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Best seat in the house

It’s a great feeling to have tickets for a special show. You look forward to the night, spiff yourself up … and end up straining your neck to see the stage from an obstructed view.

We hope to help you avoid that kind of scenario by offering a guide to the best seat in the house for Pittsburgh-area venues.

To begin with, look at seating charts when purchasing tickets by phone or online. When buying in person, ask to see where the seats are before you buy. The ticket sellers should have seating charts handy at the window.

Those with long legs should look for seats on the aisle to give themselves a little more room to stretch out during performances. Likewise, if you know you’ll need to make a rush to the restroom at intermission, an aisle seat will help you get there faster and avoid those long lines.

Short people would do well buying tickets for the front center of the first balcony, eliminating the need to ask the studio wrestler in front of you to kindly remove his head.

If you suspect a show contains opportunities for direct audience-performer interaction — being recruited to go on stage and “assist” the performers — and that sounds like a form of torture for you, choose a seat in the center of a row at least two-thirds of the way back. To save time, the performers are most likely to recruit from the aisle seats in rows close to the stage.

Bear in mind that — for better or worse — the seats located beneath balcony overhangs often are warmer than, say, orchestra seats where the hot air has more space to rise. Also, theaters such as Heinz Hall and the Benedum locate air vents for heating and cooling beneath some seats. They’re likely to produce warm and cool spots depending on the season and use of heating or air conditioning. If that matters to your comfort, ask the box-office manager before buying your tickets.

And now, for more specific advice:

Benedum Center

For theater performances, seat 21 or 22 in row G or H of the Orchestra is the best to be had. These seats are on the aisle, in the sections left or right of center. That means you’re looking at the stage on a slight diagonal so that the aisle, rather than someone’s head, is in your direct line of sight. That’s a plus for those of us who are short.

It’s also a good seat for those with long legs as you get a little more stretching room as you angle your legs toward — please, not into — the aisle.

If you’re watching a big-cast, spectacular musical such as “The Lion King” or “42nd Street,” you might be just as happy in row AA, seat 116 of the balcony, which gives you a wide-angle, unrestricted view of all the action and movement.

For more intimate shows — such as last season’s “Doubt” or this season’s “Avenue Q,” you’ll want to sit close. We suggest rows F and G in the orchestra.

Try to avoid far left or far right on the orchestra level. They provide severe angles.

If being close enough to see the actors sweat is your idea of a good time, get seat 107 in any row AA through FF in the center section of the Grand Circle. The downside is you’ll miss the wide-angle vision of the total picture that you’d get by sitting farther back.

If you like to beat the crowd to the parking lot, choose a seat toward the back of the orchestra — row P or farther in either 21, 22, 101 or 116 — which should get you up the aisle and out the center doors without much waiting.

The “ego seats” in the Grand Circle, the section closest to the stage — are an exciting place to view comedians such as Lewis Black, who performs there in November. And they were terrific seats from which to watch David Bowie’s 2005 concert. The Grand Circle also is a cool place to be “seen.”

The fundamental acoustics of the Benedum are excellent for opera performances, with even resonance from bass to high notes. Nevertheless, the best seats are upstairs. That’s because downstairs, there’s too little orchestra sound from the pit.

For dance, sitting close to the stage downstairs makes it easier to follow details of footwork, but the view from upstairs is much better for appreciating the choreographic use of space.

Heinz Hall

For concerts, most people will consider the front-center seats of Dress Circle the best in Heinz Hall for their combination of view and sound. The seats farther back in the gallery have even better blends of sound, while many seats downstairs have more impact than the Dress Circle.

Downstairs in the center is better than on the far sides, with rows 5 through 12 especially good. Seats under the balconies downstairs have surprisingly good sound.

For theater, in general, rows G, H and J are far enough back to see the big picture without having to use opera glasses to see the actors’ expressions.

Choose aisle seats left or right of center for better visibility if you’re short or for a little more leg room if you’re tall.

