Network it up . . . with NYMF!

Here’s a thought to keep you warm as we finish up the tail end of this terrible winter . . . it’s time to start thinking about this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, which is right around the corner in hot and sweaty July!

The best education any Producer can get is to produce a show.  In fact, I’ve been known to give some potential grad students the following advice:  “Take the money you’d spend on tuition, and produce a show, or two or three . . . you’ll learn more, build a better resume, and maybe get a big fat hit in the process!”  (Don’t tell any of the graduate schools I said that, will ya?).  Nothing beats experience, and that goes for whatever your discipline is:  Producing, Directing, General Managing, etc.

NYMF is one of the premiere places for developing musicals, and it’s also one of the premiere places for developing Producers, Directors, Choreographers and artists of all kinds.  When I see NYMF shows, I’m not only looking for the next big musical, I’m also looking for the next big artist.

And all those NYMF shows are going to be looking for Producers, Directors and Choreographers, oh my, so if you’re one of those (or just want to meet some up-and-coming-writers) now is your chance to get hooked up with one!  Here’s how:

NYMF is throwing its annual Networking Mixer (now do you understand the photo in this blog?) this Saturday, February 22nd from 7:00-9:00 PM at the Fashion Forty Lounge, located at 202 West 40th St., between 7th and 8th aves.

So go!  Meet cool people.  And do a show.  Any show.

That’s exactly what Hal Prince told me to do 15 years ago.  And I wouldn’t be blogging here today if I hadn’t listened to him.

Learn more about the event here.


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Look at where The Mouse likes to “Play.”

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was coming up, was from an ol’ school Broadway Producer after I asked for his advice on how to have a successful career in this . . . ahem . . . “unique” industry.

His response?

“Ken, life is an open book test.”

What he meant by that was to look around . . . and learn from those people and companies that have had the success you’re strivin’ for and learn from what they’ve done to get where they are today.

One of the companies that I watch pretty closely is The Mouse House, more affectionately known as Disney.  Here’s a company that has birthed seven Broadway productions (with an 8th, Aladdin, on its way to the delivery room), and five of them have not only recouped but recouped and then some.

Sure, sure, recoupment is a crap-ton easier when you’ve got brands the size of theirs, and movies to go along with them, as I talked about in my blog about why Lion King grossed a billion bucks.  And there’s no takeaway to learn from that except, “Go forth and make cartoons and then theme parks and movies and then fifty years later, conquer Broadway!”

But there is still a double crap-ton to learn from their smaller strategy decisions, like customer service (as I wrote about here detailing their new game-changing exchange policy).

And today, I turn to how they develop new Broadway musicals, and more specifically where their path to Broadway begins.

I’ve got some musicals that are just seeds of an idea right now, that will soon be sitting on a page, and soon after will need to stand up on a stage.

Because musicals are so dang difficult to put together in all aspects, artistically, technically and economically, most shows have tryout productions prior to their Broadway run.

In fact, 85.35% of all new musicals to open on Broadway in the last 20 years had out-of-town tryouts. 

So I started thinking about where to put them.  And of course, the wonderful “usual suspects” of regional theaters come to mind.  But then I decided to open up the open book of life and see what Disney does.

Take a look at this list of all their Broadway shows (past, current and future) and where they started:

  • Beauty and the Beast – The Music Hall, Houston, TX
  • The Lion King – Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
  • Aida – Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, GA
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Berlin, Germany
  • Tarzan – No Tryout
  • Mary Poppins – Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol, England
  • The Little Mermaid  – Denver Center for the Performing ArtsDenver, CO
  • Newsies  – Papermill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
  • Aladdin – 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle, WA
  • The Jungle Book – The Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, and The Huntington Theatre, Boston, MA

Do you see what I see?

When Disney has a new property, they tend to go somewhere a little less obvious, just slightly around the bend, that most likely isn’t known for being a Broadway launching pad (The Alliance has lit the fuse for a lot of Broadway shows, but they were all after Aida).  Why?

  • You’re out of the spotlight, and for a company like Disney, with brands the size of small European nations, that’s important.
  • There’s more of a supportive excitement from the audience and the community.
  • Things tend to be a little cheaper.
  • There’s less expectation.

I know all of these reasons and then some were why I went to Chris Coleman’s Portland Center Stage for Somewhere in Time.  

But now that I’ve peeked into the mind of the mouse, just by watching how it has moved, I’m going to be looking into doing it a bit more often.

Because observing the success of others is a fantastic way to guarantee your own.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Besides Tarzan, what are the other 22 new musicals that didn’t have Broadway tryouts in the last 20 years?  Answer Monday!


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3 Ways to Save on Broadway Tickets this Winter.

Winter sucks.

There, I said it.

