Predicting The Tony Awards . . . where’s Gallup when you need them?

Every May, the new Broadway shows battle it out for our big awards and the big bucks that come with them.

In my head, it’s like a big Broadway cage match.
Throw 10-15 shows in a ring and watch them go at it.  The big bullies pull out all the stops and instead of throwing chairs at their opponents, they throw television ads.  Others fight with print, or with direct mailed scripts and CDs to voters.  Some stand by the ropes, waiting for others to get knocked out early, before jumping into the fray.
Millions of dollars are spent on media in May, and it ain’t no secret that one of the primary goals of this media push is directed at the voters in attempt to keep the shows ‘top of mind’ (another reason why Spring shows that are still running have a leg up on the closed Fall shows:  Springers still have ad budgets to get themselves in front of nominators and voters).
When you’re a spectactor, it can be fun to watch (on Thursday, I tweeted that I saw 5 commercials for different Broadways in less than 60 minutes, on the same channel).  When you’re inside the cage, it can be downright scary, as a wrong move can send you to the canvas prematurely.
Fates can be sealed, tours can be launched, and shows can recoup based on what happens in the four weeks leading up to June 7th.
It reminds me of the month before a big election.
During every election, there are always a zillion polls, led by companies like Gallup, or TV networks, who  call up registered voters, and find out who they are planning on voting for on the big day.
Imagine if there was the equivalent of a Gallup for Broadway.  If an “independent research group” could survey a group of Tony Voters (each show knows exactly who they are) and find out what the voting trends were, a show could, just like a political candidate, change its camaign tactics accordingly.  If a show was so far out of the running that no amount of votes would help, a great deal of money could be saved.  If a show was neck and neck with another, but was trending lower in a certain block of voters, a different strategy could be established.
Unethical?  If it’s OK for the most important office on the planet, then I think it’s OK for Broadway.  Would the Tony Voters cooperate?  I bet you could find enough of a sample that would (I never expect people to talk to Michael Riedel, but they always do ).  Too small of a sample since there are only 800 voters, and there are always 30-40% at least that don’t even see the shows?  There would be a margin of error, that’s for sure, but something is better than nothing.
If I could pick only one pet peeve in this biz, it would be this:  we spend too much money without enough information.
It’s your job as a Producer to find whatever way you can to gather information that helps you make better decisions . . . so when the final bell rings, you can be one left standing, holding the belt.

Tony Award Nominations: I got a C.

I went 6 for 8 in my nomination predictions from yesterday, scoring a disappointingly average 75%.

Where did I go wrong?

Well, Shrek didn’t get the Disney treatment and slid into the 3rd spot.  Expect them to get a big sales boost after their number on the show.

But the big shock is RockRock of Ages screamed its way into the fourth spot, leaving 9 to 5 to be labeled the Legally Blonde of 2009.  It looks like the nominators couldn’t get the bad taste of those late season reviews out of their mouths.  Perhaps this is one place where critics do still have some serious power?

Title of Show didn’t get a nod in the big category, but the nominators did give Hunter Bell a well deserved nomination in the book category, as a gesture of what that show meant to the industry.

On the play front, I did better, only missing one: Jane Fonda’s 33 Variations (which commenter David wisely pointed out to me).

Keep reading to see my picks for the winners in the next week.  I’m shooting for an A- at least.

Here’s a full recap of all the nominations.

Best Play

Dividing the Estate
God of Carnage
Reasons to Be Pretty
33 Variations

Best Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek The Musical

Best Book of a Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical

Lee Hall

Next to Normal
Brian Yorkey

Shrek The Musical
David Lindsay-Abaire

[Title of Show]
Hunter Bell

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Lee Hall

Next to Normal
Music: Tom KittLyrics: Brian Yorkey

9 to 5: The Musical
Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Shrek The Musical
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Best Special Theatrical Event

Liza’s at The Palace
Slava’s Snowshow
Soul of Shaolin
You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish ‚ Billy Elliot, The

Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical

Tony Nominations are Tomorrow. My picks for the big ones.

May Madness begins on Tuesday morning at 8:30 AM with the announcement of this year’s Tony nominations.

There are a few places to watch this year so tune in to either:
  • CBS’s The Early Show (which promises to show “some” of the categories).
  • NY1.  This is Roma Torre’s favorite time of year.
  • In the middle of Times Square on the JumboTron (someone please go and tweet a pic to me)
Below are my predictions (plus a few ‘type bytes’) on the nominations in the two big money categories (Best Musical and Best Play), enumerated in order of my confidence:
1.  Billy Elliot
Billy had us at hello.  Billy was a shoe-in for a nom (and a possible win) when it was first announced that the show was happening, and he won’t disappoint.
2.  Next To Normal
N2N is the Passing Strange of 2009 – the gutsy, artistic, “non-commercial” choice, that took a strange but courageous path to Broadway.  Nominators (and voters who like to look really smart) love these types of shows.
3.  9 to 5
Many shows like to open late in the season, in order to use the Tonys as free publicity at a time when they need the boost.  Unfortunately, if you’re not reviewed well, those reviews are fresh in the nominators minds when they head to the Edison cafe to pick the nominees.  That’s what happened to 9 to 5.  Nevertheless, Dolly’s charm beats Ben Brantley’s any day of the week, so expect a nom.
4.  Title of Show 
The fourth spot is the tough choice.  It’s the wild card.  You’ve got TOS, Rock of Ages, 13, Story of My Life, Tale of 2 Cities, and the big one . . . that twenty million dollar monster known as Shrek.

