Favorite Quotes Vol. XXXVIII: Honesty is the best press policy.

Remember that time Mamma Mia announced they were moving down the block (and it caused that big traffic jam for those producers out there hunting for theaters?)

Well we now know that the muscle behind the move was Rocky, the new musical, which has been training in Germany for the last six months, and is ready for its Broadway Heavyweight fight next spring.

It had been gossiped about for weeks, but the show was officially announced just the other day in this article in the NY Times, and a full page ad in this past Sunday’s Times (even without tickets on sale – now that’s an announcement). Here’s the quote from Stage Entertainment CEO, Bill Taylor:

I’m aware that Rocky might be perceived as an odd choice for a musical, and there will be some raised eyebrows, but I think what people see will not be what they are expecting.

So, the thing is, Bill took the words out of my mouth.  When I heard Rocky was going to be a musical, I admit it, I thought it was an “odd” idea.  I didn’t quite get it.  And maybe, I even chuckled at the thought.

But now?  After that quote? When the Chief Producing Officer admitted that it was an “odd” idea? All of a sudden, I think this idea is cool.

There’s something amazing to be said about admitting what you have, and how it may look to those on the outside. You’re being honest, and you’re getting on the same page as your audience, whether that be ticket buyers, or even investors (I tell every single investor of mine that Broadway investing is super risky, before they have a chance to tell me themselves . . . and then I usually say that “it’s the riskiest investment you’ll ever love to make.”)

Getting people to drink the Kool-Aid may work in the short run, but we all know what’s in that Kool-Aid by now, don’t we?  Show people you’re not stupid . . . that you see what they see, and they’ll respect you for it, and be more likely to take the ride with you.

Oh – and you know what else Joop Van de Ende, Bill and the Stage Entertainment crew did that was brill-brill when putting their team for this “odd” idea together?  They counteracted any potential snickers from an industry crowd by getting super-cool and hip director Alex Timbers to helm the show, along with the not-heard-from-enough-considering-how-awesome-they-are- songwriting team of Ahrens and Flaherty (I would produce anything they wrote, even if it was Rocky . . . and Bullwinkle), and one of the best book writers living today in Tom Meehan.

There’s a lot of lessons in this one press release . . . but simply put, honesty and a killer creative team, makes any idea look like a heavyweight contender.

 

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Favorite Quotes Vol. XXXVII: Why the Book of Mormon authors think theater ain’t going anywhere.

The Authors of The Book of Mormon were featured in a NY Times article a few weeks ago.  If you only read Arts and Leisure then you probably missed it because this 1000 worder was in the Media and Advertising pages of the Biz section.

Oooh, and you all know how much it gets my motor going when Broadway gets a mention away from the arts pages.

It was an article about Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the auteurs of The Book of Mormon (along with their musical muse, Bobby Lopez), and the recent announcement about the formation of their $300mm production company.

These two have had quite a ride, especially when you look at what launched them in the first place:  a two dimensional, simply drawn . . . cartoon.  No avatarish-technology, no pixary Imax 8D . . . just a simple cartoon . . . that just happened to be amazingly funny . . . and incredibly unique.

When asked how they managed to cut through the modern-mass-media noise with what they create, and stay current with new distribution channels, etc., Mr. Stone had this to say . . .

Disruption is overrated.  If you tell good stories, the platforms are sort of beside the point.  We made the most analog thing you can think of, a play at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, and it worked out as well as anything we have ever done.

Did you hear that?  Here’s what I took away:

1 – Tell good stories that people want to hear and it doesn’t matter where/how you present them.

2 – And the The Book of Mormon is just as successful for them as “anything they’ve ever done.”

So the next time someone tells you that the theater is dying, or that it’s not a place you can make money, or reach an audience, take a cue from Cartman, and tell them to #$@ off.

 

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Favorite Quotes Vol. XXXVI: A funny man who isn’t going to be funny.

The cinematic auteur responsible for some of the biggest on screen belly laughs of the last decade is writing a play.

Yep, everyone’s favorite 40 Year Old Virgin, Judd Apatow, could be the next Neil Simon.  But, that’s not what he has in mind.  When asked about the play and what it was about, this is what Judd had to say:

I am excited to write something which has a social conscience.

And you know what?  I found that funny.

In Judd’s mind, plays seem to be important.  And movies seem to be silly.  He’s got an important idea, and for him, that means the screen is not the best medium for its expression, but the stage is.  We should be honored at the respect he’s showing what we do.  And I commend him for writing outside his comfort zone both in terms of material and in genre.

At the same time . . . I want to see what would happen if he wrote what we know he’s so good at writing for the stage.  He really could be the next Neil Simon, or certainly another Yasmina Reza, no?

I can’t wait to see it either way, because I think he’s as talented as Steve Carrell as a virgin.  But Judd, don’t think you have to write something important just because the tickets are $135.

The most expensive musical right now has more in common with Knocked Up then it does with West Side Story.

 

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Favorite Quotes Vol. XXXV: A Republican’s Thoughts on Labor Day

Happy Labor Day, readers.

This important national holiday celebrates the incredible contributions that workers of all different trades and skills have made to the development of this country.

In an industry like the theater, our “workers” (what a crap name) are essential to the development of our art form, as the skill, passion, and ingenuity of actors, stagehands, designers, etc. are what help us to push the boundaries of our medium, and keep thrilling audiences year after year.  They are the fuel of the theatrical industry.  Without them, we would go nowhere.

Labor and organized labor specifically often get a bad clichéd rap (don’t feel bad, unions, Producers get one, too).  But on days like this, it’s important to remember that this country was built on a system of checks and balances . . . and that goes for our industries as well.

And as this Republican (!) once said . . .

If a man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor he is a liar. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.
– Abraham Lincoln

Over the last twelve months, I’ve had a lot of people working with me on a variety of projects all over the world, as well as in my office . . . some in unions, some not.  But all are passionate about the theater.

And to each and every one of them I say thank you. Thank you for helping me to continue to pursue my dreams as you pursue yours.  Hopefully, together, we will make all of those dreams come true.

Happy Labor Day.

 

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Favorite Quotes Volume XXXIV: The difference between movies and theatre.

Some people think Michael Riedel is only good for gossip.

Not so, not so!

Last week, Riedel’s column about the soon-to-be-made-for-walking Kinky Boots featured a gem of a quote from Harvey Fierstein that should be featured in every musical theater writing textbook there is (which is probably only about two (I love this one on the subject, btw)).

This is what the award-winning book writer of La Cage and the more recent Newsies had to say about the difference between movies and the theatre:

There’s a huge difference between movies and theater.  Movies are about story.  Theater is about ideas. You’ve got the story going, but you have to have something more to keep people in their seats for 2 1/2 hours.  You have to have something bigger to say than, ‘Oh, we have a shoe factory, let’s make it a hit shoe factory!’  That ain’t really a reason to go to a musical.

Musicals and plays require grander themes or big ideas.  Simple stories don’t usually work.  We need French Revolution type stuff, or squatters living in the East Village and living with AIDS.  We need Producers who try to produce the biggest flop on the planet about Adolph Hitler, or an entire village of people leaving their village and their ‘tradition’ behind.

I’ve often said that movies are about action, and the theater is about characters.

But as Harvey sums up above, you need big stakes if you want your show to succeed on a stage.

 

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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