One of the common questions that those new to the theater have is, “What does ‘Broadway’ mean?” On one hand, it’s a really easy question—it’s a section of New York City famous for the theater. But Broadway goes far beyond that, as you will quickly find out when looking for theater tickets. You can even go see a Broadway show that is not in New York City, hence all of the confusion.
Let’s get a solid answer, and then tell you what that means for you.
Broadway is a more than a street. It’s a style of theater. It typically refers to the seating available at a particular show. The theory here is that the more seats available for the performance, the higher the quality of the performance. That makes sense. If there are 1,000 total tickets available for a given night you can assume that it is a better show than if there are just 100 tickets.
Similarly speaking, you will likely see references to off-Broadway while looking at what shows are going on. Off-Broadway implies a smaller venue, with the general consensus being that off-Broadway is defined by a theater that can hold 100 to 499 audience members.
There’s also something called off-off-Broadway. This is still a professional level theater, but the crowds are small and far more intimate, holding less than 100 people. These can be quite entertaining shows, but they do not come with the same technical expertise and fanfare that a Broadway level show will hold. You can find tickets for off-Broadway and Broadway shows on ticket sites like SeatGeek.
Beyond New York
Broadway refers to the quality of the show. It is a professional level show with paid actors. The larger the venue, the higher the quality of the show.
And although the term “Broadway” itself comes from the theater district in New York City, there are large theaters outside of this city. You can go see Hamilton in Chicago while it is on tour, for example. Hamilton is a Broadway show, and the PrivateBank Theater, where the show is going to be held, can hold about 1,800 people. That makes it a Broadway venue since this easily puts it above the required 500 seats.
This means that it doesn’t matter where you live if you are a theater fan. You don’t need to wait to go to New York to see the best musicals, and you certainly don’t need to sacrifice quality just to go see a show near where you are located. There are plenty of high quality professional shows across the U.S. (and the world, for that matter). This should put to ease some of the concerns that you might have when you see a big name show like Hamilton, Wicked, or The Phantom of the Opera in a city other than NYC. The actors are some of the best in the world, and the same attention that has gone into the creation of the New York show has been put into the traveling version of the show.
In fact, sometimes the touring shows are more refined. They’ve gone through the ups and downs of a New York musical, and the directors have seen what works, and what doesn’t. They have made changes to improve the show and make it more entertaining for the audience. In this respect, seeing a Broadway show outside of New York can be even more entertaining than seeing it in New York.
There’s nothing like seeing a Broadway play in New York. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t see one outside the city at the same level of quality.