Just in time for audiences and Broadway, the half-price ticket booth re-opens

New York City's beloved half-price TKTS ticket booth, a kiosk in the middle of Times Square which sells same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway performances, is finally back in service after two and a half years of languishing through construction delays, ghastly cost overruns, and a miserable temporary location in an exhaust-choked breezeway nearby. And just in time. The arts could use a little love these days.

At Thursday's ribbon cutting with Mayor Mike Bloomberg and 60-year-old Kewpie Bernadette Peters, it was announced that Target would be buying up the first 1,000 tickets and giving them to the first people in line. The announcement was made too late for us to make use of the deal (they probably surprised us because the last thing New York City needs is an impromptu mob scene in the middle of Times Square), but hey, good for all those unsuspecting tourists.

The old booth, which shut down way back in early 2006, was about as sturdy as a porta-potty and about as welcoming as the bus station. Signs were frequently no more than hand-scratched improvisations, there were too few windows, and too-long lines wound through one of the city's most pigeon-pooped patches of ugly asphalt.

The new version, though, gives cheapsters some respect. Before, TKTS didn't take anything but cash, so tourists had to stuff hundreds of bucks in their pockets and then line up in the middle of New York City's busiest area. Not ideal. Finally, the new booth takes credit cards. There's even a window that sells only plays (meaning no musicals), by far the less popular theatrical mode for Broadway and tourists alike.

Using TKTS, which is sort of like a fire sale for shows with unsold seats, a $110 musical will cost $55, plus a few dollars in service charges. Plays cost even less, depending on their top ticket price (sit in the back, and you can pay under $45). Shows with extreme popularity like Wicked and Jersey Boys don't make half-price appearances while they're selling out, but you can still nab some scores, such as seeing Daniel Radcliffe in Equus and Katie Holmes in All My Sons.

Even halving the ticket price has created huge benefits for Broadway. Over the years, 51 million tickets have been sold generating $1.4 billion for the theaters. Many shows that would have died early deaths because of tough economics have found extended lives by selling through the booth.

True, the return of TKTS comes too late for a slew of Broadway shows that just closed or are about to (including Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Xanadu, and [title of show]) for lack of business. Still, for theater fans who couldn't otherwise afford to indulge in this expensive American tradition, the booth is a godsend. Not quite a bargain for a reported $19 million, but still.

Strange to think that New York City theatergoers often pay less than people in Dallas or Seattle for the same shows. But a few other American cities have similar booths. San Francisco's Tix is grafted into the back of a See's chocolate store in in Union Square. Chicago's HotTix is just east of the Loop and near Water Tower Place. Apropos of a car-centric city, Los Angeles' La Stage Tix likes to sell its deals online.

But in those cities, the arts scene is spread widely. New York City's booth is one of the only ones that's actually located in the midst of the prime neighborhood for the biggest shows. Times Square, which is less of a proper square and more of a big X created by intersecting streets, is the hub of the most commercial shows.

The roof of the Times Square Building, overlooking what's officially called Duffy Square, has been given over to a tiered amphitheater-style cascade of lighted stairs, seating up to 500, that actually serves as a place to soak up the city's so-called "crossroads of the world." You might actually want to hang out there and admire Times Square even if you aren't buying a knockoff Coach purse. (No predictions on how the thick glass steps are going to age, though. It's gleaming now, but give them a few years.) That means that on top of the full return of a budget lifesaver, New York City has also gained a much-needed place to sit and rest in the thick of things.

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