Why sports musicals don’t work.

While watching Rocky IV for the 143rd time the other night, I twittered the question, “Why don’t sports musicals work?”

Something about ’em doesn’t translate, and something about ’em doesn’t even get people trying.  Beside Good News and Damn Yankees, what other shows have sports based themes and been successful?

Is it just because it’s harder to show a Rudy-like football game or a Hoosiers-like basketball championship on a stage?


Is it just because sports tend to be viewed, played and loved by a male majority, and we all know who buys theater tickets?


But I think it comes down to the simple fact that the focus of films is on action (inherent in the name “moving” or “motion” pictures).

The focus of the theater, however, is on characters.

So when you’re writing your next big show, it’s not as much as what happens along the way as who it’s happening to, and who is doing the happening (August Osage is a fine example of a pretty near perfect character driven play).

Oh, and despite rumors that there is a Rocky musical on the way written by Tom Meehan and Ahrens and Flaherty, I’m taking bets that it never gets into the ring.  Any takers?  I’ll give 3:1 odds.

And if it does make it, I’ll go double or nothing that it gets knocked out in the first round.

I went to see a show that has been running 18 years. Any idea what it was?

For this year’s Davenport Theatrical holiday party, we went someplace I’ve always been curious about . . . because it’s one of the longest running shows in the tri-state area.

Give up?

We went back-in-time to Medieval Times, the jousting and turkey-leg eating extravaganza in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

Whatever you think about this semi-cheese-fest, one thing is for certain, it’s a successful live entertainment experience, with 9 companies in the US that date back to 1983.

So what can we learn from this castle in New Jersey?  Here’s a list of why I think it continues to be successful:

  • It’s not something you see everyday (horses, knights, etc.).
  • You know right away who to root for (we all need a hero).
  • There’s a competition (games are good)
  • The audience is involved (waving flags, catching roses, chanting, etc.).
  • It has added value (dinner was included – and holy shield, was it good!)
  • You can buy everything (who knew the middle ages had so much merch)
  • The Producers own everything (from the building to the bar)

Should every Broadway show have all of these elements?  No way (although Phantom seems to have a lot in common with MT, doesn’t it?).  But there is something to learn from common characteristics in all forms of successful live (or taped) entertainment, from concerts to operas to rodeos.

Find what pushes an audience’s buttons, and apply them to your project in the appropriate manner (that means no flag waving at a Pinter play).

Oh, the other reason MT is successful?  Chicks dig knights.  (That sound you just heard was my web designer, Jamie Lynn, screaming at me for posting this photo of her and the Blue Knight.  Sorry, JLB, that’s what you get for putting it up on Facebook.)


And I would make the check payable to . . .? ME!

It ain’t easy being self-employed.

As a writer or painter or anyone trying to create something from nothing, it’s hard to churn stuff out without a boss giving you guidelines, deadlines . . . and a paycheck.

One of the first practical lessons they give you as self-employed artist is to give yourself guidelines and deadlines (write a scene a week, or write between the hours of 9 – 10 AM every weekday) . . . so why not give yourself a paycheck, too?

Yep, I’m telling you to pay yourself, because you’d probably never tell yourself that.

Give yourself an hourly wage, weekly wage, or a wage-per-page . . . and at the end of each week, literally give yourself that money.

And blow it on yourself like you’re a playa in Vegas, yo.

You can spend it each week, or save it up.  But eventually spend it on something you wouldn’t normally buy, but something that makes you feel great:  a pedicure, a steak, a trip to St. Croix.

You don’t have to pay yourself a lot of money, just something.

Besides, if you don’t feel like you’re worth a few bucks, how can you expect anyone else to think you’re worth more than a few bucks?

Let someone else play with your play.

When I saw the Mexican production of My First Time earlier this month, I remembered something:  there are ideas other than my own . . . and some of them are good!

When you create something and work on it closely, it’s easy to get tunnel vision, even if that tunnel is taking you to great places.

So here’s a kooky developmental idea:

Got a new show that you have been working on with your team?  Let another team take a shot at it.  That’s right.  Leave your baby with a babysitter . . . for the whole weekend!

Seriously, give it to a new director or a new group of actors or both, and see what they come up with.  Don’t give them stage directions, don’t give them the benefit of seeing earlier readings, just give up control (you control freak, you) and see what they do.

Do it in a living room, or at a small community theater out of state that would kill for a shot at a new show, or do it in Mexico (but wherever you do it, make sure it’s somewhere risk-free, away from the mainstream).

You may hate half of it.  Or you may hate all of it.

But I guarantee that a different take will make you get out of the tunnel and just may help you see the light.

Sequels suck. But just for us.

Squeezing successful products for every penny of profit may sound like a greedy, grubbin’ producer sort-of-thing to do, but the exploitation of products that have penetrated the market successfully is what allow producers to reinvest in more new product.

When most industries squeeze their products for more profit out pop sequels.

How many Rocky films were there?  How many Lestat books?

How many iPhones do you think there will be?  Yep, even technology has sequels.

But plays and musicals don’t . . . or not successful ones, anyway.

Bring Back Birdie, Annie Warbucks, Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, etc.  Bomb, Bomb, Ba-bomb (although that last one had some great Carol Hall tunes . . . and a real horse on stage).

There has never been a successful musical or play sequel in the modern theater (the thought of a play or musical sequel just sounds brie-zy, doesn’t it?).

In a year and a half, we’re going to see the biggest challenge to the “sequels-suck” theory, when the longest running musical in history puts up its version of “what happened next”.

The question is, will it, like Rocky II, sit next to its predecessor on the shelf?  Will both shows be up at the same time?

Not if I was producing both (and I bet they won’t have the same producers).  I’d slide out the old for the new.  The one thing that Phantom has to fight history is that it could seamlessly present its sequel, instead of waiting 20 years.

But I wouldn’t be producing it.  Given the opportunity to do a sequel (with all the economic baggage that will come with it) or something new, I’d go for the original.

Now, if I had an opportunity to produce Rocky 7, that’s another story.

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Give me your feedback here.