Having grown up just a short bus ride from New York City, I had always taken it for granted that Broadway shows, ballets, and operas were readily accessible…or at least they were to suburban students on class trips at heavily discounted prices that were funded through public school systems and, well, suburban parents. Now in my twenties, NYC excursions consist of a myriad of decisions — what to do, when to go, how much to pay, how to get there, etc. — rather than simply turning in a permission slip and payment. This also means that out-of-town friends often ask whether there are any “secrets” to getting in on a quintessential New York experience at a reasonable cost.
Here’s what I tell them.
If there are a few options you have in mind, you might want to consider waiting in line at a TKTS booth. Their tickets aren’t dirt cheap, but they’re usually pretty good when compared to normal ticket prices (~40-60% off). Prices and availability change constantly, and you won’t know until the day before or the day of whether they’ll have your show. Lines tend to be long, but they move pretty quickly.
If you want to see a specific show (and have a flexible schedule), you might want to consider getting student rush / stand by / lottery tickets. Here’s an aggregated list of rush ticket prices. It’s pretty up-to-date, but I would check the website for the show itself just to double check. For less popular shows, you’ll probably have a good chance of getting standby tickets, but for shows as popular and “classic” as Lion King, the wait will probably be pretty long with no guaranteed chance of getting tickets.
If you want a free alternative (or if you can’t find tickets for the show you want), there’s always Shakespeare in the Park at Delacorte Theater. It’s centrally located in the heart of Central Park, and visitors often wait hours in line to get (free) tickets. They now have a book-online option as well, but it works on a lottery system. If you want more of a sure-bet, another good option is New York Classical Theatre, which uses the park itself as a stage; you follow the actors around the park as they “change sets” by moving to different locales. Check their website for details and exact location…otherwise, they’re always fun to just stumble across while wandering the park.