Image: Lion King
Joan Marcus
Even though Disney's 'The Lion King' has been on Broadway for years and has no closing date in sight, the show is undeniably better than ever. Theatergoers still need to purchase tickets months in advance.
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updated 9/29/2008 9:39:22 AM ET 2008-09-29T13:39:22

"They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there’s always magic in the air ..." Through this classic song, we get a glimpse into the wonderful world of New York Theater. "The Great White Way", as it is nicknamed precisely because of the neon lights on the marquees, is one of the top destinations for any true thespian or, for that matter, traveler.

The 2007-2008 Broadway season grossed $937.5 million, with over 12 million tickets being sold. With 39 official theaters, and shows closing and opening all the time, picking the right one can be a challenge. There’s also style to consider—is it for the whole family or more of a couple’s night out? Should you see a play or a musical? Comedy or drama? With so many possibilities, and the best shows selling out months in advance, it’s important to know which ones out there are really worth seeing.

"Jersey Boys" is still one of the hottest tickets in town, but the 2008 Tony Award Winner for best musical went to a true New York story: "In the Heights" features hip-hop, salsa, Latin and rap influences—making for an unconventional sound. Adam Feldman, theater critic for Time Out New York, says, “It’s definitely the new musical hit this year. The mixture of a traditional plot with music that feels fresh and modern works very well—it’s brought back an emphasis of character through lyrics.” At over 95 percent capacity every night, audiences definitely agree.

If you’re in the mood for a traditional experience, "Gypsy" was a smash hit revival of this year as well as a big 2008 Tony winner, with Tonys going to its three lead actors including Patty Lupone as Mama Rose. David Cote, another theater critic from Time Out New York, says it’s his pick because: “It just grabs you by the lapels. It’s brassy, sexy and aggressive. Patty Lupone just blows the roof off of the theater. And really, there aren’t that many heart-warming musicals about a stripper.”

A lighter revival is "Boeing Boeing", based on a '60s French play. It’s the story of a lovely architect living in Paris who tries to juggle three fiancées who happen to be even lovelier flight attendants. His scheme works thanks to his reliance on timetables and the connivance of his French maid Berthe but falls apart when they all show up at his swanky bachelor pad on the same day. Bernadette Peters, spotted in the audience on a Wednesday night in early September, said about the high-energy farce, “I loved it! I thought it was great.” One cast member who elevates the show to something close to greatness is the incomparable Christine Baranski, who filmgoers will recognize from "Mamma Mia!"

If the singing and dancing of musical theater doesn’t appeal to you, there’s always a great play. "August: Osage County" is hands down the hit play of the season, winning awards including a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play. It is a captivating look into the life of a middle American family torn apart and brought together over the death of its patriarch. The 3 ½ hour running time flies by, with captivating dialogue by Tracy Letts and equally stunning performances. Michael Musto, columnist for The Village Voice says, “It’s such great theater that the length isn’t an issue. It was so engrossing that it never seemed long.”

Image: Billy Elliot
Alastair Muir
Over two million people worldwide have already experienced the smash-hit musical 'Billy Elliot'. With a plot that audiences of all backgrounds can relate to, and a rock score by the legendary Elton John, it's clear why tickets are already selling out.

Two upcoming, sure hits are "Equus" and "All My Sons". "Equus" is coming off a successful run in London’s West End, and "All My Sons" won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1947. While both plays could stand as hits on the strength of their material alone, they will most likely generate lots of buzz because of a common factor: celebrity casting. Whether or not critics will praise Daniel Radcliffe’s (aka Harry Potter) performance in "Equus" or Katie Holmes in "All My Sons", it definitely will be a struggle to get tickets for either show.

Mr. Cote says celebrity casting is a reality of today’s Broadway shows, because “big names are one of the only ways to attract an audience to the theater these days.” And while critics like Mr. Musto say, “I’m not going to see "All My Sons" to see Katie Holmes, I’ll probably see it despite Katie Holmes,” history illustrates that movie stars can sell out seats in the blink of an eye. Julia Roberts’ stint on Broadway in 2006’s "Three Days of Rain" was not particularly loved by the critics- but performances sold out nearly every night regardless. And if Katie Holmes doesn’t float your boat, then check out Kristin Scott Thomas in the limited-run revival of Chekhov’s "The Seagull".

Image: Lincoln Center Theater, "South Pacific"
Joan Marcus
A Rogers and Hammerstein classic, 'South Pacific' is perfection from beginning to end.  With sold-out performances, it's worth getting tickets months in advance.
Whichever show you choose, one thing is for sure—it’s harder than ever to get tickets. If you can, try to get them months in advance to ensure great seats to your top pick (check out NYCVisit.com). For last minute hopefuls, there’s always the box office at the theater where lotteries and cancellations occur every night. And barring that, think of Wednesday as Saturday—you’ll have a better chance at better seats and be treated to an audience with more New Yorkers than tourists. And it’ll be easier to find a table for dinner after the show, too.

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