Off-Broadway is booming — and it’s a lesson for theaters everywhere

Photos of Titanique, Oh Mary and Job
Off-Broadway shows such as "Titanique," "Job" and "Oh, Mary!" have proved unlikely sell-outs.

Midtown’s swell, but lately New York’s hottest tickets are well below 42nd Street.

While theaters in the city and around the country have struggled in the face of skyrocketing expenses and sagging attendance, a group of commercial off-Broadway shows have bucked the trend and are packing in ticket-buyers.

Two of them, I’m both happy and sad to say, are completely sold out. Another has been chugging along for more than a year.

These hits have little obvious in common with one another. They include a farcical sendup of a long-dead first lady, a campy Céline Dion musical and a serious two-hander play set during a tense therapy session.

Taken together, though, these off-Broadway gems offer an optimistic lesson to theaters everywhere: Clever, appealing, fresh ideas brilliantly executed are what put butts in seats. Now and forever.

“It is an exciting moment, isn’t it?” said Eva Price, producer of “Titanique” at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square East.

“I’ve been producing off-Broadway for over 15 years and I have been waiting for this heyday of off-Broadway to happen for a long time. Honestly, I think it’s the topics, the themes and the tone of the shows which are resonating with audiences. The current crop of off-Broadway shows are a blast, an escape and a balm for these tough times and audiences are craving that type of entertainment.”

The musical “Titanique” has been running at the Daryl Roth Theatre for more than a year. Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
The musical “Titanique” has been running at the Daryl Roth Theatre for more than a year. Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

“Titanique” by Marla Mindelle, Constantine Rousouli and Tye Blue is a raucously funny musical parody of James Cameron’s 1997 film “Titanic” that features many of Dion’s biggest hits such as “My Heart Will Go On” and “All by Myself.” Céline is also the goofy main character.

Ever since the show voyaged from the basement Asylum Theatre in Chelsea to the Daryl Roth in November 2022, it has built a huge fan base thanks to deafening buzz and shrewd marketing.

After the show (and a few glasses of rosé), audience members, often wearing sailor hats, line up to pose for photos with a cardboard cutout of Mindelle as Céline. They’re all over Instagram.

“It caught people by surprise because it was so unexpected, hilarious and unique,” Price said.

“When you give audiences a reason to see a show, either a star name or an insane can’t be experienced anywhere else unhinged musical comedy, they come and see it and then tell their friends to see it. We have had people see it 10, 50 and over 100 times. I’m not kidding.”

“Job” producer Alex Levy said that “really the great unlock is word of mouth. A great number of the people who come to the Connelly are there because a friend told them they had to see this show.” Emilio Madrid
“Job” producer Alex Levy said that “really the great unlock is word of mouth. A great number of the people who come to the Connelly are there because a friend told them they had to see this show.” Emilio Madrid

Producer Alex Levy, whose sold-out “Job” starring Sydney Lemmon and “Succession” actor Peter Friedman plays the Connelly Theater on East 4th Street till March 23, similarly said that about half his downtown drama’s audience has been the under-40 set.

“It meets the moment,” Levy said of the play by Max Wolf Friedlich that recouped its investment in February. “It’s a great piece of writing that really resonates with young audiences, and I think our marketing approach has also clicked.”

Levy added that “really the great unlock is word of mouth. A great number of the people who come to the Connelly are there because a friend told them they had to see this show.”

“Must see” has certainly been said over and over about the outrageous White House comedy “Oh, Mary!” written by and starring Cole Escola as a drunk, narcissistic, loony Mary Todd Lincoln.

“I loved the idea so much that I was scared to write it,” Escola (“Search Party”) recently told The Post’s Nicki Gostin. “Because I wanted it to be as perfect as I had it in my mind.”

The 80-minute “Oh, Mary!” almost immediately earned a reputation as the place to go if you want to laugh. Emilio Madrid
The 80-minute “Oh, Mary!” almost immediately earned a reputation as the place to go if you want to laugh. Emilio Madrid

Its run of more than three months at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street in the West Village is already sold out. And the 80-minute play almost immediately earned a reputation as the place to go if you want to laugh. Hard.

In a four-star review, The Post called the play “the funniest show in town.”

Beyond the sheer quality of these productions, Levy thinks New York’s changing lifestyle and work habits have contributed to audiences seeking out less traditional shows and venues.

Consider that between 2021 and 2022, according to Census Bureau data, 42% of those who moved to NYC were part of Generation Z and 39% were millennials.

“I think it’s partly a consequence of the demise of Midtown office culture,” Levy said.

“On a Wednesday night, who wouldn’t want to see ‘Oh, Mary!’ and get dinner at Libertine across the street, or see ‘Job’ followed by a bite at Superiority Burger? That’s my idea of a good time.”