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Unsinkable Talent

Houston-born Tye Blue on Titanique, his off-Broadway musical parody of Titanic.

Tye Blue
Tye Blue (Photo by Aaron Jay Young)

New York City is abuzz about Titanique, the off-Broadway musical parody of the 1997 movie Titanic. The show is also a love letter to Celine Dion, whose contribution to the soundtrack of the blockbuster movie, “My Heart Will Go On,” is equally as famous as the diva herself. A hit show about a hit movie featuring a hit song (and songstress) seems like a hat on a hat on a hat of hits. It has been so successful that it has extended its run multiple times and is now moving to a larger venue.

This titanic-sized feat for any off-Broadway show in the Big Apple can all be traced back to Houston’s homegrown, multi-talented Tye Blue, who co-authored and directed Titanique. “The show’s success has been a great surprise, but also expected. Because of the response to the many iterations of the show when it was in development, we knew that people would like it if we could get a proper rehearsal and some publicity,” says Blue, reflecting on the long journey to getting Titanique on the stage.

Blue, 42, was born in Richmond, southwest of Houston. Eventually he moved to Needville with his family, where he attended Needville High School. An active kid in student organizations like speech, debate, and theater, Blue focused primarily on playing the saxophone. After graduating, he attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston to study music with a focus on saxophone.

But a seed had been planted just before he left for Massachusetts when he saw a professional production of The Phantom of the Opera in San Antonio—his first introduction to the theater beyond what he had experienced at Needville High—and it made an impression that would change his life. He decided to double-major in sax and voice, and was accepted into the Berklee program after auditioning.

“I had never sung, but I knew I could carry a tune,” says Blue. I started singing in Boston, and was getting more traction as a singer than as a saxophone player. I was cast in a singer showcase during my first semester. I felt drawn to musical theater, and I pivoted from being an instrumentalist to a vocalist.”

Eventually, he left Berklee to matriculate in the musical theater program at Sam Houston State University, where he earned his degree. He also started to develop as a director while working on his acting and vocal talents, and he directed a handful of main-stage shows before graduating. Blue eventually landed a role at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, where he made a connection with Adam Lambert while performing as his understudy. Lambert (pre-American Idol fame) encouraged Blue to come to Los Angeles, where Lambert would connect Blue with his manager. Blue did just that, and eventually landed roles in international tours of Hair and Rent.

“It became obvious to me that I needed to move to New York, so I moved there and acted for a while,” Blue explains. “I went to an audition for [director] Stafford Arima and got far along, but I eventually got cut be- cause I couldn’t dance. When I was leaving, he sent his casting director running after me. He told me I didn’t get the job but asked if I would be interested in an assistant director position, because—stupid me—I had listed all of my directing credits on my acting résumé. It turned out to be a happy accident, though, because it started me on a trajectory of directing commercial projects. I did about fifteen productions under Arima for about four years, and realized how fulfilling it was to utilize all of the tools in my toolbox—the planning, the design, management, leadership, staging, choreography. I was able to synthesize a bunch of random skills, so it was very eye-opening.”

Titanique
The cast of ‘Titanique’ (Photo by Emilio Madrid)

By now it was 2009, and Blue’s stepdad had passed away, so he decided that he needed to come back to Houston to help his family deal with the fallout from the loss.

It was during this time that Blue began a chapter in Houston’s booming gay nightlife scene. He was a valuable asset to club owners because he could create, stage, and market shows, as well as handle the talent and design. Blue had a regular gig hosting Dreamgirls at the former F Bar, and created a space for queer-oriented performance to thrive. Blue’s influence carries on today as Houston has continued to grow in that respect.

“I had a lot of really great times in Houston, hosting and recording. I starred in an opera. It was a great, fruitful chapter,” says Blue. “But I had unfinished business in LA. I moved back and started creating and directing parodies at a supper club. I directed six or seven musicals that picked up a lot of steam. I started to develop the relationships that I have now, which helped foster the idea of Titanique.”

He wanted to produce Titanique at the same venue where he had found success with other productions, but they were not interested. Blue sat on the idea for two years, and eventually decided to enlist some friends (and eventual Titanique co-authors) Constantine Rousouli and Marla Mindelle.

“I told them, ‘I don’t care, I am taking out a new credit card and I am producing it. Let’s start writing!’ I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I knew on some level that I needed to do it,” Blue recalls.

His instincts were correct. The trio developed the show, and Titanique had its first public performance in 2017 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show continued to hold performances in small venues in LA and New York over the next couple of years. Each performance would build on the last, and eventually attracted the attention of producers. They finalized a deal to produce the show in late 2019, and by January 2020 they were touring venues in New York after holding a week of casting auditions.

But soon it became evident that things were not going to work out when COVID-19 hit and the theater industry went dark for the next few years. Titanique appeared to be coulé.

Blue saw the writing on the wall as the world shut down, so he sold everything he had in Los Angeles and moved around the country while he waited for his industry to come back. And it did.

Titanique would eventually set sail in New York in June 2022, after several false starts due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions. After it had launched in the Asylum Theatre off-Broadway, Blue’s next challenge would be attracting a post-pandemic audience. “I’ll be honest: that first month of shows was a little scary. I would show up and there were entire rows empty and I’m thinking, we can’t survive with four empty rows in here. I know the producers had a moment of doubt because we didn’t kick off great with sales.

The cast of Titanique (Photo by Emilio Madrid)

“Then certain people started posting about it—like [the popular podcast] Las Culturistas. They raved so hard on us multiple times. That was a big moment. Then the New York Times put out something that I thought was a little backhanded, but essentially good press,” says Blue.

He also credits the cast and an amazing PR team for attracting audiences. One event, held on a boat on the Chelsea Piers, contributed to growing interest in the show. It also helped that Frankie Grande, a cast member, has a famous sister, Ariana, who gave the show a shout-out after attending.

But a show’s success ultimately hinges on the quality of the show itself, and Titanique is brimming with talent. Aside from being co-authors, Rousouli and Mindelle are also the stars of the show as Jack and Celine Dion, respectively. (That’s right, Celine Dion is a character who hosts the show, and Mindelle’s portrayal of the pop star and her vocals is second to none.)

“We are very fortunate that Marla is a very versatile actress, and her comedic timing is unparalleled,” Blue notes. “She was in my parody of The Devil Wears Prada and Troop Beverly Hills. I was already aware of the mind-blowing skill set she has as a comedian and singer. I never had any hesitation about her ability to play the Celine Dion character.”

Titanique has been extended through February 2023, and if it manages to find a home and an audience beyond that, Blue would be thrilled.

“This has been a long journey,” he says. “I almost quit many times. There have been a lot of twists and turns. There have been moments where I felt burned out, and moments where I felt hopeful. I know for sure that this project is successful, because it is the culmination of so many skills I’ve gleaned for 25 years. I never want to lose sight of the fact that everything has led to this.”

To experience the comedy genius of Titanique in New York City, buy your tickets at titaniquemusical.com.

 

 

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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