We are a family of theatre geeks so it's hardly surprising that New York City is one of our favourite cities to visit! We recently returned from our seventh trip to New York and, like most of our visits, this recent one revolved around Broadway. These are a few of the activities that we recommend for theatre lovers visiting New York City - including Broadway theatre and much more.
Attending a Broadway Show
A highlight of each and every one of our seven trips to New York City has been attending performances of Broadway shows. We see a lot of theatre at home and when we are travelling but there is just something special about seeing a show on Broadway - and there are so many great shows to choose from! Each time we visit New York, we start with a long list of shows that we want to see and have to painstakingly narrow it down to our top choices.
If you are visiting New York with children and aren't sure what would be appropriate for the family then check the show's official website as age recommendations will be listed. When my kids were younger, I would take the age recommendation into consideration, however, my girls have enjoyed many productions when they were younger than the recommended age. Parents needs to make their own assessment based on the age of their children, their attention span, how much theatre they have been exposed to in the past and whether the parents think the subject matter is inappropriate.
These are the Broadway shows we have seen on our New York trips: December 2006: Mary Poppins; January 2010: Shrek the Musical; March 2011: Mamma Mia, Wicked, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; April 2013: Newsies, Annie; February 2015: Aladdin, On the 20th Century, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder; September 2015: Something Rotten, The King & I, Chicago; September 2016: Fiddler on the Roof, An American in Paris, Holiday Inn, The Phantom of the Opera.
There are essentially two options when it comes to purchasing tickets for a Broadway show - purchase them ahead of time or once you are in the city. We purchase tickets ahead of time for any show that we feel we absolutely must see or when we want the best tickets possible. For a show that it would be nice to see but we won't be devastated if we don't, we buy the tickets once we are there. If we are purchasing tickets ahead of time then I prefer to buy from the official website but there are other options available. The concierge at most hotels can generally arrange tickets but you will pay a premium for the service. The best way to purchase discounted (20-50% off) same-day theatre tickets is at one of the TKTS booth locations (Times Square, South Street Seaport, and Lincoln Center). It's advisable to visit one of the booths early in the day for the best selection and you can even check availability ahead of time on their website or using the TKTS app on a mobile device.
It's also good to be aware that there are certain times of year when discounted tickets are made available for a number of shows. On our recent trip in September we stayed through Labour Day and as Monday was the start of Broadway Week (September 5-18, 2016) we were able to purchase 2-for-1 tickets for The Phantom of the Opera. Broadway Week is a semi-annual promotion that is presented by NYC & Company (New York City's official marketing, tourism and partnership organization) in the fall and again in the winter (mid-January to early February). There is also Kids' Night on Broadway which is a program presented by the New York Times when young people age 18 and under can see a participating Broadway show for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. (It was February 9, 2016 - check the website for the 2017 date.)
The Broadway League's website, Broadway.org, is also a great source for up-to-date Broadway information.
Stage Dooring on Broadway
A few years ago we discovered that it's possible to meet the stars of Broadway shows at the stage door post-performance and it's now one of our favourite things to do. We have chatted with Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Gallagher, Christian Borle, Brian D'Arcy James, Kelli O'Hara, Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu just to name a few. Meeting these actors, getting a playbill signed and taking a photograph are some of our best Broadway memories. One of the most memorable was waiting outside the stage door on a frigid February evening after seeing Kristin Chenoweth perform in a preview of the Broadway revival On the 20th Century. We had been warned by a security guard that she wouldn't be speaking because she was on post-show vocal rest but when a bundled-up Kristin appeared, she graciously signed playbills, posed for photos and had whispered conversations with the fans waiting for her. Emma will never forget those few moments with an actor that she idolizes and it was well worth the wait in the cold and snow!
We try to check the location of the stage door before entering the theatre for a show so we don't waste time looking for it after the performance concludes. It's generally, but not always, to one side of the main entrance. Head there as quickly as you can after the show has ended as some actors are super-quick getting changed and leaving the theatre while others you may wait some time for. The actors are almost always carrying Sharpies for signing programs but make sure you have a pen of some sort handy just in case and be ready to snap a photo when it's your turn. If you happen to be attending a matinee performance on a two show day then it's unlikely that many of the actors will exit the theatre in between the two shows.