If you’re going to see a musical, you might want to opt for a seat in the Dress Circle section, the second balcony. It’s higher up than the first balcony Grand Tier and something of a climb. But the seats there are farther forward. Front rows provide a good, unobstructed overview for dance numbers, and amplification makes sure you don’t miss a word of the lyrics.

The front-center seats of the Grand Tier offer loads of leg room. For a visual performance, avoid the side seats of the Grand Tier, which offer views of heads and shoulders rather than the stage.

If it’s a stage play you’re going to see, definitely sit farther forward than you ordinarily might choose. Heinz Hall is huge and was designed to support symphonic music performances. Rows F through G would be best.

Those wishing to exit most efficiently should sit in aisle seats of the left-of-center section, row P or farther back. Once you exit the auditorium, you’ll avoid the lobby bottlenecks by making an immediate right and proceeding through the exit doors onto Penn Avenue.

Byham Theater

The acoustics at the Byham Theater are dry, which is good for understanding words but provides no flattering glow for sound. For concerts, the best seats are upstairs. Especially avoid the far sides near the stage on the main floor. Seats in the center section of the hall in front of the balcony overhang provide the best viewing and hearing.

In general, rows J and M, seats 21 and 22 are fine for theatrical performances. These aisle seats give you an unobscured view of the stage — especially row M, which is the first one after the cross-aisle breaks left and right of center.

Mezzanine seats 107 and 108 in row AA put you in the front row with a wide-angle, unobstructed, slightly elevated view that’s good for dance programs and musicals with lots of dance. But there’s a caveat. The Byham’s balcony seats offer about as much legroom as coach seats on a small plane. Even the short-legged will feel their knees pressing against the barrier.

Also, be aware that you don’t want to sit in balcony seat 44 or 46 in rows H through L or seat 45-D or 46-C, which offer restricted views.

For a more intimate space, go for the small two-, three- and four-seat boxes in the rear and sides of the floor. These are slightly elevated over the floor seating and offer more private and spacious seating, as well as handicapped accessibility for five of them. The boxes are numbered 105 through 108 and 111 through 115.

If you like to get out fast, fast, fast, choose any seat from 22 through 34 in row M. That puts you right next to the aisle on the far-right wall. Exiting up that aisle puts you closer to the outer lobby for a quick, no-fuss exit.

O’Reilly Theater

The O’Reilly features a thrust stage, which means the audience surrounds the stage on three sides. The theater is small enough that most seats offer terrific vantage points. Avoid the upstairs side seats from 301 through 314 and 101 through 114 in rows K and L, as well as rows 113 through 138 and 313 through 338 in row S.

Go for seat 210 in row C or D. It’s smack in the center of the action, but back far enough to feel like an observer rather than a participant. Seat 236, row K, just above the section break, offers elevation for those who like to see the patterns.

The seats in row S in the back of the theater — 101 through 112, 201 through 241 and 301 through 312 — offer a pleasant difference from standard theater seating. These are individual chairs, which can be turned to the best sight line or to slide a little closer to your honey.

Kelly-Strayhorn Theater

Most of the seats in this 400-seat hall are fine, but, by far, the best ones are in the center section in the second tier. This is not a balcony by any means, just seating raised about 18 inches behind a center passage. That provides a clear view and, because of the venue’s size, puts a person only nine rows back.

Carnegie Music Hall

Beautiful sound is available throughout Carnegie Music Hall, but it is especially well-balanced in the balconies. However, there’s little leg room upstairs, and not enough even for short people in seats at the back of the hall downstairs. Also, there is no air conditioning, which makes concerts during warm weather risky and obviously is more of a problem upstairs.

Orchestra-level seats in front of the balconies provide good viewing, hearing and a feeling of openness.