I think Shrek and Dreamworks will get Disney-fied (3 out of 6 Disney shows have not been nominated for Best Musical:  Aida, Tarzan and Little Mermaid).  And as much as I’m pulling for what I call a “Marisa Tomei” for 13 (Marisa shocked the world when she was nominated, and then won an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny), I think the fourth spot is a cage match between the scrappy and you-tubey Title of Show and the jukeboxy, and surprisingly well-reviewed shock of the year . . . Rock of Ages.

When it comes down to it, the insidery nominators will choose a show about their own industry that tells the story of how hard it can be to put on a show, over a show that just wants you to rock . . . hard.
1.  God of Carnage
This year has made a lot of people sick to their stomach. God of Carnage is this season’s Pepto.  Comedy is back, and that makes Carnage a cinch to lead the category.
2.  Reasons to be Pretty
Neil Labute made his debut on Broadway and he’ll make his debut in this category as well.  The real question is whether this solid play can compete in this market and stay around until the ceremony?
3.  Dividing The Estate
This transfer from Primary Stages had an all too short 10 week run on Broadway.  A possible extension was in the works, but the theater was booked (with the even shorter run of Story of My Life).  Hartford Stage did its part to keep the play in the minds of the nominators.  There’s a strong emotional movement ‘a foot’ to give Mr. Foote the Tony Award that eluded him (he passed away in March of this year at 92, which was too short of a run as well, if you ask me), and that will help secure the 3rd spot.
4.  The American Plan
The fourth Play spot is a tricky one with two major contenders:  Plan and Irena’s Vow.  While the subject matter and pure emotion of Vow is much more gripping than Plan, expect the nominators to give this spot to Mr. Greenberg, whom they know and love, rather than the Hollywood outsider, Dan Gordon.  Personally, I’d like to give Gordon kudos for taking a break from Hollywood and giving the stage a shot (If only more writers would do that).  Tovah will get a nom to make up for it.
Do you agree?  Disagree?  Have your own picks for tomorrow’s nominations?  Comment away!
Read tomorrow’s blog (or watch one of the viewing options mentioned above) to see how I did.
And make sure you continue to read throughout this awards season.  Our annual ‘Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool’ is coming up (prizes, prizes, PRIZES), and of course, I’ll be tweeting from The Tonys as the awards are given out.
So stay Tw-uned.

Where’s the Tony Award ticket police when you need them?

Shortly after a show opens on Broadway, all 800 or so Tony Voters are invited to see the show, even if it’s months before the nominations are out.

As many have reported, one of the biggest challenges facing Tony hopefuls is the same challenge that faces our presidential hopefuls:  voter turnout.

I’ve had to work the phones on a few shows, trying to make sure every one of those voters had seen the show I was on at the time.  On Ragtime, the alleged book-cook, Garth Drabinsky, used to call me himself at the end of every day to get an update on the % of Tony Voters who had seen the show (We never broke 70%).

It’s definitely an issue that needs addressing.

But I want to address the opposite issue.  What happens when they do come . . . and it’s not them.

Tony Voter ticket fraud occurs more frequently than Donna Murphy misses shows.  Voters call in for tickets, and then pass them along to their friends, their assistants, and so on.  Sometimes it’s because they’ve seen the show already (opening night, etc.) and other times it’s because they just don’t want to see the show.

I’ve been in plenty of a box offices and watched as freckled-faced AMDA students came up asking for their Tony tickets, claiming to be people I knew that were in their 70s.

What do you do?  Turn them away?  Risk irritating an actual voter?  (I did turn someone away once.)

800 voters.  At 2 tickets each, that’s 1600 tickets or the equivalent of a full house at The Marquis Theater.  That’s about $100k worth of revenue that we give away, or 1% of the capitalization of a 10 million dollar musical.

If we’re taking money out of the pockets of the investors and good locations out of the hands of the public, then we need to insure that the people sitting in those prime orchestra seats are the actual decision makers.

How?  It’s time for all Tony voters to be issued photo identification by the League, just like a college ID, that is updated every year with a “validation sticker” (it’s important the shows are not the policeman on this issue, for fear of voter backlash).  That ID has to be shown in order to pick up your tickets, and those tickets can only be picked up at the box office, 30 minutes prior to showtime.

Will it solve the problem?  No, just like underage drinking, it will probably never go away.  But, required IDs do make it a lot harder for people to get their hands on the good stuff.

Ironically, instituting this policy will cause voter turnout to drop because those already low turnout numbers are counting for tickets used . . .  not valid tickets used.

But let’s let it drop, because then we’ll realize how important that first issue really is.

While we’re talking about the Times . . .

In a recap and coal-raking of this year’s Tony Awards, New York Times reviewer, Charles Isherwood, said:

The pleasure of the Tony Awards, for me and probably for most theater lovers (and, seriously, who else watches?) is a chance to see artists we admire rewarded for their work, to see them acting joyous, excited, flustered, grateful, maybe a little foolish – in short, human, divorced from the stage personality, without the mask of character to obscure them.  The glow of that kind of happiness is always touching.  The highlights of all Tony telecasts, for me, are the acceptance speeches . . .

Huh. You guys are theater lovers. Is that why you tune in?
I wasn’t sure I agreed with him . . . so I did a poll on BroadwaySpace. Here are the results as to why a few hundred Broadway lovers tune in to the Tonys:

45% To See The Performances

30% To Find Out Who Wins

10% To Hear The Acceptance Speeches Of The Winners

6% To See The Host

9% To See The Celebrities

The Tonys took a lot of knocks this year for recycling past Tony winners, including non-nominated show performances, presenting awards pre-telecast and showing edited acceptance speeches.

We have to remember, the Tonys are a television show, and the biggest branding opportunity Broadway has every year. If we want long speeches and catered egos, then let’s hand out the hardware of a catered lunch.

No, the ratings didn’t go up, but the quality of the experience for those same number of viewers did.