How to Find the Best Seats in a Theater

The Ideal Place to Sit Often Depends on the Theater

Where are the best seats in the house?
Getty Images

Where are the best seats in the house when you go to the theater? It really comes down to personal preference. Some people want to be close enough to see the actors sweat, while others favor a panoramic view. It also depends on the particular theater. Older theaters may have seats that don't offer a full view of the stage. Also, the director of a particular show may or may not have staged the production with theater sight lines in mind.

So, it pays to do a little research. You can usually find a seating chart online at the web site for the theater or show in question. There are also collected seating charts at BroadwayWorld and Playbill. Online theater-fan forums (such as All That Chat and the BroadwayWorld message boards) can give you access to folks who've seen the show, and who might give you useful feedback about where to sit.

It used to be you could only choose your seats if you bought your tickets at the box office, but now most ticketing outlets (including Telecharge and Ticketmaster) allow you to select which seats you would like from what's available, based on how much you're willing to pay.

Here's a decidedly subjective guide to the various seating options:

Orchestra

People assume that center orchestra seats are the only good ones; but it depends on how deep the orchestra is, and how far back you are. Some Broadway theaters have relatively shallow orchestra sections (e.g. Walter Kerr, Lyceum), while others have significantly deeper orchestra sections (Richard Rodgers, Lunt-Fontanne, Broadway).

So don't assume that orchestra center seats will allow you to leave your opera glasses at home. Also, side orchestra seats aren't necessarily bad. It depends on how far to the side you are, as well as how close to the stage. The closer you are to the stage, the more you want to be over to the center.

But don't worry if you're in the very last seat on the side of a row. If you're more than six rows back, you shouldn't have much trouble seeing everything.

Mezzanine

"Mezzanine" is a somewhat deceptive term. Only a small number of Broadway theaters actually have genuine mezzanines. The word "mezzanine" comes from the Italian word for "middle," which should technically apply to the section between the orchestra and balcony. However, many Broadway houses have an orchestra and mezzanine but no balcony. Most of them, in fact. So, these "mezzanines" are technically balconies. Why the deception? Ticket sales. The word "balcony" has a certain nose-bleed connotation, and ticket buyers are less spooked by the word "mezzanine." Front mezzanine seats are usually as good as orchestra seats, sometimes better, depending on the show. For a show with visual sweep or intricate choreography, you might be better off in the mezzanine. Be careful of the "rear mezzanine," though, as the term usually only applies to a few rows way, way, way in the back. When ads say that ticket prices "start at $49," it usually only applies to a small handful of seats, and let's just say you might want to bring supplemental oxygen and crampons.

Balcony

Only a few Broadway theaters actually have balconies per se. (See "mezzanine" discussion above.) The balcony seats tend to be pretty high up, but they might be the best choice for the budget-conscious. In fact, you might be better off with front balcony seats than with rear mezzanine, especially at the older theaters, like the Lyceum, the Belasco, and the Shubert.

Box seats

I've often overheard theater patrons exclaiming, "Wow, those box seats must be expensive." Not really. The sight lines for these seats tend to be rather poor, and they are often sold with the warning "obstructed view." So why are these seats even there? Well, when many Broadway theaters were first built, the boxes were for people who wanted to be seen, not for people who wanted to see. In the '20s and '30s, it was not uncommon for theater patrons to arrive fashionably late -- quite on purpose -- so that audience members could witness them arriving in their fancy apparel.

Those days are long gone, and today box seats are often the last seats to sell. But, hey, the boxes usually have actual chairs that you can move around, which is great for people who want a little extra leg room.

On-stage

One recent trend has directors placing seats on the stage, giving patrons a more intimate experience with the show. Recent shows with on-stage seating have included revivals of A View From the Bridge, Twelfth Night, Inherit the Wind, and Equus, as well as original productions of Spring Awakening and Xanadu. Now, these seats are fine if you're looking for a chance to see Daniel Radcliffe or Christopher Plummer up close and personal, but usually you're staring at the back or the sides of their heads. That's why on-stage seats are often sold at discount prices.