If seeing a Broadway show or two isn't enough then there are a number of tours available in Manhattan that will appeal to the theatre lovers in your family. We have been on two in the last 12 months - the Disney on Broadway tour offered by Walks of New York and the Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour.
Walks of New York has a fabulous 2.5 hour Disney on Broadway tour which consists of a guided walking tour of the theatre district led by a Broadway insider and an exclusive tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre that includes a visit to Disney's Prop Studios to see original props, costumes and set pieces up close. The highlight of the tour for us was visiting the Costumes and Props Studio at the theatre and having an opportunity to exam authentic props and try on costumes from popular Disney Broadway shows such as Mary Poppins, Lion King and The Little Mermaid. It's best to book this tour ahead of time to avoid disappointment as it only takes place three times a week and space is limited.
On our visit to New York City a few weeks ago, we had an opportunity to take the Radio City Music Hall Stage Door Tour. This tour is offered multiple times each day so you can book online ahead of time or purchase tickets at the theatre. We purchased ahead of time because our busy schedule meant the only time we could take the tour was Sunday morning and we needed to be finished prior to a matinee. There is also a discount if purchased online in advance.
This guided tour of the theatre starts in the 60 foot high grand foyer of the art deco building which opened December 27, 1932 and has been home to the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular every year since 1933. The tour takes visitors through various public and back stage areas of the theatre including the Grand Lounge and the Roxy Suite. One of the highlights is standing on the stage where you can see the elevators and turntable that are used in the shows and look out into the audience for the view on-stage performers get of the 5,931 seat theatre. The tour includes an opportunity to attend a Q&A session with a current Rockette and learn more about what it's like to be part of this iconic dance troupe. Our group met with Emily and one of the bits of trivia we learned was that Rockettes have a minimum height of 5'6". This dashed my petite daughter's dreams of ever being a Rockette so she'll have to continue to aspire to perform on Broadway instead! Visitors on the tour will pose with the Rockette in front of a green screen and photos will be available for purchase at the tour's conclusion.
Dining with a Broadway Theme
My kids insist on visiting Ellen's Stardust Diner on the corner of 51st and Broadway in Times Square every time that we are in New York City. This 1950s-themed diner with singing waitstaff has been entertaining crowds since it first opened in 1987. Many of the waiters are aspiring Broadway performers or actors who are in between shows so the talent on display is incredible. The food is fine (diner style/comfort food) but you dine here for the entertainment. Chances are that you will be having so much fun listening to the Stardusters perform (and singing along) that you won't be paying much attention to what you're eating anyway. There is often a queue outside Ellen's but we have found that it generally moves fairly quickly so as long as the weather isn't too bad then it's worth the wait to enjoy this quintessential Broadway dining experience.
Another fun place to dine for theatre fans is Sardi's Restaurant which is also located in the heart of New York's Theatre District (at 234 West 44th). The restaurant which has been operating at this location since 1927 is a Broadway institution known for the caricatures of show business celebrities that decorate the walls. The restaurant is also considered to be the birthplace of the Tony's as a group of Antoinette Perry's friends gathered there after her death and came up with the idea of holding the Tony Awards to honour her. The restaurant has been the site of many opening night parties and other Broadway events and you never know if you might bump into a famous actor dining there. We had a great time looking for the portraits of our favourite actors on the wall and Emma was particularly excited to find that Christian Borle had just recently been added before we dined there last year.
Shopping for Souvenirs
Broadway fans can't leave the city without a few show souvenirs. There is, of course, show merchandise available at each theatre but there are also a few specialty shops in the theatre district that carry a wide selection of items from various shows past and present as well as general Broadway-themed memorabilia. We spend a fair bit of time browsing our favourites - Theatre Circle (on West 44th west of Broadway) and One Shubert Alley (between 44th and 45th west of Broadway). Theatre Circle is the larger of the two shops but both carry Broadway posters, t-shirts, sheet music, souvenir programs, CDs and DVDs and much more. It's pretty much impossible for Broadway fans to visit either of these shops and leave without making a purchase.
Have you experienced Broadway? Any tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.
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