CLO Cabaret

The CLO Cabaret is so different from other theater spaces that it’s worth a note or two. The configuration changes from show to show. But some basic considerations remain constant. Because it’s cabaret, closer definitely is better. Ask for a table that’s in the center but one row back from ringside. This enables you to enjoy the intimacy of the cabaret experience without feeling like the actors are watching you instead of vice-versa.

Synod Hall

This is one of the most sensitive halls in Pittsburgh. The sound comes off the stage with such vibrancy that the period instruments heard at the Renaissance and Baroque Society sound full, and modern instruments can overpower the hall.

While the balcony provides an interesting visual perspective, the downstairs seats sound great, too. Avoid the far sides downstairs, and remember there’s little leg room in the balcony.

Hazlett Theater

Because most theater groups pretty much confine themselves to using a single center section of seats on the ground floor, there’s not a bad seat to be had. The rows rise enough that you’re likely to be able to see over the heads of anyone seated in front of you.

Row D or farther back lets you watch the action while remaining slightly detached.

If a quick getaway is your preference, sit on the right aisle and you can exit quickly into the lobby and out through the side door.

Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse

There really are no bad seats, because no seat at the compact venue is more than 65 feet away from the stage.

Having said that, depending on your tastes and priorities, some areas are better than others. Usually, the front-center section is thought to have the best view, although performers usually are good about moving around the stage so that, at times, they face the sections to the right and left of the stage.

Yet both the right and left sections have their advantages. If you can stand the tobacco smell, the smoking section — the section to the left of the stage, when facing it — gives you the best insider’s seat, which is perfect if you have backstage passes. That’s where people line up against the wall for the meet-and-greet sessions. If you are sitting on that side, you can react quickly and grab your place. The smoking section also contains the door through which the performers sometimes pass to appear onstage, so there’s a chance for close encounters there.

The section to the right of the stage has the greatest distance from the smoke, and it often has a more calm, secluded feel to it. This is a good place for families with kids. It is, however, farthest from the bathroom.

,span class=”subhead”> Carnegie Lecture Hall

Easily, the best seats are those on floor level of this semi-circular room. The middle of the second tier provides a good rival, though.

Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

The seats in this 350-seat hall are divided by a center row. The best, then, are anywhere near those steps but above the first four rows. Down lower, you’ll end up being level with the stage and seeing only the performers in the front. Also, microphone booms for recording, which happens frequently, can block vision occasionally.

A.J. Palumbo Center

While there might be no good seats for listening, the best ones for viewing would be the so-called blue seats on the first level.

Palace Theatre

The best seats at this Greensburg venue would be in the first row of the balcony, where sound and vision both are excellent.

Mellon Arena

Everyone thinks they would like to be right in front of the stage. But the best seats are at the sides of the stage, in sections A6 and B6, and A26 and B26. At this angle, the view is wider, more panoramic, with excellent sightlines. And unless the folks in the first row stand up, the view is unobstructed.

Club Cafe

There are very few bad seats in the house, save a few tables that are near posts. But the best seats are a couple of bar stools in an alcove near the rear of the venue. They provide a slightly higher view of the stage and are convenient: To one’s right, the bar is a few steps away; to one’s left, the bathrooms.

Standing room only

Mr. Small’s Funhouse: Because there are no seats in Mr. Small’s, you have to stand. The prime spots, comfort-wise, are anywhere along the serpentine divider that separates the non-alcoholic area from the area where beverages are available. The view is good, and there’s support for creaky backs by way of the divider. The other prime vantage point is the left side of the venue, right around the corner from the entrance. The sightline is good, and you’re removed from those packing the front of the stage. But, beware: You’re also right in front of the speakers. Earplugs are suggested.

Diesel: There are no seats, and if you want to drink, you have to go upstairs. The balcony lets you look at the band from almost directly above, to the right or left side — a nice perspective.

Rex Theatre: Most people stand for most shows — but there are several rows of seats to each side, along the wall. Sometimes, these are a great place to take a break, but you can’t see if the show is crowded.


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