Remember when this got the WORST review on the planet?

I moved my office about three months ago, right to the heart of Times Square, on 44th and Broadway in the famed Paramount Building. (It’s so much more productive – I bump into so many people in this hood, I get business done on my way to lunch, in my elevator, and even as I head to the “head!!” Takeaway – when you’re looking for an office space – invest in where your industry is.)

I often walk down 44th Street, taking in the sights of the flagship of the Shubert Organization, the Shubert Theatre, the flagship of Broadway, The Phantom of the Opera, and one of the great flagship restaurants the city has to offer, Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar.

Screeeeeeeech.

Ok, ok, maybe American Kitchen isn’t quite the greatest dining option in the city.

In fact, if you remember correctly, it got one of the WORST reviews ever written for any restaurant ever in the history of eating!  And where did that review appear?

The New York Effin’ Times– THE source for dining reviews (just like The Times is THE source for Broadway reviews, right?  I even created a website based on that fact!).

The review became a classic.  It was so uniquely awful that it actually ended up being the 5th most emailed article in The Times that year.  Out of ALL the articles in the paper!!!  That’s some serious viralness, right?

But you know what’s amazing?

Despite that atrocious review . . . and the incredible number of people that read it . . . the restaurant is still open.

What can we learn from this? 

Three things:

1.  Location, location, you know the third word.

Being in a great location with great foot traffic (and next to a couple other restaurants that are often packed beyond capacity like Carmine’s and John’s Pizzeria) always helps. 

2.  People like Stars.

If it was just The American Kitchen, it would have folded a long time ago.  But this is Guy’s American Kitchen.  And celebrities sell, even when they are not in the kitchen themselves.

And finally . . . and most importantly.

3.  Reviews don’t matter if you’re giving the people what they want.

Obviously, Guy is doing something right for the people that do wander in.  Because he’s got a very high nut to make with that 44th St. rent.  He’s working on pleasing his customers and doesn’t care about the reviews. And now, he’s been open so long, that I’d bet most of his customers, and certainly his core demographic, don’t even know about that review.

We have countless examples of shows that have received mediocre to bad reviews and yet have run on and on (Listen to David Stone or Joe Mantello’s podcast about the Wicked reviews to hear their take on this subject).  And, conversely, there are a ton of shows that have appeared on the very block where Guy’s sits now, that got fabulous reviews and then closed just a few months after opening to a total financial loss.

No one wants a bad review.

But you can’t write, direct or produce a show for a reviewer.  Because they aren’t the judge and jury, no matter how much it may feel to us that they are.

Create your show for the people, YOUR people, and they’ll decide whether you run or not.

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Sadly, the fat lady did you-know-what for you-know-who.

Broadway operaAbout two and a half years ago, I blogged about New York City Opera’s shocking move out of Lincoln Center to . . . nowhere.

It didn’t take a Harvard MBA to know what that meant . . . that fat lady was taking a big old breath and getting ready to sing one helluva note.

Two and a half years later, she let ‘er rip.

And that’s the end of my feeble attempts at humor, because this ain’t that funny.

New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy last week, ending an era of “affordable opera” for NYers, and leaving a ton of people without jobs, and an already beaten-up art form, up against the ropes again.

While articles like this one point to a whole bunch of missteps by the opera management over the years, there’s a bigger issue that those of us in the theater should pay attention to.

The opera audience just ain’t as big as it used to be.  And for the ones that are around, there’s not much for them to see anymore that they haven’t seen before.

How many Toscas can one see?  How many Bohemes?  Aidas?  Traviatas?

Sure, there are new productions and new stars, but they are the same ol’ operas done again and again and again.  New operas are still written, of course (NYCO’s last production of Anna Nicole was one of their most courageous works . . . ever), but they are not done nearly at the frequency of other artistic mediums (plays, musicals, novels, movies, etc.).  Partly because there isn’t the audience for them, and partly because it’s exceptionally difficult for authors to make money writing them!

So, opera companies put on the same ol’ productions or the same ol’ operas that they have been seeing for . . . centuries.  And well, that gets . . . old.  Literally.

