When we think of long-running shows in New York City, our minds instantly go to the two big ones: The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running musical in Broadway history, and Chicago, the longest-running American musical in Broadway history.
But a few blocks away (or downtown) there are plenty of smaller shows defying the odds with astonishingly long runs off-Broadway. Here's our list of 11 venerable classics that have defied expectations for years.
1. Perfect Crime (opened April 18, 1987)
This year, on December 12, Warren Manzi's Perfect Crime celebrates its 13,000th performance since opening in 1987. Playing at the Theater Center in Times Square, the mystery thriller is New York City's longest-running play. And it shows no signs of slowing down, even though audiences are often scarce and the plot is believed to be so indecipherable that the theater offers an answer key to patrons following each performance. Just as constant as the production is its leading lady, Catherine Russell, who has not only starred in the show for all 30 years of its run (missing only four performances in total and holding a Guinness World Record because of it), but also serves as the theater's general manager, house manager, box office salesperson, and occasional plumber, too.
2. Blue Man Group (opened November 17, 1991)
Blue Man Group grew out of the collaboration between a trio of friends, Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink, who wanted to throw a funeral for the 1980s. Painting their faces blue and marching through Central Park, they burned a piece of the Berlin Wall and a Rambo doll, thrilling the avant-garde theater crowd and eventually leading them to venues like La MaMa and P.S. 122. Their series of artistic disturbances (that grew to include instrumental elements) in hip venues led to a sitdown run at the Astor Place Theatre in 1991, and it hasn't left since. Owned by Cirque du Soleil since 2017, Blue Man Group has become a worldwide phenomenon, currently running in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Berlin. Hopefully, Tobias Fünke will eventually get to go on.
3. Stomp (opened February 27, 1994)
Alongside Blue Man Group, this wordless percussive spectacle reigns supreme over downtown's off-Broadway scene. Brooms, garbage cans, your own hands and feet: You can find a rhythm in anything when you live in the city that never stops making noise. Like a fine wine, Stomp has slowly developed a rare vintage: Americans who remember the production's ubiquitous television commercial from the late '90s can gleefully indulge their nostalgia eight times a week at the Orpheum. Yep, it's still running — and stomping!
4. Naked Boys Singing! (opened July 22, 1999)
In case the title doesn't tell you everything, the opening number of this popular musical revue promises an evening of "gratuitous nudity." Perhaps that is why it has run continuously since 1999. Written around gay male themes, Naked Boys Singing! has somewhat surprisingly become a popular destination for bachelorette parties. Beware, though: Performances currently only take place at the decidedly unsexy hour of 6pm on Saturdays, so we advise that you treat this show like the overture to a grander night. Still, in an age when most off-Broadway musicals don't last more than a few months, NBS! keeps the dream alive through naked ambition.
5. Gazillion Bubble Show (opened February 15, 2007)
Meet Fan Yang, an internationally acclaimed bubble artist. The holder of 16 Guinness World Records — for things like encapsulating 22 people inside a single bubble — Yang is also the producer and one of the stars of The Gazillion Bubble Show, which has run continuously at New World Stages since 2007. The show is a family affair onstage and off. When Yang himself isn't performing, audiences may see his wife, Ana, one of their children, Deni or Melody, or even his brother, Jano, onstage. Yang has been seen on television shows ranging from Late Night With David Letterman to The View, but there's nothing like seeing the bubbles come to life in person.
6. The Quantum Eye: Magic Deceptions (opened November 24, 2007; closed October 12, 2010; reopened January 18, 2014)
Sam Eaton's eclectic display of magic and mentalism is the longest-running solo show in New York. Eaton relies entirely on audience participation, so we suggest you keep your dirty thoughts at home lest you want them shared with the crowd at Theatre 80. Performing every Saturday at 4pm, Eaton packs his wonder into 90 minutes — giving you enough time to catch a quick cab uptown to make the 6pm showing of Naked Boys Singing.
7. Avenue Q (opened October 21, 2009)
Avenue Q is the little show that could. Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, and Jeff Whitty's hilarious and heartwarming musical about humans and puppets struggling to find their purpose in the world premiered at the Vineyard Theatre in February 2003, before moving to Broadway's Golden Theatre that summer. Running against the mammoth Wicked for Best Musical Tony Award in 2014, Avenue Q not only won the top prize, but also took home trophies for Best Book and Score. It played 2,534 performances on Broadway before its 2009 closing…and then moved back off-Broadway to New World Stages, where it has continuously run ever since. And it's still just as fuzzy and funny as it was on 2003.
8. NEWSical the Musical (opened December 9, 2009)
Running in the same theater as Naked Boys Singing!, this ever-evolving musical revue draws its material from the headlines — meaning that you can return and see a totally different show. Approaching a decade of continuous performance, NEWSical has counted among its cast D-list celebrities like blogger Perez Hilton, original Annie Andrea McArdle, and SNL alum Cheri Oteri. Longtime cast member Christine Pedi (whose Liza impersonation is the best in the biz) leads the current four-person cast. With the news cycle spinning faster than ever, these are boom times for NEWSical, The Musical.
9. Sleep No More (opened March 7, 2011)
Mum is still the word when it comes to Sleep No More, created by the British company Punchdrunk and running since 2011 at the specially built McKittrick Hotel inside a block of warehouses in Chelsea. The immersive, interactive, and environmental experience invites audiences to don a mask and choose their own adventure as they explore different rooms and scenarios that overall tell the story of Shakespeare's Macbeth (with a little bit of Hitchcock's Rebecca thrown in). If the show isn't your thing, just head to any number of the McKittrick's bars or restaurants for a different kind of evening that could include anything from torch song singers to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
10. Sistas: The Musical (opened October 23, 2011)
As one of just two book musicals on this list, Sistas deserves special praise. It tells the story of three black sisters (and their white sister-in-law) digging through the attic of a recently deceased matriarch. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the last century and what it has meant for black women. It also provides an opportunity to sing some of the best songs from that time, from "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" to "Single Ladies." Playing every Saturday and Sunday at 4:30pm, Sistas is a great after-church (or pre-cocktail-hour) activity.
11. Then She Fell (opened October 6, 2012)
Think of this as a more exclusive version of Sleep No More. Running continuously since 2012, Then She Fell invites only 15 audience members per performance to explore a dream world inspired by Lewis Carroll and his Alice stories. Enjoy face time with the Red Queen over a cordial, or squeeze into a closet with Alice herself. Each performance is intimate and highly personal, taking place in at the Kingsland Ward at St. John's in East Williamsburg, a disorienting wonderland unto itself.