Starry, Starry Night 2.0.

There has been a lot of chatter about stars in shows these days, including this recent article from The Hollywood Reporter that features a few quotes from me.

While I was being interviewed, I remembered a blog I wrote back in 2007 (!)  called “Starry, Starry Night,” that took a look at the 10 longest running Broadway shows of all time and the people that were in them.

Since five years have passed since that blog (!!), I decided I should take another look at that list of 10 shows to see if anything had changed in my conclusion.

The following is a list of the 10 Longest Runnings Shows on Broadway:

1.  The Phantom of the Opera
2.  Cats
3.  Les Miserables
4.  Chicago
5.  A Chorus Line
6.  The Lion King
7.  Oh Calcutta
8.  Beauty and the Beast
9.  Rent
10.  Mamma Mia!

What changed in the last five years?  Chicago shot up from 8 to 4, and look out Les Mis because Chi-Town is hot-cha-cha on your tail to take over the the 3rd spot in less than a year.  Miss Saigon got bumped off the list for Mamma Mia! and Lion King went from 10 to 6, and will soon to take A Chorus Line down a peg.

What didn’t change?  Well, the point of my blog five years ago, that’s what.  In fact, I’m just going to repeat it verbatim, because I still believe in it 101%.

Ready?  Here goes!  (I’m making that little Wayne’s World doodle-deedle sound and moving my hands up and down now as we go back in time.)

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“What do 9 of these 10 shows have in common?

Not one of them opened with a Star.

Make the show the Star.  That’s the key to a long runner.  In a new show, stars are nothing but expensive insurance policies for those who lack the confidence in their own material.  Stars make us lazy.  And they ask for crazy things like special luxury wallpaper (true story).

And once you go Star, you can never go back.  Save the Stars for the revivals (like the 1 out of the 10 above) because they need them.

Now, look back at that list . . . how many musical theater Stars were born from the shows above?  I count at least as many as there are shows on that list.

Make Stars, don’t count on them.” (!!!)

 

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My tribute to Ted Mann.

1When anyone that has an impact on our industry passes away, it has a pretty massive effect on me.

But when it’s someone that I’ve met, someone that I’ve worked with, and someone that inspired me to keep on doing this thing that we do, well . . . it’s . . . uh . . . hard.

Ted Mann, the founder of Circle in the Square, passed away last Friday at the all-too-early age of 87.  A lot of people credit Mr. Mann with founding Off-Broadway as we know it, when he took shows that Broadway couldn’t quite make work and reinvented them downtown.

He rose through the ranks quickly, but never forgot his roots, and he dedicated his life to training generation after generation of theater artists.  His fingerprints are on a lot of resumes of some of our industry’s finest actors and finest artists.

I first met Ted on my initial site visit of Circle in the Square, when Godspell in the round was just a concept.  There he was, to say hello, to shake my hand, and to welcome me to his house.

He used to call my office every so often, asking questions, giving me some great ideas, and sometimes, just to go out of his way to say how much he loved seeing Godspell in his theater.  It was hard to get the smile off my face after one of those calls, I can tell you that.

You can read all about Ted’s career here.

Or, you can read it in his own words here.

We’ll miss you, Ted.  I’ll miss you.  And all of us at Godspell will miss you, but we will remember you every single night.

If you’d like to honor him, go see an Off-Broadway show this week.  Off-Broadway is in a tricky state these days, and as Ted proved time and time again, without it (and without him) the modern day theater wouldn’t be as rich as it is today.

 

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He was so much more than a Camera Man.

You’ve probably seen more of Bradshaw Smith’s work than any other actor, director or producer in town.  But you also probably didn’t know his name.

He was just “Bradshaw” to most and after a very successful career as a cabaret artist in the 80s, he retired to the other side of the biz and picked up a video camera.  And for the next 30 years, he never put it down.

Bradshaw was responsible for shooting and editing more B-Roll and commercials than almost anyone else in town, and he also gave birth to Broadway Beat, the first cable television program all about Broadway.

And this past Saturday afternoon, at the age of 57 (!), Bradshaw passed away.

Bradshaw worked on a bunch of my shows and literally lived and breathed his work.  His midtown apartment was also his editing studio.  Every time I visited to finalize an edit, I was always overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks of tapes of some of the greatest shows in Broadway history that lined his walls.  Yeah, it was his job to have all that stuff.  But that’s not why he kept them.  He loved Broadway with a passion and his profession was just a way for him to capture those moments that he loved so much and keep them closer to him.

