t been invested in her character whatsoever prior to that moment, so her making me care and bringing me to tears during the course of just one song is pretty incredible. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr was also great. My friend and I feel pretty confident he’s secured a Tony nom for his performance, which was understated and powerful. And then there’s Jonathan Groff as King George, who also brought me to tears — laughing. Groff’s deadpanned comic relief is ridiculous and perfect (as I imagine Brian d’Arcy James’s was Off-Broadway, as well). Look closely and you can see a few of the other actors trying, and failing, not to crack up when Groff is on stage.

Hamilton is going to be on Broadway for a very long time. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. But, when its run does end, what really excites me is the addition of an outstanding, nuanced rap musical to the musical theater genre. I can see the regional productions, the college and high school productions, giving those who might not have had a chance to get up and show their talent. It’s bringing diversity, much needed diversity, to Broadway in more ways than one.

Broadway on a Budget: Six ways to score discount Broadway tickets

In case it isn’t clear by now, going to Broadway shows is by far my favorite activity, and the best part of living in New York City is the easy access I have to them. Physically, that is — the theaters are literally steps away from my apartment — but not financially. Broadway isn’t cheap… but it can be, if you know where to look. Here are my six favorite places to buy discount Broadway tickets, whether I’m looking to see a show in a few months, a few weeks, a few days — or even a few hours.

1. TodayTix is an app that I started using last year, and now it’s my #1 go-to for quick, cheap tickets and mobile lotteries. The app is very easy to use; if you’re looking to buy tickets for a show within seven days, and have a smartphone, this is the way to go. You order the tickets through the app, then pick them up from a TodayTix representative outside the box office a half hour before the show. Shows I’ve seen using TodayTix: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with Michael C. Hall), Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Fun Home, On the Town. Pros: Easy to use, excellent customer service, and a ridiculously good value. For an extra $20 off your first purchase (which could mean a free ticket in some cases), you can use my code: ZGYOD. Cons: You don’t get to pick your exact seats; you only get to select your section. In my personal experience, though, the seats have always been good. No complaints here.

2. Ticket Lotteries: If you’re willing to take a risk, a lottery is a good way to get last-minute tickets to popular shows. There are two kinds of lotteries: physical lotteries, in which you show up at the theater a few hours before the show and enter your name in a drawing, and mobile lotteries, which you can enter via TodayTix (see above). Either way, tickets will likely run you $20 to $40. The odds of winning a Broadway lottery vary from day to day and from show to show; for the best odds, try a weekday, or even a rainy day. And read my post on tips for winning, too! Shows I’ve seen through Broadway lotteries: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with John Cameron Mitchell; second-row center seats!), Wicked (one of the harder lotteries to win, but the front-row seats are worth it!). Pros: Cheap tickets, and that feeling of elation when your name is called. Cons: That feeling of depression when your name isn’t called, and the fact that you can only win one or two tickets. If you’re hoping to see a show with more than one other person, lotteries might not be your best option.

3. General and Student Rushes: My favorite discount when I was in college! I loved student rushes, and fully took advantage of them. General rushes are also useful, though the discounts may be slightly less. To buy rush tickets, you just need to make sure the show has a rush policy, and show up early at the box office. Shows I’ve seen using Rush tickets: Way too many to count! Gypsy, Hairspray, Once, The 39 Steps… Pros: A good option for day-of tickets if you’re not willing to risk a lottery. Cons: The seats are typically up in the nosebleeds or partial view, all the way up front and to the side (so you miss half the stage); you may also find yourself waiting in line at the box office early in the morning if it’s a hot-ticket show.

4. HIPTIX and HIPTIX Gold: The Roundabout Theater Company is very kind to its younger fans, hoping to turn them into future patrons — which they do! At least, they did with me. The HIPTIX program allows theater-goers under 35 to purchase up to two mezzanine tickets for every Roundabout production for $25. (The purchaser has to be under 35; their guest can be any age.) For a $75 donation to Roundabout, you can become a HIPTIX Gold member, bumping those two tickets up to orchestra seats, still at only $25. Shows I’ve seen via HIPTIX: Cabaret, Into the Woods, The Real Thing, On the Twentieth Century. Pros: Great shows at an excellent price, and special offers and events like their extremely informative pre-show theater talks. Cons: Non-Gold HIPTIX can sell out fast, so you may find yourself buying the next available HIPTIX seats for a few months down the line, and this only applies to Roundabout productions — so, only a few a year.

5. 30 Under 30: Another great age-specific program, 30 Under 30 is exactly that: $30 tickets for theater-goers 30 and under. The program is part of the Manhattan Theatre Club. Though I haven’t purchased tickets through it yet, I’m amazed at the excellent offers that occasionally pop into my inbox just because I joined the mailing list. Just this last weekend, for instance, they shot out a 2-for-1 e-mail deal for Of Good Stock that I absolutely would have taken advantage of if I were in town. Pros: Good flash deals, and their post-show parties (who doesn’t love wine and cheese?). Cons: The age restriction, obviously, and access only to MTC productions, of which there may be few that a non-veteran theater-goer would recognize.

6. Standing Room Only (SROs): This is exactly what it sounds like. If a performance is sold out, some shows choose to offer standing spots, typically behind the back row of the orchestra. I’ve found these to cost in the range of $30. I haven’t purchased an SRO ticket, but speaking to friends who have, it sounds like a viable option if you’re willing to be patient and flexible. Pros: Access to hot-ticket shows you might not be able to afford otherwise, and the occasional run-in with someone associated with the production — a friend of mine was lucky enough to find herself standing next to Stephen Trask at an early Hedwig performance. Cons: You never know for sure if a show is going to sell out, so you may find yourself waiting in line all day only to be told no SRO tickets are available. Extra tip: A good idea here is to double down; while waiting on the SRO line, you can enter a ticket lottery. If you win the lottery, great! If not, you’ve still got a shot at SRO.

There are so many more programs, apps, sites, and discounts that I haven’t covered or yet tried. Broadway Roulette, for example, seems to be gaining some headway in the discount theater space; and sites like TheaterMania.com and BroadwayBox.com often offer discounts that rival some of these options. And I didn’t even cover the Theatre Development Fund’s TKTS booths! Mostly because the thought of standing in line in the middle of Times Square for an hour gives me hives. But that’s another story.

What are your favorite discount tips? Feel free to share them, and your discount success stories, in the comments below. 

FUN HOME Round Robin on Noted in NYC

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I was invited to participate in my first Round Robin theater discussion on Sarah Evans’s lovely blog, Noted in NYC. For my and four other well-informed people’s take on Fun Home, the musical that’s expected to win big at the Tony Awards, check it out here:

http://www.seewrites.com/notednyc/2015/06/05/fun-home-on-broadway/

And for a sneak peek of the sucker-punching song Sydney Lucas is going to sing at the Tonys on Sunday, check out this video of her performing at 54 Below this week:

Sydney Lucas | Fun Home | New York Times