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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The wizards behind our curtains.

Yesterday marked the last day of the annual Broadway League Spring Road Conference, the four-day-long conference for Producers and Presenters from all over the country that’s filled with keynotes, cocktail parties, and lots of Tony lobbying. (This is when a ton of the voters from outside the tri-state see the shows and make their decisions.)

There are always discussions about digital marketing, how to save the subscription model, how we educate the touring market about new Broadway shows and so on.

But by far, the most popular sessions every year are these fantastic Creative Conversations panels that feature interviews with teams from a show.  There’s the Book of Mormon CC, the Sister Act CC, etc.

And when I say “teams,” I mean they pull out the first-stringers for these convos. Daniel Radcliffe, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, The South Park Boys, and so on were the headliners of the Creative Conversation for their specific shows.  And they were flanked by the authors, directors, and other VIPs.   As you can guess, these panels are super educational and supremely entertaining.

So much so that each one garnered a standing ovation.  At a conference!

Some of the shows themselves didn’t get ovations like these panels!


Yes, because of the star power that is sitting just a few feet away, but also because this theater-loving audience likes hearing the stories behind the shows.

If you like cars, you’re going to want to know what’s under the hood of any car you see and how it works.  If you like food, you’d probably love to tour the kitchen of your favorite restaurant and hear how the chef prepares your favorite dish.

And theater fans, whether they are in the industry or not, love to hear about how it all came together.

There was some talk about taping and pod-casting these Convos, and while I don’t think that will happen (nor should they – because the fun of these sessions is that they are “off-the-record”), but the interest in them did remind me that having video footage, podcasts, blogs and more from your creative team is an essential part of marketing to your core fan.

Because if you show them who and what is behind the curtain, they just may pay to sit in front of it again and again.


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Who won the tix to Chicago on Broadway?

Oprah300 You guys had fun casting Chicago, didn't you?

I love fantasy casting.  And maybe, like in Peter Pan, if we all really believe, some of our casting dreams will come true!

Like . . . J.S Fauquet's fantasy of Oprah as Mama Morton in Chicago!  

I loved that idea . . . so J.S., you're going to see Chicago on Broadway.  Email me for the details.

Christie Brinkley is in it now.  She's not Oprah Winfrey, but a little secret . . . she rehearsed in my studio.  You're going to want to see her in the show.

More to give away tomorrow.  See you then!


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A star above the title . . . but not how you think.

Last week, in one of the biggest surprise announcements of the year, Elton John and partner David Furnish announced that they were joining the Broadway producing team of Next Fall.

Before this announcement, many of us on the inside were wondering just how Next Fall, which lacks the marquee wattage of a Scarlett or a Denzel, would stand out in the year’s busy Spring season.

Nabbing one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry is one way, that’s for sure.

Celebrity producers have been around before, but ever since Oprah put her name above the title on The Color Purple (which put a lot of butts in the seats), putting the right producer on the right project has become a more sought-after way of gaining attention for our shows.

This fall, Fela! did it with Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith (who have received a little critical drubbing for not stumping for the show like some of their counterparts).  Yet it still got a lot more attention for that show than it could have gotten on its own.

Whoopi Goldberg, who was a producer on Thoroughly Modern Millie, is also a Producer on the London and Broadway Bound Sister Act, which couldn’t make more sense.

Are these celebs investing actual dollars in the show?  Or are they investing the value of their names and their appearance at parties?  Only the show insiders know for sure, but I’d bet it’s a little of both, depending on the project.

And whatever the case, as long as it’s helping attract positive attention for your show and helping you break through the cluttered environment we work in, it’s a win for all parties involved.

So when you’re selling off places above your title, think about other names that might make sense for you and get you in a news cycle.

And it doesn’t have to be the name of a person.

It was no secret that I was interested in moving the magnificent Our Town from Off-Broadway to Broadway last Fall.  One of my ideas was to get a bunch of small New England towns to go above the title.  Imagine . . . Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Brunswick, Maine and Stowe, Vermont present Our Town.  We would have had whole towns behind us!

Got a musical about Ice Cream?  You and Ben and Jerry present . . .

Got a play about Golf?  You and Tiger Woods present . . .

Wait.  Scratch that.  Never mind.

There are more and more places on your production that you can turn into a marketing initiative than you can imagine.  Sometimes they’re just not out in the open.

The great Producers never stop looking for them.


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