Show goes on, and on

Twenty shows in 20 days — Elizabeth Best gives her regards to Broadway via a truly theatrical splurge.

SOMEWHERE between 50th and 47th streets, I began to think this was not such a good idea. I was rushing down Broadway in the middle of Manhattan, clutching my broken stilettos to my chest, my toes numb from pounding the frosty winter pavement. My boyfriend, James, and I had two minutes until the curtain of a Broadway show and, thanks to Google Maps, we'd been sent 10 blocks too far.

See, James and I were on the cusp of crossing off our final performance on a quest to see 20 Broadway shows in 20 days. As my heart began to feel as if it would burst through my chest and into the path of oncoming traffic, I had the terrifying thought that we mightn't make it. Nineteen shows just doesn't have the same ring.

Our idea was born when we realised we had way too many shows on our Broadway wish-list.

I wondered what was stopping us from seeing a show every day. Thinking back, I wish someone had replied, "Um, commonsense?"

But, being an eternal optimist, I buzzed with excitement. We made it a real challenge and bought tickets as many ways as possible, too.

In my research, I uncovered a dizzying array of methods, with the size of the discount directly proportional to the risks in obtaining the seats. If we experimented, we had the potential to save a lot of money. We booked our "must-sees" online for normal prices and left everything else to chance.

The first opportunity presented itself on day one. We were exploring Times Square on a sugar high from too many Krispy Kremes when we stumbled across a sea of sandwich-boarded salespeople spruiking shows. Moments later, we'd scored a flyer entitling us to $US25 tickets to Toxic Avenger: The Musical. Easy as that.

On day two, we tried the famed TKTS booth. Locals and tourists alike line up in the middle of Times Square for hours in the hope of scoring a ticket for 20 per cent to 70 per cent off. The seats might not be the greatest and your show might be sold out by the time you reach the front but that's part of the thrill.

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We overheard a couple say if they didn't get tickets to West Side Story they'd see a movie instead.

I thought how wonderful it must be to decide to see a massive Broadway show on a whim. That night, we saw Mary Poppins at 40 per cent off.

Days three to six were more difficult, as jet lag reared its ugly head. The shows for these days were pre-booked, so the thrill of the ticket chase was absent, replaced by the need for sleep creeping in at inopportune moments. In the middle of Shrek the Musical I felt a sharp jab in my ribs. James said I'd been slightly snoring and, less slightly, drooling.

Next we tried our hand at student-rush tickets. If you turn up at the theatre with a valid student card you can get tickets at rock-bottom prices. The catch, however, is not so pretty, as we found out at 7am, lined up behind fellow cheapskates. Luckily, my need to get to everything half an hour early meant that, apart from having a cold and cranky boyfriend, we got our hands on the hottest tickets in town: Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain for a measly $US31.50.

Unfortunately, our luck didn't extend to the ticket lottery. Here, potential patrons show up two hours before certain shows, place their name in a box and, if drawn out, can buy front-row seats to Broadway's biggest acts for chump change. My heart sank as the names passed and ours wasn't called. What now? We hadn't even considered not getting picked. With our goal on the line and two hours until curtain, there was nothing for it. We took off, running from theatre to theatre to see if we could get cheap tickets just by asking for them. That night we saw Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking for $US25.

We later got a tip from a hot-dog vendor. Apparently, we'd been mad to enter the ticket lotto on a Saturday; locals go on Tuesdays because there are usually fewer patrons than seats. We tried it and, sure enough, scored $US20 front-row tickets to West Side Story.

In the days that followed, I walked around in a daze. Sleep deprivation meant all the shows began to blend together. Mamet and musicals collided in a wordy, melodic heap in my tired head. But (drum roll, please) the shows must go on.

We saw James Spader, Julia Stiles, Bill Pullman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angela Lansbury and a host of other stars. We saw classics and debuts, Tony winners and stinkers, huge productions and performances with four actors in a basement. We bought tickets from resellers and through word-of-mouth sales, used online codes and newspaper coupons. It was an exhilarating ride but it was exhausting.

Then it happened. We'd run out of ideas. We'd followed every tip and scrounged every cent off almost every ticket in town. It was only when we were told by the Rock of Ages ticket agent that the best seats available were in row O for $US220 that inspiration struck. We must use our Aussie accents. We'd been waiting for a time to crack out the ocker and this was it. "Cheers, mate," James intoned in a familiar twang. "It's our first time on Broadway and we want somethin' special." We held our breath. Would it work? Was it too cheesy? Had we just thoroughly embarrassed ourselves? The agent smirked. "OK, how about row B?"

What we thought would be a short dinner later and our whole quest comes down to me running barefoot through Times Square, with 30 seconds between success and failure. My chest is heaving, my body aching but I am determined to see this challenge through.

We get there. Just in time to see the doors shut.

I can't believe it. We've lost. I feel ill. It's not until James pokes me that I realise an usher at the far end of the theatre is gesturing madly at us. We thank her profusely and rush to our seats. As I sit in the darkened theatre, still catching my breath,

I realise we'd been completely mental to attempt 20 shows in 20 days. But sometimes, going a little bit crazy can be just the ticket.

How to buy theatre tickets in NYC

TKTS booth See same-day live shows for 20 per cent to 70 per cent off. tdf.org.

Rush, lottery and standing-room only Anyone willing to take a risk, get to the box office early, spend some time in a line or stand during the show can get discount tickets. See playbill.com for a list of shows.

Online codes Producers often release limited-time discount codes for special internet-only offers. broadwaybox.com.

Flyers Spruikers in Times Square have loads of offers. Be sure to mention you're from out of town; they might have better deals for tourists.

Show up Some of the best bargains come from turning up at the box office last-minute and asking for their best price.

Top five picks

1. Rock of Ages It's a wickedly funny '80s hair-metal musical about a boy who wants to rock and a small-town girl, living in a lonely world trying to make it on the Sunset Strip. Rock-chick barmaids served us drinks during the show. What's not to love? It's winging its way Down Under this year.

2. Next to Normal A Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner, Next to Normal is an emotional roller-coaster that follows a suburban family through the exhilarating highs and devastating lows of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in a tight rock-musical package. Also opening in Melbourne this year.

3. In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play In the advent of the electrical age, a lonely woman yearns to connect with her doctor husband. Little does she know he spends his days curing women of "hysteria" with an unusual machine. A beautiful look at physical connections versus emotional intimacy, the Sydney Theatre Company production is playing now.

4. Ordinary Days A brilliant, unassuming and intimate chamber musical by up-and-coming composer Adam Gwon. It tells the stories of four young New Yorkers whose ordinary lives are connected through extraordinary circumstances. We saw this one in the basement of a theatre, sitting on plastic chairs.

5. Toxic Avenger: The Musical A cheesy B-grade schlock fest with its tongue lodged firmly in its horribly deformed cheek, Toxic Avenger: The Musical, based on the 1984 movie, is the story of a geek who, after being thrown into a vat of toxic waste, vows to get the girl, save the world and dispense environmental advice along the way.

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