Even if you're desperate for a show, never, ever buy from 'scalpers' who hang out outside the theatres - your tickets might be forged or stolen, and it's not worth the risk.
Broadway is actually a road that is 15 miles in length, running through Manhattan and the Bronx. The portion it's famous for is a stretch near Times Square, sometimes called the Theater District or the Great White Way - a nickname born from the millions of lights that illuminate its billboards and theatre marquees.
There are a lot of theatres here. 39 of them - many of which are on 42nd Street - are generally regarded as the Broadway theatres, for which distinction they must have 500 seats or more; hundreds of other smaller venues host dance or music. The shows are of the very highest quality, and the vast majority are musicals. The Broadway Musical has been a vastly influential form in theatrical production and in Western culture at large, and here in Manhattan is where it all happens.
Theatre began in New York in the 1750s, with the establishment of a company on Nassau Street; others followed, showing popular Shakespeare plays and ballad operas. Edwin Booth - brother of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth - famously played Hamlet for 100 consecutive performances at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1865 (not to be confused with the current venue that bears the name, which opened in 1911 and remains a prestigious spot to this day). During the latter half of the 19th century, musicals as we know them began to take shape; The Black Crook is considered to be the first, premiering in 1866. Its five-and-a-half hour length didn't stop it running for 474 performances.
As transportation in the city improved and poverty was reduced, plays became more popular; over the following decades Broadway theatre grew and grew, weathered the invention of cinema, and entered a 1950s golden age following Oklahoma! in 1943. Even today, the core repertoire of musicals dates from this era. More recently conceived successes include The Lion King, Wicked, and the wildly popular The Book of Mormon.
If you want to catch a show, avoid scalpers: booking in advance online is often the best bet (though seats for popular shows can sell out fast!), and on the day you might get lucky at the TKTS Booth in Times Square, which sells tickets at 20% to 50% off full price. Prices vary widely according to seating and demand, but it'll be worth it.
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