Out for a summer family afternoon on
One offer includes a seemingly nice discount for "Cirque Shanghai: Year of the Dragon," the annual summer Chinese acrobat show on Navy Pier. But you have to buy the "Emperor's Circle" premium seats. Huh, I thought. I've seen that show enough times to know it doesn't matter where you sit — I'd argue the better seats actually are farther back. You'd be better off skipping the discount and buying the cheaper seats.
But is that true everywhere?
No. Let's take "La Soiree," the fine, and very adult, boudoir circus at the
So how do you know what decision to make? When to buy the more expensive seats — a practice known as "scaling" in the business — is a dilemma faced by theatergoers, except those for whom money is no object. Sometimes, of course, your budget makes the choice for you. All my formative theater-going experiences took place from the cheapest seats. And some of this is a matter of personal taste. But let's try and make some general observations.
In the big downtown venues, you're generally better on the main floor, even if that means on the sides or at the back. That's my preference at the Chicago Theatre, which actually has good sightlines from the sides because of the very large stage. The tops of sets can be cut off at venues like the
The Steppenwolf mainstage and Goodman's Albert Theatre or Royal George Theatre main floors also offer excellent seats, although I do think it's worth the expense to avoid all three of those balconies. I think the otherwise-wonderful Goodman space has a few main-floor seats that are too close for an ideal experience.
If you're going to "Million Dollar Quartet" at the
You can sit anywhere at Lookingglass Theatre (seating configurations vary), the Biograph Theatre (seats at the back are just fine and really not far away), Court Theatre (it's all the same there) and the Northlight Theatre (where the sides offer good views). At Chicago Shakespeare's Courtyard Theater, the cheaper balcony seats are fine as long as they are not far down the sides, where the combination of height and the side view can be limiting.
The Marriott in Lincolnshire and the Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace both price all their seats the same (as do most storefront theaters in Chicago), which makes sense. The Paramount Theatre in Aurora is a very deep room; you're better off toward the front, even if that means being on the side. And I'm fond of the seats at the Auditorium Theatre, where the main floor rises on a steep rake — the views there are excellent, even from the sides.
Sometimes you'll encounter price difference based on days of the week, which seems like a no-brainer. But consider this: The game is raised for the actors on a Saturday night.
Of course, how you buy these seats is just as significant as where you sit. All the various deals forums are fodder for another column. But you're always better off seeing a great show from lousy seats than a lousy show from great seats. You'd be surprised how many people forget that incontrovertible truth.