Winter sucks so much that I’m  trying to get a petition going to move Broadway to the West Coast, or the South East Coast, or to Bora Bora.  Any one of those will work.  Who’s in?

Until then, we just have to deal with it.

Fortunately, there are a lot of deals going on to help us with that.

Yep, for those of you who find Broadway and Off Broadway tickets too expensive, put on your parka, because you’re going to the theater!  Here are three ways to save on theater tickets this winter season:

1.  Broadway Week

Taking a cue from Restaurant Week (and, frankly, #3 on this list which debuted a few years before Broadway Week), Broadway Week (which is actually 2 weeks and 2 days . . . but who’s counting) runs from January 21st through February 6th and offers you 2 for 1 tickets on a ton of shows . . . including new shows like my The Bridges of Madison County and big hits like The Lion King and that other recent Tony Winner that I’m quite fond of, Kinky Boots.  My favorite new feature about Broadway Week?  The seat upgrade option.  To learn about that , and for complete details, click here:  Broadway Week.

2.  Kids Night on Broadway

Kids Night on Broadway is a BOGO (Buy One Get One) offer for parents who bring a kid between the ages of 6-18.  Strangely, Kids “Night” runs from Feb 24th through March 2nd.  (I’m beginning to think the people that run these Broadway Promotions have to go back to calendar school.)  And don’t think that the only shows that are available to see on this promotion are the Disney shows and Matilda.  You can see everything from Once to Janis . . . and even Avenue Q.  So if you’re not a parent, grab some kid off the street and see a show for 50% off.  To get complete details, click here:  Kids Night on Broadway.

3.  20at20.

20at20 is my favorite promotion . . . maybe because I was part of the team that kicked it off 6-7 years ago, and maybe because it’s focus on Off Broadway, where my producing career started, and definitely because it’s the cheapest tickets.  For 20 days only, tickets are $20 for over 20 Off Broadway shows, available 20 minutes before curtain (See how that works?  20 = 20, not 20 = 7.4 weeks).  How can you say theater tickets are expensive when you can see a show at The Classic Stage Company for only $20?  For a complete list of shows and all the rules and regs of 20at20, click here:  20at20.

Some pretty good deals, don’t you think?

So you can complain about the cold all you want, but no more complaining about prices.  Get out there this winter and see some shows and save some bucks.

And then sign my petition.


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A Few of my Favorite Things from NBC’s Live Sound of Music.

I was walking down Broadway yesterday, amidst the throngs of tourists, and I overhead one 40-something year old dude from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line ask his buddy, “Hey, did you see that Sound of Music thing on TV the other night?”

NBC’s Live Sound of Music is what everyone, everywhere seems to be talkin’ (and tweetin’) about lately, so I thought it was only time I dove into the conversation.  I saw it on Friday night, actually, thanks to NBC’s free stream on their website.

So what did I think?  Well, look, I’m a perfectionist producer, so I’ve always got something to nit pick about, but as I watched, I had to pinch punch myself several times.  Was I actually seeing a live Broadway show performed on a major network in prime time?  Or did I somehow travel back in time like Richard Collier to the days of old, when people actually gave musicals the major media attention that the American art form deserves.

It was real, alright.  It was real.  And here are just a few of my favorite things from the show:

1.  I know that person, and that person, and that person.

Working on Broadway and watching the show was like playing “Where’s Waldo” but the Waldo was all those hard working Broadway folks that we all know and love.  How awesome to see Audra and Christian and Laura Benanti doing what they do best but on the small screen . . . but how about Jessica Molaskey and Christiane Noll and Bridges of Madison Countys Elena Shaddow?

Broadway has the hardest working actors in the entertainment industry, and I’m glad we had so many of them get the attention that they deserve.  Millions should see them much more often.

2.  If Carrie can do it, I can too!

Carrie Underwood is one of the biggest living country stars in the . . . yep . . . world.  She would never have done a show on Broadway.  Her “people” (e.g. agents, managers, lawyers, and so on) wouldn’t let her spend the six months or more that a producer like me would need  in order to make a major musical work.  But she could do this.  And, let’s face it, she didn’t have to.  It was a monster risk, yet she did it anyway.  And, ok, so she isn’t Stanislavski or Julie Andrews or even that Julie girl I went to Tisch with who I always thought would break through, but we still owe Ms. Underwood a huge debt of gratitude.  She helped introduce a whole new (and huge – see below) audience to the world of musicals.  And now other big, mammoth stars (and their “people” will want to do the same . . . and that’s good for all of us.  (And if we’re really lucky, Carrie will appear on the Tonys this year.)

