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Aisle Seat: Off-Broadway Big Apple Bargains

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

Katie Holmes stars in the new dramedy, The Wanderers
Katie Holmes stars in the new dramedy, The Wanderers

Don’t despair if you missed last month’s two-for-one Broadway ticket promotion. Bargain price New York theater is still within reach, if you move fast. No pressure, but tri-state locals jump on them in nanoseconds, because proximity and weirdly warm winter weather encourages the bridge-and-tunnel folk. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Off-Broadway shows are stepping up with their own two-for-one deals, from February 13th-March 5th.

And where can you purchase half-price tickets? TKTS and TDF! Win/Win!

Can’t think of a better time than the dead of winter (even during a snowless season here in NYC) to participate in Gotham’s charms and throngs. We’ve had cold snaps (Polar Vortex ring a bell?) to speak of and the above average temperatures, unseasonably warm. Gleeful tourists abound, but in fewer midtown packs. And no slush puddles to avoid.

Restaurants are easier to get into without reservations. On matinee days (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday) shoot for breakfast. Diners are hit or miss but hands down Theater District-favorite is Friedman’s Restaurant in midtown’s Edison Hotel.

The famed Polish Tea Room
The famed Polish Tea Room

It’s a hallowed spot, formerly known as the Polish Tea Room, with grumpy wait staff

forever pushing the matzo ball soup. It was delicious. Everything, delicious and generously portioned.

The Polish Tea Room was the lunch spot for actors pausing for a bite between shows. Songs have been written about the joint and a Broadway play, 45 Minutes to Broadway (with Marian Seldes!) lasted maybe 45 minutes. Close, but no cigar.

The waiters now are outgoing and funny while sharing inside theater gossip. Great food, go for breakfast and you won’t compete with matinee lunch ladies. One caveat: the waiter (from Queens) didn’t know what an egg cream was! In a fabled former New York deli par excellence, no less! Shame, shame!

Walking to a show, I’m still surprised by how few people are masked, as if the global pandemic had washed away like an early spring rain. I stay masked at every performance I attend, whether required or merely “suggested.”

If someone next to me isn’t wearing a mask and the show is meh, and my gut is queasy, I go with the gut. Literally. I’ll leave at intermission, even if it’s a forfeit of a TDF (Theater Development Fund) half-price ticket.

Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, and Zoë Wanamaker
Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein, and Zoë Wanamaker

You can see Nathan Lane live! In person! Watch him command the stage in Pictures from Home with Danny Burstein and Zoë Wanamaker. Yes, admirer here (sounds less threatening than “fan”). But I’m an even bigger admirer of Danny Burstein, whose charisma and brilliance illuminate every project he’s in. He’s been on my radar for more than 30 years, since he starred in the off-Broadway, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Burstein’s current lightning brilliance is on display with Wanamaker and Lane at Studio 54.

There are giants in the sky.

Off-Broadway Week is an opportune moment to visit (or revisit) old chestnuts like Blue Man Group (BMG), a trio of nonverbal, shiny blue aliens who’ve been tickling the fancy of audiences since 1991 in the East Village.


Long before Avatar was a pipe dream, BMG seeped into our popular culture machinery. Becoming mainstream! Making commercials! Selling out! On the other hand, the Who sold out decades ago and I forgave them. Sort of…All hail the Blue Men, forever and a day!

BMG, the razzle-dazzle Obie and Drama Desk award-winning phenom, has been seen by 35 million folks from a swath of age groups, backgrounds and cultures. It’s easy to see why it’s got such mass appeal. No language barrier! Space Age Three Stooges in blue latex body suits and lovely paint to drum with.

It’s a Serviss family favorite. We saw the originals back in the day, who, keeping in character post-show, autographed our Playbills with a delicate blue smack on the cover. We had been hijacked by bald blue gentle creatures who simply wanted to commune with the universe. Doing so requires a “be in the moment” positive attitude. You will have fun sharing their messy, joyful and hilarious journey.

You might want to pack ear plugs, though. Without speaking word one, the group communicates through decibel-breaking rock music, syncopated rhythm, mayhem and “How’d they do that?” schtick. Augmented by gobs of paint. Buckets of paint.

BMG has no “plot” to speak of, but there is method to the madness. If someone enters late, wish them luck tippy-toe sneaking to their seats. They will be mocked and chastised and the audience will have a good laugh, thanking the heavens the joke wasn’t on them!

New routines are added lest repeat viewers get jaded. I’ve seen the show at least three times, (after the second time, it’s all a blur) and happy to report they added new contemporary bits. Each performance is a snowflake, unique and ephemeral.

In the early iterations of the show, the Blue Men asked for audience volunteers. My son Ben got drafted once and good-naturedly let his ears become musical instruments. A piece of string was taped to both earlobes. Then the music began and Ben’s ears were yanked in time to the downbeat.

It was a visual.

And discontinued.

But BMG is not the only game in town. You may not have heard of some but take a chance, you might discover something groundbreaking. Rent and Hamilton both originated off-Broadway.

Contemporary and new plays are well represented in this two-for-one promotion. If you’re open to recommendations and want to take advantage of this sale, buy tickets IMMEDIATELY to The Wanderers.

It’s a new play about Orthodox Jewish newlyweds and the secular Jew who enters their lives. Barry Edelstein directs the New York premier of the comedy. Yes, comedy!

Katie Holmes, a former television teenage waif child/woman on Dawson’s Creek, stars. Granted, a television actress does not necessarily a thespian make. But hey, Katie Holmes, ex-wife of Tom Cruise! You never know who might show up to give her support. The play is worth a look-see for that price (if you can get seats). It only runs through April 2nd.

But more impressive? The Broadway debut of comedian Sarah Cooper. If you’re unfamiliar with her Trump impressions, find her on YouTube. It’s worth it. Tickets to this one will go in a flash.

Other shows I look forward to: Samuel Beckett’s Endgame with comic actor Bill Irwin, Elyria,

The Best We Could, Asi Wind’s Inner Circle.

And strictly for hearty laughs, do not miss The Play That Goes Wrong. It’s a master class in slapstick humor, farce and shocks.

Off-Broadway shows might not seem as glam as blockbusters like The Lion King or Hadestown, but when you’re spellbound in an intimate venue, unlike real estate, location isn’t everything.

 






Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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