You deserved a much longer run, my friend.  A much longer run.

 

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Is Cirque sucking up Broadway sales?

Patti LuPone should play Annie Oakley some day, because the woman is the ‘straightest shooter’ I’ve ever seen.

When something’s buggin’ her, whether it’s a photographer in a theater, or a circus in Broadway’s backyard, she’s going to tell you, and everyone around you, exactly what she thinks.

This week, Patti had this to say about Cirque du Soleil and their new tenancy at Radio City Music Hall:

Cirque du Soleil – it’s the big, bad brother now. Cirque du Soleil taking a five-year lease on Radio City Music Hall is going to suck Broadway dry. … If you don’t know a particular playwright or a particular play and you’re facing a huge ticket price, what are you going to do? You’re going to go with what you know, and more people know Cirque de – the tourists come and people know Cirque du Soleil. They really are, I think, ridiculous now. Go back to Montreal.

Yipes.  I bet there are a lot of sad clowns out there right now, packing their trunks with . . . like 100 other clowns.

Patti isn’t the only one that’s pi$$ed about Cirque and their new show, Zarkana.  Broadway Producers up and down the street have been buzzing all summer about the dollars that the show is sucking off the street.  It’s major competition, and Radio City has nothing but seats to sell.  Unlike something like The Book of Mormon, whose tight ticket can actually increase demand for other shows, a show like Zarkana in that monster of a theater just diffuses the weekly grosses a bit more.

And the big complaint I’ve heard this summer is about TDF allowing Zarkana to sell its seats at the TKTS booth.  If it wasn’t there?  No doubt, those dollars would go to Broadway shows.

Do I agree with Patti?

Nah.  New York is about the best of everything . . . baseball teams (sorry Sox), bagels, and yeah, entertainment.  And if people want to produce a show, any show, then let them, and the people will decide what runs and what doesn’t.  It’s Broadway Darwinism.

While I may not like that Cirque has set up shop a few blocks from Broadway, I have two options:  1, be a sad clown about it (and no one likes a sad clown) or 2, use that competition to inspire me to be better at what I do.

Besides, is anyone else starting to fee like the sheen is wearing off of Cirque?  Interestingly enough, I recommend their shows in Vegas like they are my mom’s chocolate chip cookies . . . but I never suggest someone see a Cirque show outside of Sin City.  And I’ve never seen one myself.

So fear not Patti . . . let them franchise . . . and we’ll work harder at being original.

(By the way, you know that word I used up there .  . with the $$ instead of Ss . . . I’ve decide to replace that word in my vocab with . . . Pattied.  Because she has become such an advocate for Broadway, I think it’s only fitting.  For example, “Ugh. I’m so pattied there was no Broadway on Broadway this year.”  Ok?  Let’s try it.  Now you!)

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Broadway is only as good as the people in it.

When I was a kid I collected baseball cards of my favorite players.

When I was a kid I had posters of my favorite movie stars on my walls.

When I was a kid . . . I didn’t know one Broadway star from another.

One of the greatest marketing tools that other industries have made much better use of is the people that make up those industries.  And it’s time we catch up.

We need to do a better job as an industry of promoting the people that do what we do.  And I’m not just talking about the Patti Lupones and the Nathan Lanes of our world . . . I’m talking about everyone on or off a chorus line who performs eight times a week.

We’ve concentrated so hard on marketing theater as a genre, or our shows, as a brand, we might want to flip our strategy a bit and try marketing the people that appear in those brands.  The hope being, of course, that an audience will fall in love with people, and support whatever show they are appearing in (like an athlete that goes from team to team, or an actor that appears in movie after movie).

Wouldn’t Broadway trading cards be cool?  Why not posters of your favorite stars at merch stands or in stores?  A quick search of “Broadway Calendar” on Amazon yielded this result . . . a calendar of Playbill covers, and none of the images are of the people whose names are in those Playbills.

There are some union rules to navigate and press subtleties to work out, but we need to take the hint from our sister industries . . .  pushing people can yield much greater results than pushing a product.

 

 

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FUN STUFF

– 29 Days to Godspell!  Read the day-by-day account of producing Godspell on Broadway here.

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