3.  It’s the show, stupid.

Here’s something I was reminded of pretty early into the telecast . . . The Sound of Music is a fantastic musical.  Great characters, great story and great freakin’ songs . . . with beautifully simple melodies and lyrics.  For those of you out there writing musicals (including the guy writing this blog), it was a great reminder of how to do it.  Those Rodgers and Hammerstein guys . . . they are going places.

4.  Did I mention it was live?

Was it just me or were you a little more nervous for everyone because it was live?  Did it have an American Idol feel?  Or a football game feel?  Maybe even Nascar?  That’s the magic of “live” and the producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, as well as this courageous guy, knew that and took a huge gamble in airing it in real time.  Live is what makes Broadway Broadway.  And it’s what made the telecast even better.

5.  Um, how many millions watched it?  Are you sure?

Yeah, so . . . 18.5 million people watched it.  18.5 million!!!  It would take 1,285 weeks in an 1800 seat theater for that many people to see it on Broadway!  Here are some adjectives that have been used to describe the ratings in other articles online:  “Massive,” “Monster,” “Exceeded expectations!” (My favorite).  These are the kind of quotes that matter, not review quotes (this goes for Broadway shows too, by the way).  So what does this mean?  It means that I’d bet you 18.5 million dollars that NBC will do another one of these.  And soon. And more and more 40-something dudes from north and south of the Mason Dixon line will be talking about Broadway in the future.  These telecasts could be one of the biggest weapons we have to solve our attendance problem . . . and we don’t even have to pay to fire it!


If you haven’t seen the telecast, click here.

And then make sure you get the recording, because Carrie sings like a dream and Audra’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is a new classic.

And then tell me what you think in the comments below!


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My response to all this Kinky Business.

Kinky Boots macys Thanksgiving Day ParageSome people know how to try to ruin a Thanksgiving.

If you were too busy eating and shopping and eating again to have heard about the Twitter stir caused by the performance of my show, Kinky Boots, on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, here’s what happened.

The Tony Award Winning Best Musical of 2013, Kinky Boots, which has been thrilling thousands and thousands of people from all over the world each and every week since it opened, performed on the parade.

And some, ahem, “concerned citizens” thought that the show and its characters were inappropriate for the parade, and took to Twitter to raise their voice, as this country allows them to do . . . whether we like it or not.

I am reluctant to give some of these hate-mongers citizens any more attention than they have already received, but if you want to see some of their ignorant chatter, click here to read a HuffPo article about the controversy.

Last week, when I was told that we were appearing on the show, I remember being excited . . . first, for the promotional value that comes with that kind of exposure, and second, because I knew it probably wasn’t the easiest choice for the NBC executives.  Let’s face it, we ain’t no Disney musical.

But choose it they did, and I’m so thankful for their courage.  They had to know there would be some backlash.

I certainly did.

Truth be told, when I was deciding whether or not to produce the show, part of my due diligence included the question, “Broadway show audiences are 65% tourists.  Will the red-state folks take to Kinky‘s title and subject matter?”  And many of my investors asked me the very same thing.

At the end of my process, I/we came to two conclusions:

1 – Hell yeah, they’ll take to it.  It’s that good.

2 – If they don’t take to it, well that’s all the more reason to produce it.

And the majority of people that see it, do take to it, evident by its status in the million-dollar-show club each and every week.

So why this backlash?  Why now?  Where was the backlash for Priscilla‘s parade performance in 2011?  La Cage in 2004?  Cabaret in 1998???

Weren’t those shows just as “offensive” to those who threw their homophobic-tweet-bombs this past week?

One of the simple reasons why we heard more backlash this year than ever before . . . Twitter has simply become an electronic bullhorn for more people.  In 2011, the year of Priscilla, Twitter had just announced that it had reached 100 million active users.  Just two years later it has over 210 million.  More than twice as many people have their fingers on their Twitter-trigger and are ready to share their opinion.  And some of them don’t realize that what they say could bounce back at them (Read that Huffpo article again – look at the bottom – there is a disclaimer about a bunch of removed tweets from people who said, “I didn’t mean it!”).  I’ll go even further and hypothesize that people with slightly outdated views on society, might also be later adopters to technology like Twitter.

And the other unfortunate reason that this occurred is that . . . well, despite all our wishin’ and hopin’, there are still people out there who just don’t get it.  Yet.

What do we do about it?  Do we scream at them?  Yell at them?  Throw hate-bomb tweets right back at ’em?  You can bet your Kinky-Bottom that I wanted to take the space on this blog to make all sorts of generalizations about who these people are, where they live, and even toss in a couple of -guess-who’s-married-to-their-cousin jokes.

But that’s not the answer.

You know what is?

Produce more shows like Kinky Boots.

So if you’re upset about what happened, put your time and energy and emotion into something that thrills and educates at the same time.  It’s not the easiest of roads to travel down, but its the most important.


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