The same could happen for the theater.  We’re a decade and a half away from the 100th anniversary of the modern theater (I peg its birth around the time of Show Boat) . . . and doesn’t it feel like we’re running out of revivals?  How many times can you see Oklahoma?  Or go back further . . . how many productions of The Seagull can we take before audience members stop going?

I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons why our attendance has been waning over the years.  Too many revivals, and not enough interest . . . unless, of course, they’ve got massive stars (but even those productions don’t run long enough to make a difference in attendance).

Takeaways from the New York City Opera story?

If you’re a theater company just focused on revivals, you’re in for a bumpy ride . . . unless you’ve got a ton of Hollywood stars on speed dial.

And while producing revivals is an important component to keeping the tradition of theater alive . . . it can’t be all that we do.  Our own fat lady will be belting out something as well . . . and it won’t be a show tune.

 

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Is there a Producer Doctor in the house?

We’ve all heard the expression, “Show Doctor”, right?  You know, that Director or Writer who joins a troubled production out-of-town, or in previews, with the goal of providing the creative changes necessary to save a sinking show.

You ever wonder why some shows don’t have Producer doctors?  Imagine . . . six months after a show opens, a show is struggling.  Why not bring in a hired producing gun; an outsider with objectivity to shake up the team . . . fire some people, change marketing strategy, etc.  There’s no guarantee that a new CEO will take a company in a new direction, but it’s worth a shot, no?

Honestly, this probably won’t ever happen on independently produced shows.  But I can name quite a few shows produced by some big corps that could have used the medicine of some of our industry’s veteran producers.

But ego gets in the way . . . and honestly, a Broadway show can be as hard to turn as the Titanic.  They are so big and bulky, that when you are heading for an iceberg, it’s hard to avoid it.

Which is why we need to look into a different way to build them.

 

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Flops have families too.

In the Op-Ed section of the January 1st edition of the NY Times, far from the Arts pages, was a great piece from the daughter of the Producer of one of the most infamous flops in Broadway history, Via Galactica (who went on to help put together Memphis).  Not only does she tell one of my favorite stories about titles (look for the paragraph about the renaming of Via and why it had to be changed back), but she also tells tales of living room readings for investors, star casting, special effects unlike anyone had ever seen that caused huge technical snafus, and more.

And yes, if you haven’t quite figured it out, the author makes some Spidey-like comparisons, but ends with a conclusion that you probably weren’t expecting . . . she’s pulling for the Super Hero.

After all, she knows first hand how devastating a flop can be.

Read the insightful article here.

Flops are a part of the game of Producing.  They’re like a strike out in baseball.  And every batter strikes out every once in awhile.  It’s what happens when you’re swinging for the fences.

In fact . . . if you haven’t had a flop?  You aren’t producing enough.

So . . . and how many times have you heard someone say this . . . get out there and flop!

(Special thanks to Michael for the tip on this article!)

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Broadway Vocab 101. Why is a flop called a turkey anyway?

Happy Thanksgiving, readers!

It’s ironic, don’t you think?  We spend this one day pounding back slices of turkey, and we spend the rest of the year trying to avoid producing one.

And why do we call a flop a turkey anyway?  Why not an owl?  Or a swallow?

Well, these are the types of questions that keep me up at night, so I decided to do some Gearching (I’ve decided that the word search is now so inextricably connected to Google that we should just combine the two words), and share the results with you, on this fowl-filled day.

So why is a Broadway show that flops called a turkey?

It all comes down to IQ.

Apparently, a turkey is a pretty damn dumb bird.

Don’t believe me?  Well, I found one web post from a dude who used to work at a turkey farm and breeding facility that gave two examples of IQ-challenged turkey behavior:

1 – The pens of the farm had to be equipped with specially designed water bowls which would keep a minimal amount of water in the bowl and shut off while the turkeys were drinking. Why?  Because on occasion, a turkey would “forget” to lift its head while drinking . . . and drown.  And this guy saw it happen.

2 – Large scale turkey farms regularly use artificial insemination to get the turkeys to reproduce.  Why?  Because if they didn’t, the turkeys just might not around to it on their own.

So the birds are stupid.

And in 1927 (coincidentally, the year that Show Boat opened), someone decided that flops were stupid too. (Probably because everything looked stupid compared to Show Boat.)

And thus, a dud became a turkey.

Now that I know the answer . . . I still like owl better.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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