Numbers are hot.

So here’s a few to spice up your weekend:

Let’s look at Tony Award nominees and winners of the two big categories, Best Musical and Best Play, and their corresponding reviews in the New York Times over the last 11 seasons (since 1997).

                    BEST PLAY NOMINEES

Positive Reviews             40%                  Positive Reviews        68%
Mixed Reviews                30%                  Mixed Reviews          16%
Negative Reviews           30%                   Negative Reviews       16%


Positive Reviews             64%                  Positive Reviews        82%
Mixed Reviews                18%                  Mixed Reviews          18%
Negative Reviews           18%                   Negative Reviews       0%

What does all this mean?  Does the New York Times favor plays?  Are Tony voters voting with The Times or because of The Times?  Do reviews not matter for musicals looking to be nominated for a trophy, or is it just that the lower numbers of new musicals means easier nominations?

What does it mean?

That’s for you to decide.

Any accountant, comptroller or high school kid with a pirated copy of Excel can deliver you a set a good looking numbers.

It’s a Producer’s job to figure out what they mean.  And when you do, it’s not hot. It’s beau-tastic.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering (and you should be, because data is only as good as its source), we used the Variety Pro/Con/Mixed meter to determine the status of the reviews.)

  • OldBetty says:

    I think there are a few crtical issues to address here:
    First off, a musical has so much more to critique. There are the sets, costumes, lighting, music, dancing etc. Plays are much more transparent. If the acting, directing or the righting sucks, you might as well pack up and go home. However, if you throw some disco hits in there and just maybe you might get a hit.
    If you got a big ole hole in the plot, you cant just stick a musical number it in to distract people.
    Also, there is also the undeniable fact that, aside from non-profit companies out there producing amazing works, plays are a higher risk on Broadway. Yes, they’re cheaper to produce- but its in some ways a bigger gamble because a) less people go see plays and b) different plays draw from different types of people from an already smaller pool of play-goers. What does this mean? Plays have a traditionally shorter life span. What does that mean? Less potential profits for producers & investors. So- to even get a play up on Broadway the substance better be damn good! So there is a sorta pre-vetting going on- weeding out the bad ones.
    Musicals are a totally different beast. You can take a hugely popular movie and adapt it and you’ll probably be getting investors lined up before you even have the stars, the designers etc.
    Investor: What? You’re adapting Harry Potter into a musical?
    Silly Producer: Yes, we’re getting Ashley Simpson to “write” the “music”.
    Investor: who cares, its harry potter! Here, have a 250,000 dollars.
    Sounds like a horrible idea? Yep. Worse things have happened, and worse things are still running. But lets not talk about that!
    With that being said there are tons of different types of musicals, wetting the taste buds of different consumer. For example- a family from IOWA might be more likely to go see something like Hairspray or Wicked over something more/artsy like Caroline or Change. (Had to go back a few seasons- cause ain’t nothing dark and edgy running right now). Or perhaps they wanna go see something they know like an adaptation of their favorite late 90’s chick flick like Legally Blonde, or perhaps producers are trying to bank on getting that cult following that will go see something like Spring Awakening, the show that comes along every ten years revolutionizing musical theatre, like every other rock musical that came before it with a contemporary sound that spoke about the young people tying to find identity in a culturally restraining time. (let the revolution begin again please)
    Just as patrons have different tastes, theatre critics probably have different tastes. Which would explain for the vast pretty equal split of 1/3 positive/negative/mixed reviews. I also think theatre critics sometimes mis-understand their jobs. (Not everyone- just some) Every play or musical should be held to its own standards. I hate it when reviews seem to stray into the suggestion card style (i would have done this….). I believe a reviewer needs to examine the director, author and other artists intentions and ask how well did the final product address their intentions. Does the world match the piece? Did they follow their own rules. Oy, I digress…
    Also, honestly, I have a strong disdain for Theatre critics. I think they have higher expectations than the typical consumer, and can be a bit out of touch. Its the only industry where the voice of the critics have have a larger impact on the the behaviors of consumers. How many films got slammed by critics but still rake in big bucks at the box office. Once in a while a show can defy negative reviews especially if it has something to draw in patrons (say like Abba music). Look at Xanadu for example. The inside story was that it was not doing well, but it got praised by reviewers giving it new life. And thus a star was born. We can’t live without them, and I think there are some reviewers who hold just a little bit too much power. Critics bring the own bias’ to the table, and honestly I’m not sure everyone shares those same bias and I’m certain not all consumers do either. But then again, how much does that tourist from Iowa care what the Times thought? So maybe its a mute point.
    Conclusion? I think that Tony Voters and Critics are probably on the same playing field when it comes to plays- there are less of them so it is is a little more obvious as to the really good ones and the not-so-really-good ones are. However, I think musicals are just bigger by nature and have more variables playing into their future. You never know how Tony voters are gonna go. Do you go for the big splashy comedy or the dark piece? you never know. And besides you never know a good political presidential/tony spoof, pizza part and a tongue in cheek song about voting for the person best suited for the job handed out on a free CD to Tony Voters just may do the trick.

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