Guess what? The Tonys aren’t about reaching new audiences.

The Tony Awards ratings dropped a disappointing 8% this year, despite one of our most celebrity-studded presentations ever.  We had Green Day and a NY Jet and more Hollywood stars than the Betty Ford clinic.

So why didn’t tons of new viewers tune in and get hooked on showtunes?

Because it’s still a three-hour presentation about the very nichey subject of theater.  And if you’re not a theater fan, most likely you are not tuning in, I don’t care who you dress up in a gown and teach an R&H song to.

Are my football-loving and Budweiser-drinking friends from suburban Massachusetts all of a sudden going to give up three hours of their lives because a NY Jet has a 45-second intro to a musical?

Is the JetBlue pilot who flew me from Tampa to JFK but lives in Houston and has never seen a show in his life gonna feel so compelled to turn on the Tonys just because he loved Sean Hayes’s character from Will & Grace?

Or is my Brooklyn-based little brother, who works as a sound engineer mostly in the hip-hop scene (although he has worked a few sessions of Broadway musicals), gonna take time out from mixing beats to watch the number from Fela?

The answer is no, no, and whatever the word for ‘No’ is in Nigerian.

But don’t be depressed.  They were never the audience.  Sure, we’d all love it if millions of viewers turned on CBS just to catch a glimpse of Denzel in a tux, but that’s just not what happens.  Do a few more folks tune in because we’ve got a couple of folks from Glee?  Probably . . . but it’s not enough to make any noticeable difference.

And that fact has never been more noticeable than this year, with the almost double-digit drop in ratings.

But don’t be depressed, because IMHO, our mission with the Tony Awards isn’t about reaching new audiences (especially since it’s not working anyway).

Our marketing mission of the Tony Awards, should be energizing our core audience, the ones that tune in year after year, and to try to excite them so much that they . . .

  • See one more show per year than they usually do.
  • Bring a friend to a show who would not have gone on their own.

Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. Rather than focusing on trying to reach past our 20%, we should focus our efforts (and our awards shows) on that 20%, the faithful who are tuning in.  The show should whip them up into such a Broadway frenzy, that they go out and preach its importance as entertainment louder than the year before.

Because here’s what we know:

  • Word of Mouth is what sells everything.
  • People fall in love with the theater after being introduced to it by someone else.

New audiences don’t buy Broadway because they see a clip or a star on a Tony Award show.  They fall for what we do because they are dragged to it by someone else.  I didn’t have any clue what I was going to see when my Mom dragged me to Les Miz when I was 16, and I had been involved in the theater since I was 5.  But that performance changed my life.

I had never seen a Tony Awards before then.

And I’ve never missed one since.

Advice from an Expert: Vol. XVII. My Mother The Theatergoer.

There’s always a lot of talk about the Tonys in the weeks that follow the big show.  What numbers were successful?  Could we give the plays more attention and still hold the audience’s attention?  And who fit Katie Holmes into her dress?

But the most important question for the Producers out there is . . . after watching the Tonys, what shows does the public want to see?

All of us in the industry debate this question like crazy.  But what do we know?  Most of us don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a family of four from the suburbs interested in seeing a show on their next long weekend.  In fact, I would wager that the people making the product in our industry and the people seeing the product are more different than in most industries out there.

But that doesn’t stop us from guessing.

I was in the middle of a heated discussion about my own guesses on what the public wanted to see last week, when I realized it was time to go to the source.  I decided to go to what most advertising agencies would describe as the model of a “traditional” theatergoer:  a suburban female in her 50s-60s who sees 3-5 shows per year, mostly musicals, and pays full price.

And that theatergoer is my momma.  And she’s literally been in my backyard this whole time!

I called Mom, who, of course, had tuned in to the Tonys, and asked her if she would write a mini-blog for me about her perspective on this year’s show.  Most specifically, I asked . . . “Mom, after watching the Tonys, what shows do you want to see the next time you are in town?”

Here’s what Mom had to say . . . [my comments are in brackets] “I watched the Tony Awards a few nights ago.  I love the excitement, costumes, music – even the speeches.  I often get ideas about what I’d like to see on our next NYC trip.  Before I tell you what shows captured my attention from the way they were presented at The Tonys, I thought you might find it interesting to get a few additional details about my perspective (and some of these Kenneth doesn’t even know).  [Yes, she, and about three other people on the planet, call me Kenneth.]

  • My first theater experience was 50 years ago when I saw Annie Get Your Gun.  When the stage curtain opened, revealing a real live horse . . . I was hooked!  [When people see things on stage that they don’t expect to see: kids, animals, helicopters, it elevates the experience.]
  • As a teenager, I was addicted to buying show albums, and also listening to show songs popularized by famous artists.  I loved those album covers and the summaries of the shows on the back (King and I, Mame, etc.)  [Oh, if only popular artists were covering our tunes today.]
  • I was a teen in the ’60s, which put me in the proper emotional state to grasp the power of music.  It brought people together, challenged their thinking and even caused them to take action (Hair, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar).  

