Special Reports

Story of the Week: Two Off-Broadway Hits Are Moving to Broadway. Is That a Mistake?

Job and Oh, Mary! are transferring to Broadway this summer, but will their off-Broadway success make the leap with them?

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Conrad Ricamora and Cole Escola star in Oh, Mary!, and Sydney Lemon and Peter Friedman star in Job. Both shows are headed to Broadway.
(© Emilio Madrid)

The two Broadway openings slated for July are plays that started downtown: Oh, Mary! (opening July 11 at the Lyceum) and Job (opening July 30 at the Hayes) both played extended runs off-Broadway, garnering positive reviews, strong word-of-mouth, and most importantly, excellent sales at the box office. Will they be able to repeat the trick on Broadway?

Story of the Week will examine their prospects and attempt to answer this question: With production costs soaring, is it even worth moving a hit off-Broadway show to Broadway anymore? But first…

Oh, Mary! What’s the story?

Cole Escola’s gleefully inaccurate historical comedy about washed-up cabaret chanteuse (and first lady of the United States) Mary Todd Lincoln began performances at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on January 26 and very quickly became the must-have ticket of the winter. “No cow is too sacred for slaughter,” I wrote in my review. “If you’re like me, you’ll laugh until there are tears in your eyes.”

Plenty of people agreed, snatching up tickets at eye-watering prices for off-Broadway. The top price for Oh, Mary! was $191 — more than what a lot of Broadway theatergoers will pay tonight. And the run still sold out.

Tony Macht, Bianca Leigh, and Cole Escola appeared in the off-Broadway run of Escola’s Oh, Mary!, directed by Sam Pinkleton.
(© Emilio Madrid)

On April 24, the producers of Oh, Mary! announced a limited 12-week run on Broadway. Speaking from the stage of the Lortel that evening, Escola anticipated the predictable lifecycle of success in the theater by imploring the off-Broadway audience to, “Come back and then you can bring friends and be like, ‘It’s lost some of its magic.’ You’ll get to do that!”

It may lose the snob appeal that comes with acquiring something rare — Oh, Mary! was ever so briefly the Birkin bag of off-Broadway — but will it gain a whole new audience when it moves uptown?

“It was a hot ticket downtown that was impossible to get,” said a Broadway insider who chose to remain anonymous for this article. “I don’t think the show will lose any of its intimacy moving to the Lyceum and I think that there is enough audience in the market to support the limited run.” Our insider estimates the capitalization (that’s the money producers raise from investors) of Oh, Mary! to be between $3.5 and 4 million, close to the bare minimum needed to open a show on Broadway in 2024. It’s absolutely possible to make that back in 12 weeks — although there are no guarantees on Broadway.

9945 Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman in JOB at SoHo Playhouse Ac Emilio Madrid
Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman starred in Max Wolf Friedlich’s Job, directed by Michael Herwitz, at SoHo Playhouse.
(© Emilio Madrid)

And what about Job?

Max Wolf Friedlich’s two-hander depicts an HR-mandated session between an online content moderator and a Bay Area therapist. Actors Sydney Lemmon and Peter Friedman volley verbal barbs in what I described as a “Millennial vs. Boomer death match” in my review of the off-Broadway run.

That run started last September at SoHo Playhouse. The audience was riveted the night I attended, howling and gasping at each new revelation. I haven’t seen the house of that theater so full since Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.

Following its run at SoHo Playhouse, Job reopened in January at the Connelly Theater, where it extended. The Broadway transfer was announced in May, and our Broadway insider thinks this elongated runway in New York might actually harm the show’s prospects for success on Broadway — so much of which is governed by the unstable property of momentum.

Using an example from the outgoing Broadway season, our insider argues, “If Harmony transferred immediately from downtown, it would have had momentum.” The Barry Manilow-Bruce Sussman musical played a successful run off-Broadway in spring of 2022, but didn’t make it to Broadway until the fall of 2023, closing after a disappointing 96 performances and 24 previews.

Steven Telsey, Blake Roman, Danny Kornfeld, Chip Zien, Eric Peters, Sean Bell, and Zal Owen starred in Harmony on Broadway.
(© Julieta Cervantes)

Whether or not Job has lost momentum remains to be seen, but the Broadway production does have plenty going for it: The writing is excellent, and the performances are battle tested. It’s just two actors, which helps to keep production costs low. And it’s performing in the Hayes, the very smallest Broadway theater at 581 seats — practically off-Broadway!

But it’s on Broadway…

Yes, and that comes with higher rents, a higher pay scale for Broadway’s heavily unionized workforce, and additional production costs that have vastly outpaced inflation in recent years. But there’s also the potential to charge higher ticket prices to more people per performance. When Oh, Mary! played the Lortel, it could only seat 295 people every performance, but the Lyceum can seat 922. The financial risk of producing on Broadway is greater, but so is the potential return.

There’s also the appeal of having the “Broadway” label attached to a play, and the potential to be nominated for a Tony Award (both Job and Oh, Mary! are limited runs and will be closed by the time the 2025 Tony nominations are announced — but the nominators are much better at recognizing closed shows than the voters). Of course, Tony Awards don’t produce the box office draw they once did, and I doubt anyone outside of the industry has a very clear idea of the difference between Broadway and off-Broadway. In Ohio, where I grew up, most people assume that anything playing in New York is “Broadway.”

Our insider still sees a use for the Broadway brand, arguing that “it adds value to the title for stock and amateur productions” — though that’s not enough of a reason to throw money behind a production that will obviously never make it back. “A transfer wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t a plan in place that allows for recoupment.” How tethered these plans are to reality is, of course, another matter.

Alyse Alan Louis and Jason Gotay starred in the off-Broadway production of Michael R. Jackson and Anna K. Jacobs’s Teeth, directed by Sarah Benson, at Playwrights Horizons.
(© Chelcie Parry)

Must every off-Broadway hit move to Broadway?

No. The producers of Teeth, the campy bacchic horror musical by Michael R. Jackson and Anna K. Jacobs, have opted to reopen the show off-Broadway at New World Stages this fall — just in time for Halloween. They are likely guided by history.

Teeth follows a path blazed by Little Shop of Horrors, which ran for five years in its initial off-Broadway production and is now approaching the five-year mark since the currently running revival opened at the Westside Theatre (an unloved Broadway production transpired in between). The current revival has long since recouped and continues to enjoy healthy ticket sales with an ever-refreshing list of celebrities joining the cast. Off-Broadway is Little Shop’s happy place.

And then there is Titaníque, a similarly zany musical that reframes the James Cameron blockbuster from the perspective of Celine Dion. I originally saw it in the basement of a Gristedes Mega Store in Chelsea, but it moved to the Daryl Roth Theatre off-Broadway in 2022 and has lived there ever since. It is possible to mount a successful open-ended run of a musical off-Broadway — and for some titles, it is preferable to Broadway.

We’ll know if the producers of Job and Oh, Mary! made the right choice by the end of September, when both productions are slated to close. In this climate, making it to the originally announced end of the run will be seen as a victory.

Featured In This Story

Teeth

Performances begin: October 1, 2024

Job

Final performance: September 29, 2024

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Oh, Mary!

Final performance: September 15, 2024