Fun on a Friday: when pop culture worlds collide

Now that the Anthony Weiner scandal has died down, there seem to be only two topics of water cooler conversation these days:  Book of Mormon and Harry Potter.

They seem so dissimilar, don’t they?

Not to Tessa Netting, former Billy Elliot Broadway cast member, who created a Harry Potter meets Book of Mormon meets the opening of The Brady Bunch YouTube mashup that is quickly making the rounds ’round Broadway.

Enjoy it, and thanks for the fun, Tessa.

Now if only there was an Anthony Weiner meets War Horse mashup.  (For the record, I have no idea what that even means.)

 

 

 

 

(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)

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Our Green Broadway $100 winner announced!

Holy comments, BroadwayMan!

Based on the mountain of comments this blog received, making the theatrical workplace a greener place is obviously a very important subject for all of you.

And what creative suggestions they were!  Everything from LED lights to a “Craigslist for Theater Supplies” to a shock-absorbing dance floor that turns time-steps into electricity.  (Can you imagine how much electricity you could get from “Electricity” in Billy Elliot?)

There were several subjects that kept popping up:  paperless ticketing, Playbills and leftover sets, to name a few.  And, you know what I say . . . if more than one person has the same idea, it’s a subject that needs close examination (and there’s probably a business model behind it as well).

My staff sorted through the comments yesterday, and while they could have given multiple winners, they finally narrowed it down to just one.

The winner of the C-Note and the title of Mrs. Green Broadway is . . . RS!  RS wins with this suggestion:

The Producers should try to get Equity to come up with a way to stop requiring stuffers, without having to announce the changes in cast – there are already too many announcements before a show. Either allow us to just post the changes at the entrance or even allow for postings near each entrance to the aisles – the amount of paper we waste in stuffing is beyond imagination. Also if we still have to continue to stuff Playbills – shows really need to do one page all encompassing stuffers.even if this means that the stage managers end up producing the stuffer on the day.

I couldn’t agree more.  The amount of stuffers used on Broadway is disgustingly wasteful.  There has to be a better system that saves paper, time, money and more.  I blogged about it once and even said it might be worth us paying a few more bucks to our staffers to lose this minuscule piece of billing.

But something has got to be done.  The pros are not outweighing the conservation.

Congratulations, RS!  $100 is on its way to you!

And thanks to all of you for be a part of the team that helps “green” Broadway.  What we can save together is worth a whole lot more than $100.

How many of you save your Broadway ticket stubs?

I saved them all.

When I was younger, I’d get my Playbill, and that ticket stub (which is no longer a stub, thanks to ticketing scanners) would go right in the middle.

Full embarrassing disclosure: when I was in high school, I used to take the cover of my Playbills, the ticket stubs, and a few choice photos from inside the Playbill, and I’d create a poor-man’s decoupage that I framed and put on my nightstand.  I guess my hope was that they would help all of my Broadway dreams come true.  (My Secret Garden Playbill/photo combo even had an autograph from Daisy Eagan!)

Ok, so I was a lonely kid . . . but it was pretty obvious what I was going to do when I grew up.

This post isn’t about my awkward youth (there isn’t enough space on the entire internet for me to go into that), but rather that ticket . . . which for me, and for so many of you, I bet . . . was a souvenir.

And a souvenir is merch . . . and merch is marketing.

The ticket as a souvenir is slowly but surely disappearing as we transition to e-ticketing, and eventually mobile ticketing technology (having the ticketing scanners scan an image on your phone itself, which requires no paper product at all).

And as much as I’m a huge fan of this technology (and of all technology), it’s going to take us a long time to adopt it.

Why?

  • We’re always slow to adopt technology.
  • Our customers like hard tickets.

While hanging out at the booth last week, I watched a woman turn to another and say, “Did you get ’em?”  Her friend smiled, then fanned out five Billy Elliot tickets like a winning poker hand.  They both literally screamed with joy.  Now imagine what it would have been like if she showed her friend a UPC image on her phone.

Wah-wah.

Broadway tickets still have a Willy Wonka “Golden Ticket” effect that we don’t want to disappear too soon.

They are a tangible passport to entertainment that can create a positive emotional response about our product . . . whether or not you choose to frame it.

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UPDATE:  Two days after I wrote this blog, it was announced that New York State became the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring paper tickets. To read more about it, click here.

Theater things that don’t make sense: Vol. 8

I was recently at a big ol’ touring house outside of NYC.  You know, one of those theaters in major metro areas all over the country that presents big national tours like Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins as well as concerts, lectures, local dance recitals and more.

I was talking to the TD of this theater, and he was telling me about his house plot.  You know, the bank of lighting instruments owned by the theater that can be used for small shows, or used to augment big shows, etc. (which allows touring shows to travel with less, saving them money in rentals and trucking and load-in time).  A house plot is one of the reasons that Altar Boyz was able to tour all over the country.

So I started thinking . . .

Why don’t Broadway houses have house plots?

If there were a string of basic instruments in each house, we could save time, money, and I’d bet a lot of those dark weeks that some theaters face could be filled by smaller shows or special events that wouldn’t normally be able to get their shows up without this savings . . . which would provide more jobs for everyone.  (The owners of New World Stages recently added a house plot to one of their small theaters, and it’s been booked more often because of it).

The theater owners could even charge a few more bucks for use of the package, paying for (and profiting from) their initial purchase of the equipment.

