The Long Distance Theater Geek’s Guide to Planning the Perfect NYC Trip

Since moving to LA in June 2011, I have been to NYC only four times. Considering that in the year prior to that move I spent a summer living in the city and took monthly trips thereafter, my Broadway time decreased significantly. Before, if there was an upcoming show I wanted to see it was no big deal because I knew I would have plenty of opportunities. Now, each trip has to be planned meticulously, and I feel a lot of pressure to make the most of my limited theater-going opportunities. There is no time to waste anymore on just seeing whatever show happens to have a rush ticket left that day. I have another pilgrimage to my favorite city coming up around New Year’s, and I am currently in the process of putting together my show schedule. Here are a few tips, tricks, and things I like to think about in case you ever find yourself in this situation.

January 2014 Trip
January 2014 Trip

1) Plan your trip with care. When booking flights or other travel arrangements, think about performance times. For example, this year I am returning to LA on a Sunday, and made sure to choose a mid-afternoon flight so that I can see two shows on Saturday and not have to wake up for an early morning airport trip. Make sure to include as many two show days as possible. Traditionally, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday are the days when Broadway shows offer multiple performances. If you are visiting during a holiday week, however, many shows have modified schedules that might result in an extra Thursday or Friday matinee to make up for a canceled Christmas or New Year’s Eve show. Last year, I was able to see four shows over the course of a Thursday and Friday because of the special New Year’s week performance schedule. Playbill.com always publishes special grids for each holiday week.

2) Prioritize. When you live far away from NYC, you have to just accept you will not be able to see everything you want to see. Figure out which shows you consider absolute must-sees, and be willing to let others go. A few factors to keep in mind:

January 2013 Trip.
January 2013 Trip.
  • Known commodities. Matilda was one of my favorite movies growing up, and the musical version was #1 on my must-see list last winter because of that.
  • Actors. If an actor you love is performing in a show, that is often reason enough to see it, regardless of the subject matter. It is also important to note that most actors will only stay with a show for a fairly limited amount of time, so a show you want to see for an actor is not a good one to put off until your next trip. Last January I paid an embarrassing amount of money for a ticket to Kinky Boots to catch Stark Sands, who departed a month later. (I regret nothing.)
  • Awards. Shows that won Best Musical, Best Revival or Best Play at that year’s Tonys are usually solid bets if you’re looking for something buzzworthy and high-quality. If any Tony-winning actors are still performing in those roles, that is always a treat to see as well.
  • Limited runs. Some shows don’t stick around for very long, while others are big hits and will still be there the next time you visit. One of my must-sees for my upcoming trip is The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper, which is a limited 3-month engagement. If I don’t see this production this winter, I never will.
  • What won’t come on tour. Luckily for me, LA is one of the biggest markets in the country and gets basically every touring production. If there is a show you know is going on tour soon and you don’t care about seeing the specific Broadway cast, you can save that precious NYC slot and catch it later in your hometown. I passed on seeing Cinderella last winter, but will be able to see it at the Ahmanson this coming spring.
  • Friends’ recommendations. When I truly can’t decide, I ask my theater friends who have seen many of the shows I’m considering what they think I should see. Asking around this year led me to eliminate If/Then, which was almost universally disliked amongst my friend group, and consider The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a play that wasn’t so much on my radar but got glowing recommendations from people whose opinions I trust.
August 2012 Trip.
August 2012 Trip.

3) Budget. When you have easy access to NYC, it is convenient to utilize rush and lotto to leave things a bit to chance and see shows for cheap. What I have discovered since moving to LA is that I would rather spend a little more in advance, ensure I have tickets to everything I want to see, and really enjoy my time in the city without worrying about waking up early to line up for rush tickets or planning the day around when lotto pulls. Luckily I am not a seat snob and usually just buy whatever the cheapest ticket in the theater is, even if it’s in the last row (and it usually is). Also, there are so many resources out there to help you get discounted tickets. BroadwayBox compiles all of the promotions and discount codes available, although you usually won’t find any for shows that are selling really well. TDF offers access to discounted advance tickets for students, teachers, non-profit employees, and arts professionals for a small annual membership fee. If you have some flexibility and want to look into rush and/or lotto, Broadway for Broke People and Playbill both list all of the (usually last-minute) ways to get the cheapest tickets for each show. If you don’t like figuring things out day of but can’t afford to book your entire trip in advance, I would recommend compromising by booking one day and figuring out the second on the fly. In December 2011, I booked tickets to Lysistrata Jones and Sleep No More in advance for the first day of my trip. The second day, my friends and I tried the Godspell lotto and were lucky enough to win. At night, I tried and failed to get a ticket to the Off-Broadway production of Rent, and instead got in line at the TKTS booth, where I ended up buying the last half-price ticket to that night’s performance of Bonnie and Clyde, which closed only a couple of days later. While I was sad to miss that production of Rent, I really enjoyed Bonnie and Clyde and am very happy to have seen it. The bottom line is, everything will work out, and it is very unlikely you will end up completely ticketless, even during a busy holiday week.

December 2011 Trip. Not pictured: Lysistrata Jones and Sleep No More.
December 2011 Trip. Not pictured: Lysistrata Jones and Sleep No More.

After considering all of these factors, I am close to nailing down my schedule for this January. Currently, I am planning to definitely see Hedwig and the Angry Inch (starring Michael C. Hall), The Elephant Man, and Side Show. For the final 2 slots in my 5 show trip, I am deciding between 3 shows: Cabaret, It’s Only a Play, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I will probably end up making my final decision based on ticket availability and pricing- unless anyone reading has a compelling argument for me! Everything I end up seeing will be reviewed on this blog, so January is shaping up to be a very exciting month of posts.


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