Actors, musicians, dancers and artists flock to the bright lights of the Big Apple, hoping to finally get that big break. The result? Audiences are spoiled by the continual influx of supremely talented, dedicated, boundary-pushing performers. Like the song goes: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
From the legendary hit factories of Broadway to the scruffy black-box theaters that dot countless downtown blocks, NYC boasts the full gamut of theater experiences. The most celebrated scene is, of course, Broadway – nicknamed the Great White Way in 1902 for its bright billboard lights. There’s something truly magical about sitting in one of the ornate Broadway theaters and letting the show take you to another world as the lights dim.
The term ‘off Broadway’ is not a geographical one – it simply refers to theaters that are smaller in size (200 to 500 seats) and usually have less of a glitzy production budget than the big hitters. Off Off Broadway takes place in even smaller theaters, with shows that are often inexpensively produced and experimental in nature.
A few of the best non-Broadway venues are the Public Theater, Performing Garage (home to experimental Wooster Group), St Ann's Warehouse and the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the latter two are in Brooklyn. Otherwise, the highest concentration is in the East and West Villages.
Traditional theaters aside, another great place to catch a show is at Shakespeare in the Park. Though the wait for tickets is long, you’ll be rewarded with free seats to see star-studded performances in the open air in Central Park.
Opera & Classical Music
When thinking about opera, one name rules the roost: the Metropolitan Opera, which stages lavish and exceptional productions. However, many other forms live within the city limits. The laudable company Amore Opera performs impressive works in its new uptown home of the Riverside Theatre. Other roving companies include Opera on Tap, which stages performances not at grand theaters but bars around Brooklyn. Another creative Brooklyn outfit is LoftOpera, which, true to name, performs condensed operas in a loft in Gowanus.
The choices for orchestras, chamber music and soloists are abundant, with the more cutting-edge options often stealing center stage. For all things traditional on a grand scale, don’t miss Lincoln Center and the famously stunning Carnegie Hall. For something more cutting edge, check out the eclectic lineup at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Film & TV
Feasting on films in NYC is quite a different experience to the traditional American blockbuster-at-the-multiplex scene. Film-going is a serious venture here, as evidenced by the preponderance of movie houses that show indie, classic, avant-garde, foreign and otherwise nonstandard fare. Frequent film festivals, such as the Tribeca Film Festival, provide additional texture to the movie-going scene.
One of the least-known gems for films is Museum of Modern Art, which has a rich collection of movies spanning all genres and corners of the world. The Film Society of Lincoln Center stages an incredible array of documentary and art-house films. Also worth checking out is the BAM Rose Cinemas, which does similar fare as well as revivals.
A handful of TV shows are taped in Midtown Manhattan, including Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You can be an audience member by signing up online or trying for standby tickets.
Dance fans are spoiled for choice in this town, which is home to both the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Another key venue dedicated to dance is the Joyce Theater, which stages acclaimed contemporary productions by dance companies from every corner of the globe. There are also modern dance companies galore, including those of masters Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Bill T Jones, Mark Morris and a slew of up-and-comers, which often take to the stage downtown and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Note that there are two major dance seasons: first in spring from March to May, then in late fall from October to December. But rest assured that there’s always someone putting on the moves.
A good laugh is easy to find in the Big Apple, where comedians sharpen their stand-up and improv chops practicing new material or hoping to get scouted by a producer or agent. The best spots for some chuckles are downtown, particularly around Chelsea and Greenwich Village. Several festivals, including New York Comedy Festival, draw big names throughout the year. You can also snag seats to tapings of America’s popular late-night variety shows.
NYC is the country’s live music capital, and just about every taste can be catered for here within a variety of wonderful venues spread throughout the boroughs. However, some of the highest-profile opera and classical music is performed at the Lincoln Center; jazz greats and up-and-coming talents play at clubs throughout town, but especially in Harlem, Midtown and the Village. Big name indie rockers earn their stripes downtown, as well as in North Brooklyn. Major acts play in stadiums like Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, and summertime brings outdoor music festivals, notably several prominent hip-hop fests. For current listings, check out New York Magazine and Time Out.
Just because there's so much else going on in the city and it doesn't shut down during playoff games like other smaller, sports-mad cities, it doesn't mean New Yorkers are any less passionate about their home town teams. With a total of 13 professional major sports franchises, both men's and women's, not to mention minor league teams, other comparably more obscure sports like lacrosse and innumerable amateur leagues for sports like cricket and roller derby, there's almost always a competition to take in somewhere.
The Yankees, who play baseball in the Bronx, are easily the most successful with 27 championships. Next are the National Football League New York Giants with eight, who play at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, along with the New York Jets. The New York Knicks have been a woeful National Basketball Association team for many years now, and their cross-borough rival the Brooklyn Nets are also their rivals in ineptitude.
Soccer (football to the rest of the world) has a growing fanbase in the NYC area, with two rival teams in action: the New York Red Bulls, based in Harrison, New Jersey; and New York City FC, which currently play home games in Yankee Stadium.
If you can’t see a game in person (though it’s worth trying to catch at least one while in town), try a little neighborhood bar when a Knicks, Giants, Yankees or Mets game is on – they can really light up. Even if you don’t understand American sports, you’ll likely find some more-than-willing tutors.
The New York Times sports page has excellent analysis and reporting, while the New York Daily News and the New York Post are more no-holds barred with their boosterism and criticism.