It’s my understanding that the current stagehand contract prevents leaving elements from one show to be used for another show without payment (since the guys are losing hours of work). While that argument seems to be another ‘theater thing that doesn’t make sense,’ I would think that a compromise could be had, since this “house plot” idea is in use all over the country, and since the existence of the plot could generate more gigs for the stagehands in the future.

With our costs escalating just about everywhere, we’ve got to look at ways to become more efficient . . . which means looking at things in ways we’ve never looked at them before.

The Tony Awards beat me to this blog.

The theme of this year’s Tony Awards opening number was the current overwhelming number of songs on Broadway stages from the popular musical canon.

Well, dangit, that’s what I was going to say!

But it’s more than just this year’s crop.  While leaving American Idiot a few weeks ago, I walked through Times Square and looked at all the marquees.  Connections to popular music are all over the Great White Way in one way or another.

Let’s look at all the book musicals (in alpha order) currently playing on Broadway and connect the popular dots:

A Little Night Music

Stephen Sondheim is not considered a “popular” composer, but ALNM features his only major pop hit “Send In The Clowns,” of the over 800 songs he has written.  It won a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’ in 1976.

American Idiot

Composed by punk-rock super-group, Green Day, the album of the same title also won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album.’

Billy Elliot

Composed by rock superstar (and sometimes Rush Limbaugh supporter), Elton John, who has more Grammys than a retirement home.

Chicago

What do I have to say about this composing team?  How about this:  two words repeated.  “New York, New York.”  That popular enough for you?

Come Fly Away

Speaking of NY, NY, Come Fly Away is all pop tunes sung by pop legend, Frankie S.

Everyday Rapture

This bio musical uses pop tunes to tell some of its story.

Fela!

Fela Kuti’s tunes may not have been featured on morning radio in this country, but in his homeland, his pioneering sounds were all the popular rage.

Hair

The astrological tune, “The Age of Aquarius,” held the #1 spot on the charts for 6 weeks and is listed as the 57th Greatest Song of All Time according to Billboard.

In The Heights

I got nothing on this one, except for the obvious influence of pop music of the time on the score.  So far, that’s 8 out of 9 with a direct connection to the pop world.

Jersey Boys

A bio-musical about one of the most popular guy-groups ever, who sold more than 175 million records.

La Cage aux Folles

Not only did “I Am What I Am” rank on the charts, but Herman had a hit with “Hello Dolly” in 1964 when the Louis Armstrong recording knocked The Beatles out of the #1 spot!

Mamma Mia!

The gold-record standard of the jukebox musical still has ’em dancing in the aisles and grossed almost $800 million last week, almost 9 years after its opening.

Mary Poppins

The Sherman Bros have should get an award for having so many awards. Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, and more.  Their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious songs have been sung by the masses for years.

Memphis

David Bryan, the composer of Memphis is the keyboard player for a little known band called Bon Jovi.

Million Dollar Quartet

Some of the greatest classic rock tunes, and classic rock characters, are featured in this jukey musical.

Next to Normal

Outside of his musical theater work, Composer Tom Kitt is the founder of The Tom Kitt band, and his work on American Idiot led him to be hired by Green Day to provide arrangements for their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown.

Promises, Promises

Promises Composer Burt Bacharach has written 70 Top 40 hits in his lifetime, including “I Say A Little Prayer For You” and “A House Is Not A Home” which were both integrated into this revival.

Rock of Ages

Mamma Mia but with 80s tunes.

South Pacific

How many covers of songs can a composer/lyricist have?  R&H’s tunes were all over the place in their day, and are still used in pop culture today.

The Addams Family

Like In the Heights, there’s no real strong connection to the pop world here.  That makes 18 out of 20 with direct connections to the pop music world.

The Lion King

Another one by Sir Elton.

The Phantom of The Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber is like a modern day R&H when it comes to his theater songs becoming standards.  Streisand, Manilow, and Mathis are just a few of the folks that have covered and scored hits with “Memory” alone.

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein was successful in the popular idiom in another way . . . the classic way.  He grabbed a couple of handfuls of Grammys in his day, including one for Lifetime Achievement.  He wrote for the movies, for shows, for choruses, and more.  His stuff was everywhere.

Wicked

What Andrew Lloyd Webber is to the UK is what Stephen Schwartz is to America.  He is our most popular successful composer, with Grammys and Academy Awards and more, oh my.  “Day by Day” was a Top 40 hit, and he has even written songs for Five For Fighting.

There you have it.  24 musicals on Broadway and 22 of them with direct connections to the world of popular music.  Some looser than others, I’ll admit. And some are chicken-egg questions (Did their pop success come from the theater work or vice-versa?).

But my point is not that you need to be a successful pop artist to be a successful Broadway composer.  In many of the cases above, the Broadway success came first.

What I am saying is that the overwhelming lack of degrees of separation between successful Broadway composers and the world of pop music suggest that there may be a characteristic that binds the two.

And that characteristic is melody.

So if you’re a composer looking to get a show up on Broadway, you might want to make sure your songs have some similar characteristics to what’s on the radio.  I can’t tell you how many demos I listen to (or stop listening to) where the composers seem to be after some sort of intelligentsia award, instead of just writing a song that people might enjoy hearing in their car, or while cleaning their room, or while they are finishing a blog at 2:08 AM (Lady Gag
a is on in the background on my Sirius radio).

I’m not saying that theater songs have to be Britney-like trite or super-simplistic (God knows Green Day isn’t trite, and Elton’s stuff is some of the richest musical and lyrical material you’ll ever listen to).

But they’ve all got melody and hooks and songs that people like to sing along to.

And that will put you at the top of charts and the Tony Awards.

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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