The play's the thing
Theaters, shows, and plays in Europe and how to get tickets
Whether it's the familiar tunes of Phantom or Mamma Mia on London's West End, the arias of Aïda in the ancient Roman amphitheater of Verona, a rock concert in Berlin, or a chamber music performance in a baroque Prague hall, make a point of stepping out at least once in Europe and doing a full-blown High Culture night on the town.
The British Isles is where you can stoke your brain with the memorable lines and repartee of plays and such, if only because because Shakespeare's a bit harder to follow in Spanish or Slovenian.
Find out what's on when at, er, Whatsonwhen.comThat said, I did once witness a memorable performance of Macbeth on an Amsterdam stage that was put on by a troupe of Japanese actors kitted out in full samurai gear. I was also 12 at the time, and my advice is this: if you want a 12-year-old boy to be seriously impressed by Shakespeare, find some way to work in lots of samurai swords and furious yelling in Japanese, even—wait, especially—if it's Romeo and Juliet.
In other countries, it might be wiser to stick to the opera, classical concerts, ballet, or freaky experimental theater that makes no sense in any language.
I'll do up a list of all top performance halls later, but for now, here are the best of the best:
- La Scala in Milan
- Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London
- The Staatsoper in Vienna
- The Opera Bastille in Paris
- The Arena di Verona
There, that should hold you over.
Actually, as I am off to London tomorrow night—where I hope to enjoy many a show and play —I don't really have time to do a decent little essay on cultural nightlife in Europe right now. Packing, you see, takes priority. However, I have already put in the most important links below for securing tickets before you go.
Not that you really need to get tix before taking off for most shows, concerts, plays, operas, and other staged events (unless they're massive popular or one-time-only productions). For the most part, you can get tickets at the door of the theater around 1pm on the day of performance, and usually for less than the official rate.
Keith Prowse (www.keithprowse.com) — If missing that one show will spoil your trip, book ahead with KP. You will pay full price, but the agency has tix at all the important venues in London (including Wimbledon, soccer games, and the Chelsea Flower Show), Germany, Paris (cabaret, mostly), and Dublin.
Use a reseller (StubHub.com, TicketsNow.com, TheaterMania.com, Razorgator.com, EZTicketSearch.com) - I'm not sure how this happened, but somehow once we entered the age of the Internet, scalping tickets online has become a perfectly legal enterprise. (Oddly enough, doing it in person in the parking lot before the game or show can still get you arrested.) I don't know if I'd trust the tickets that pop up on Craigslist or eBay, but the so-called resellers listed above are all perfectly legal and you know that the cut-rate tickets you buy from them—for everything from opera to sporting events to rock concerts to festivals—will be honored at the gate or box office.
First, there's the classic way to get discounted tickets: simply show up at any theater's box office an hour or two before the doors open and get in line, hoping to get a discounted ticket on a cancellation or a no-show. Sometimes you strike it rich (among others, I once got to see Dame Judi Dench perform Shakespeare on London's West End for half price). Sometimes you go away empty-handed and have to find something else to do for the evening.
Or you can you can game the system by getting cut-rate tickets by going to a so-called Half-price ticket booth (where the discount is not usually actually half-off, despite the title, but at least you nab tickets for 10% to 25% less).
London's Half-Price Ticket Booth (www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts) — No trip to London is complete with standing in line (er, excuse me: "queueing") at the half-price ticket booth on the south end of Leicester ("Lester") Square, which in fall 2003 was rebranded TKTS (just like the ones in New York) to set it off from the also-ran ticket pushers in the neighborhood. This Website is also the Official London Theatre Guide.
Le Kiosque Theatre, Paris—No Website, no phone, just half-priced tickets at a kiosk on place de Madeleine in Paris (with a second branch at the Parvis de la Gare Montparnasse). It's open Tuesday to Saturday from 12:30 to 8pm, Sunday 12:30 to 4pm.
HekTicket, Berlin (www.hekticket.de) Half-price tickets in Berlin. Two locations: in the entrance hall of the German bank on Hardenbergstrasse, near the zoo; and at the Alexanderplatz S-Bahn station on Alex Karl Liebknecht Strasse (cash only).
New York's Half-Price Ticket Booth (Tdf.org/tkts) —Spanking new booth on the spanking newly pedestrianized Times Square offers cut rates on Broadway shows and musicals.