New York is one of the last remaining corners of the USA where baseball reigns supreme over football and basketball. Tickets start at around $15 – a great deal for seeing the home teams playing in their recently opened stadiums. The two Major League Baseball teams play 162 games during the regular season from April to October, when the playoffs begin.
Two NBA (National Basketball Association) teams play in New York City. The blue-and-orange New York Knicks (www.nyknicks.com) are loved by New Yorkers, occasional scandal aside, and play their home games at Madison Square Garden. On the other side of the East River, the Brooklyn Nets, formerly the New Jersey Nets, play at the high-tech Barclays Center. The NBA season lasts from October to May or June. New York Liberty, the professional women's basketball team, have played in the finals four times, but have yet to win a championship. The WBNA season runs from May to October, with home games lighting up Madison Square Garden.
Most of New York tunes into its NFL (National Football League) teams: the New York Giants (www.giants.com), one of the NFL’s oldest teams, with four Super Bowl victories, most recently in 2011, and the New York Jets (www.newyorkjets.com), whose games are always packed – new fans get swept away by the contagious ‘J-E-T-S!’ chants.
Both teams play at MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey (from Manhattan take NJ Transit via Seacaucus Junction, $11 return). MetLife Stadium hosted the 2014 Super Bowl.
Football season runs from August to January or February. The NFL season has 16 regular-season games (most held on Sunday afternoon), then up to three playoff games before the Super Bowl.
The NHL (National Hockey League) has three franchises in the greater New York area; each team plays three or four games weekly during the season from September to April.
- New York Rangers (www.nyrangers.com) Manhattan’s favorite hockey squad plays at Madison Square Garden.
- New York Islanders (www.newyorkislanders.com) New York City hasn’t given much Islander love since the remarkable four-consecutive-year Stanley Cup streak in the ’80s. Their stock is on the rise, however, since their move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2015.
Need to Know
Calendars & Reviews
- Playbill (www.playbill.com) The publisher of that happy little yellow-and-white program provided at Broadway plays also has an online version.
- Talkin’ Broadway (www.talkingbroadway.com) Dishy reviews as well as a board for posting extra tickets to buy or sell.
- Traditional publications include the New York Times, New York Magazine and Time Out.
To purchase tickets for shows, you can either head directly to the venue’s box office, or use one of several ticket agencies (most of which add a surcharge) to order by phone or online.
- Broadway Line (www.broadway.org) Provides descriptions and good prices for shows on the Great White Way.
- SmartTix (www.smarttix.com) A great source for practically anything but Broadway, with info on comedy, cabaret, performance art, music, dance and downtown theater.
- Telecharge (www.telecharge.com) Sells tickets for Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
- Theatermania (www.theatermania.com) For any form of theater; provides listings, reviews and ticketing.
- Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com) An old chestnut, Ticketmaster sells tickets for every conceivable form of big-time entertainment.
- TKTS Booths Cut-price same-day tickets to Broadway shows, with locations in Midtown, South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn.
With so many teams and overlapping seasons, a game is rarely a day away. Some teams’ hotlines or box offices sell tickets directly (available under ‘Tickets’ on the relevant websites), but most go via Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com). The other major buy/sell outlet is StubHub (www.stubhub.com).
Wanna be part of a live studio audience for the taping of one of your favorite shows? NYC is the place to do it. Follow the instructions here to gain access to some of TV’s big-ticket tapings.
Saturday Night Live (www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live) One of the most popular NYC-based shows, and known for being difficult to get into. That said, you can try your luck by getting your name into the mix in the fall, when seats are assigned by lottery. Simply send an email to email@example.com in August, or line up by 7am the day of the show on the 48th St side of Rockefeller Plaza for standby lottery tickets. You can choose a stand-by ticket for either the 8pm dress rehearsal or the 11:30pm live broadcast. The tickets are limited to one per person and are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. You will need to bring valid photo ID when the ticket is issued, as well as to the show later that day. Audience members must be 16 or over.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Tickets for this hugely popular late-night show are available online, but they commonly sell out on the day of their release. Check The Late Show’s official Twitter account (@colbertlateshow) and Facebook page for release date announcements, usually made one to two months in advance. If you do manage to reserve tickets, you will need to line up outside the Ed Sullivan Theater no later than 3:15pm on the day of taping. Given that the show is intentionally overbooked to ensure capacity, consider arriving by 2:30pm to increase your chance of actually getting in. The Late Show tapes Monday through Friday at 5pm. Audience members must be 18 or over.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah Sign up online to catch this popular news parody show. Reservations for shows are released on a gradual basis a few weeks before, so it pays to keep visiting the website. Tapings take place at 6pm and around 7:15pm Monday through Thursday. Check-in begins at 2:30pm, at which time the actual tickets are distributed. Consider arriving early as there is no guarantee of entry. Upon collecting your tickets at the venue you will be given a time to return (usually around 4:30pm). Audience members must be aged 18 or over.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Tickets to this biting British comedian's news recap show are available at www.lastweektickets.com up to two and a half weeks in advance of taping dates. The show is taped at 6:15pm on Sundays at the CBS Broadcast Center (528 W 57th St, between Tenth and Eleventh Aves) and audience members are requested to arrive at least 40 minutes in advance. Minimum age of admission is 18.
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (www.samanthabee.com) More biting than John Oliver, Samantha Bee offers incisive and utterly hilarious commentary on the politicos and scandal makers hogging the current news headlines. Her late-night shows are taped at 5:45pm on Wednesdays. Go online to get tickets.
For more show ticket details, visit the websites of individual TV stations, or check out www.nycgo.com/articles/tv-show-tapings.