A Note to all the Rights Holders out there (movie cos. et al, I’m talking to you)

We all know that big business has landed on our shores.

All of the movie companies have stage shingles now.  TV networks are about to land.  The music company’s ships have been seen on the horizon.

And even toy companies are looking to swim in our musical waters.

When big corps enter into any new arena, they tend to bring their “manufacturing” model with them.

And I just did some data diving to suggest that there may be a different way that they (and all of us) should look at putting together new musicals.

I was inspired to dig around about this subject when I was talking to a high-powered exec at one of these aforementioned corps, and asking about the rights to a specific title in their catalog.

“Well,” the exec said, “Just know that for this title, and frankly, all of our titles these days, we’ll be looking for A-list talent only.  We won’t give these rights to just any newbie creative team off the block.”

Sounds like big studio Hollywood, right?  To green-light a film, they need certain components – proven Director, and even more so, bankable stars.  Hard to get anything off the ground at a big studio on the West Coast without both of those elements.

Which is why, if you ask me, movie ticket sales are where they are, and why 2016 looks to be the worst year for movie ticket sales in a century.

And now they’re applying that model to Broadway.

I can’t blame them.  It seems less risky when you’ve got “tested” Broadway talent.  And when you’re in a board room, selling a show to accountants and suits is a lot easier when you can tout a long list of credits on a team’s resume.

But is that the way to success in the theater?

I wasn’t so sure.  So I, along with my new trusty assistant, Lindsay, dug into it.

We went back to our  20 years of Broadway Musicals Tony Winners infographic, and ripped it open, taking a look at the individual authors of each element of each Tony Award winner . . . to see what their Broadway status was before that show.

What did we discover?  It might now shock you, but should send some signals to board rooms that are designing musicals all across the country:

60.87% of all of the composers of the Best Musical Tony Award winners of the last 20 years made their Broadway debut with that show.

60% of the lyricists made their Broadway debut with that show.

And yep, a majority or . . .

55.56% of the book writers made their Broadway debut with that show.

The results of this dig are impossible to deny.  When it comes to new musicals, on Broadway, rookies achieve more award success than vets.

Now, there are some outliers here.  The Authors of South Park were obviously A-list before they came in, just in another medium.  And there are a couple of others (oh and we excluded Fosse from our calcs).

But even accounting for a margin of error, maybe it’s a 50/50 flip of a coin to whether a veteran A-list team has an advantage over a brand-spankin’ new team.  And, I’d argue that from a Producer’s perspective, since the new team will probably be less expensive in many ways, your risk is less for that new team that an experienced one.

Shocking, right?

Not to me.

The theater is an individually driven art form.  It’s fueled by people with a dream.  They come up with an idea for a show, and they don’t stop until that idea is realized.  They don’t do it to get six-figure pay days for writing a script that doesn’t get made.  They write it for nothing and do anything they can to help get it made.

So all you rights holders and Producers out there who think the new playwright, or the new composer, or the new lyricist hasn’t yet earned the rights to your material because they don’t have the resume yet, should take a 2nd and 3rd look at what they have to offer.

The new artist is often hungrier, often faster, and, well, it looks like as just as likely to take home a Tony as someone who already has one.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

– – – – –

Interested in learning more about topics like this? CLICK HERE to join The TheaterMakers Studio, an online community, certification training program, and resource for playwrights, producers, directors, actors, and theater makers of all kinds!
  • Carvanpool says:

    Smaller is nimbler, so what are you guys gonna do?

    Wait, don’t bother. Partnering with the heavyweights. It’s the easy way.

  • Nancy Paris says:

    This is great news! But then again, those accountants and suits think that passion is just a kind of fruit you find in a smoothie.

  • AnnW says:

    Besides Kander and Ebb, haven’t all the innovations in the theater come from new and untested ideas in the last 35 years? Rent, Chorus Line, the Lion King, Cats, Hamilton, South Park(the making fun of religion part)? La Cage aux Folles? I remember going to the off Broadway part of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Someone gave us the tickets. I was blushing the entire play. When you try to duplicate a tried and true idea, it often doesn’t work. It doesn’t have that spark of genius. Just look at all the crappy sit-coms and reality shows. Perhaps the great impresarios were really better than we thought. They recognized a great mix of talent, knew how to fix something, and weren’t afraid to take risks.
    My husband was arguing with Gerry Schoenfeld (a client) once about the price of theatre tickets.
    “Did your family have a good time?” When we saw Cats. “What price can you put on your family’s happiness?” then, “Do you KNOW how much those Cat costumes COST?” He was a riot.
    I still think a tango show is a good idea, especially off Broadway.

  • Howard Levitsky says:

    Interessssting, Ken. But – aren’t you maybe mixing apples and oranges? From the POV of those corporations, Tonys are nice and all but what really matters is the bottom line. So maybe you could recrunch and instead of starting with Tony winners, use a list of the shows that made the most profit for the producers. How many of THAT group were written by Broadway noobies? I’m really curious to know.

    • Ken Davenport Ken Davenport says:

      Actually, Howard, in a way, we already did this . . . see, if you look at the Tony Award infographic, you’ll see that one of the quickest ways to recoupment is to win the Best Musical Tony. 75% of the winners in this period recouped. So the “noobies” are doing pretty well with their bottom lines.

      • Rich Mc says:

        Ken, couple of things:

        1. Howard is right, since you have the data you should have run the numbers using Musicals that recouped (rather than Tony winners). Since only 75% of Tony winners also recouped, your cited 61% figure highlighting ‘noobie’ composers would undoubtedly have been lower.
        2. Perhaps even more meaningful would have been showing the percentage of recouping Musicals run by noobie (first-time) Lead Producers, i.e., responsible for the whole shebang. I’ll bet this number is vanishingly small.

  • Matthew Peter Donoghue says:

    George Abbott had a very successful model — work with young, new talent at least or more often than working with fellow veterans. For him, this kept things fresh and the craft high (in that period of his greatest activity doing musicals between JUMBO in 1935 and FLORA THE RED MENACE in 1965). Jerry Mitchell and Casey Nicholaw seem to follow Abbott’s practice with similarly awe-inspiring results.

  • RICK says:

    Yeah!!!!…I feel the magic and the wand of the musical happening soon ..Thanks Ken…!!!

  • Derek says:

    The current crop of Hollywood accountants and so-called producers are on the point of destroying the movie business with their mind-numbing, non-stop rehashing of formula movies that are well past their sell-by date. Now that they’re doing such a fine job of screwing up Hollywood, they think Broadway could be their salvation. Heaven help you all. If you want to talk to them about freshness, originality, creativity or inventiveness, you’ll first need to give them a dictionary so they can look up the meaning of those words. What would they have in mind ? Yet another Super Hero story ? Or perhaps a sequel – Part 27 of “The Fast and Furious” franchise with real live cars that crash into the audience ? If Trump becomes president, please ask him to build a wall to keep these morons out of Broadway.

  • Frank says:

    Fighting to maintain the status quo is the most shortsighted life directive you could possibly employ.

  • Allison says:

    This is interesting. Thanks Ken and Lindsay. I’m curious to know what the figures say about “new” directors and choreographers. (I put “new” in quotes because they likely will have directed and/or choreographed dozens of shows before getting to Broadway.) I’d love to know the success rate of 1st-time-on-Broadway directors and choreographers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *