Broadway rips a page from the airlines and charges more for the aisle

Did you think it would take long? Broadway theaters, which collectively are Manhattan's top tourist attraction, have figured out a new way to wring a little more out of showgoers: Charge 'em more to sit on the aisle. Hey, it's working for Northwest.

Aisle seats are always the first seats to be sold. They have more legroom, which is in low supply in New York's century-old houses. Although it's considered bad form to dash out to the bathroom in the middle of a live performance, having a spot on the aisle makes emergencies a cinch. Celebs, too, like to sit there since it enables a quick getaway once the curtain comes down.

And the kicker probably won't surprise you: These aisle seats can only be purchased in pairs, one next to the other. Only one of the seats will actually be on the aisle. You'll still pay the extra charge on both, though.So far, only the prime seats in the orchestra section, closest to the stage, are subject to the fee. But as of this month, shows are picking up on the surcharge quickly. Duncan Sheik's popular indie-style musical Spring Awakening is already charging $23 extra for the right to have a bit of legroom. Over at the St. James Theatre, Gypsy, starring Patti LuPone, is asking an extra $18. The peak pricing doesn't just apply to musicals. The upcoming revival of The Seagull, which starts performances with Kristen Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard on Sept. 16, will knock theatergoers for $110 for standard orchestra seats, but $25 for the aisle.

Ever since late 2001, many Broadway shows have charged $250 to $350 for so-called "premium" seats, which have what's considered the best placement. But those seats are few, and they exist mostly to capitalize on late-planning high rollers who insist on getting into the cool shows at the last minute. Regular tourists can easily avoid those. The aisle charge, though, has the potential to inflict knee pain on any wallet-conscious theatergoer over six feet tall.

There could be one side benefit to widespread use of the fee, though. Daniel Radcliffe starts dropping trou daily (sometimes twice daily!) in the revival of Equus starting performances Sept. 5. The gossip bloggers can now pay a little extra to guarantee a quick getaway after snapping their cell-phone pics. Maybe that's why Equus isn't trying aisle surcharges. Yet.

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