And now, here are the shows that I wanted to see and the ones that didn’t interest me (there were many other shows that I had no opinion on – I’d have to learn more before putting them in the “to see” or “don’t see” category).  It’s important to remember that this is based solely on what I saw on the Tonys.  I might not see any of these shows, or I might see them all.  A lot of things may change my mind before I get to New York next, including what Kenneth thinks I might like to see or not.  [Good ol’ fashioned Word of Mouth trumps all, and I can’t believe she called me Kenneth twice in this blog.]

SHOWS I REALLY WANT TO SEE!

Memphis:  The music and the dancing were so exciting, this is at the top of my list.  (I have to admit that ‘Listen to the Beat’ sounded like Hairspray‘s ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat.’ but I loved the music and the dancing in that show, too!)  [Music, dancing . . . the keys to an audience-pleaser of a musical.]

Fela!:  I love the costumes, the music and the dancing.  The story (about using music to communicate) also seemed very interesting to me.  [See her comment about growing up in the ’60s.  What our audience lived through helped make them who they are today and influences what they want to see.]

Million Dollar Quartet:  Loved the music and the story idea and Levi Kreis’s performance.

Red:  I really liked the premise about the importance of art and what I saw of both Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne.  [Mom was disappointed to hear she wouldn’t get a chance to see this show because of its limited run.  I told her if she was disappointed, imagine how the Producers must feel.]

NAH, I’LL PASS

American Idiot:  To me, it seemed like a concert, and not a show.  I’ve heard about Green Day because my other son is in the music business, but I’ve never listened to any of their music before.  The music was interesting to me, but I’m not going to play it in my car anytime soon.

A Little Night Music:  I don’t know this show very well, so I can only base my thoughts on what I saw, but I wasn’t inspired.  I love ‘Send In The Clowns,’ but I didn’t learn anything else about the show through the performance.”
So there are Mom’s Tony Award Takeaways.

Now please remember, this is only one Mom’s opinion. And the opinions expressed here by my Mom are solely my Mom’s and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Moms everywhere or even me.

But she’s a Mom with a Mastercard, and she uses it to buy tickets.  So maybe we should listen to all of the Moms out there more than we listen to those of us on the inside of the business.

So . . . what did your Mom think?

[Update:  My mom came into the city this weekend unexpectedly.  Although she wanted to see Memphis, she ended up getting Chicago tickets instead (and special thanks to Michael at the Ambassador BO for helping her out).  Why?  “I thought your step-father would enjoy it more.”]

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.

My Top 5 Moments from Last Night’s Tony Telecast

Just like last year, here are five of my favorite things from last night’s Tony telecast.

1.  Sometimes the best speech is none at all.

Marian Seldes shocked (and scared) the crowd in the most classy way possible, by not saying one word after walking on stage to accept her Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.  It was a little odd, and a little awesome, all rolled into one legend.

2.  Neil Patrick who?

Sean Hayes tore up the stage as Annie, Spiderman, and as a straight guy making Kristin Chenoweth weak in the knees with that tongue-down of an opener. He was as good of a host as we could have asked for.  You’ve been raked through the ridiculous mud over the past couple of months, Sean.  But your gracious talents have made you even sexier to all sexes because of it.

3.  The straight play mashup.

You gotta give the Tonys some credit.  Every year they try a new way to include the straight plays in the telecast.  This year, it was a pair of starry performers from each play describing the plot to the audience (and if those descriptions were getting awards, then Next Fall would have won hands down), as well as remix mashup of straight play b-roll from all of the plays on Broadway this season.  If you didn’t see it, imagine a 17-year-old club kid who also loves straight plays making a three minute tribute to post to his YouTube account.  Was it successful?  I don’t know, but the effort deserves some applause.

4.  Watching a Tony Award audience try to clap in rhythm to Green Day.

Having Green Day on the show was like striking Radio City with a lightning bolt. Has there ever been that much pyro on a Tony Awards telecast?  It was awesome, and hopefully it got the younger crowds at home to tune in.  The older crowd that was in the audience at RCMH however, seemed to have a little trouble finding their punk-groove (did you see Michael Douglas trying to get into it with that head bob?).  The issue of this audience not naturally being in tune with this type of music was made much more obvious later, when American Idiot failed to win the Tony.  But thank you Green Day for bringing your passion and your popularity to our stage.

5.  The Tony for good sports goes to . . 

Bebe and Nathan.  No last names required.  They didn’t need to co-present. They didn’t need to poke fun at themselves.  They didn’t even need to be anywhere near the building.  But they did it all, and once again proved why they are the stars that they are.  This business is going to take us all on a ride.  You’ll be up one second, and down the next.  You’ll have your face on a billboard, and then you’ll be fighting for a bio in a program.  But maintaining a level head about it all is what makes people fall even more in love with what we do.

Other fave moments from the show included the LED wall (less sets, less expenses), Catherine Zeta’s acceptance speech, the Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele Glee-fest, and Daniel Radcliffe presenting with the 2-foot-taller Katie Holmes.

Overall, I’m giving the telecast a B+.  An A- would have been easy, if it weren’t for the many sound f-ups.  I mean, you found a way to bleep out “MIND F***” from American Idiot‘s performance, but you can’t get the mic to work for others?

What were your favorite moments from this year’s Tony Awards?

And stay tuned for the announcement of our Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool winner tomorrow!  Someone is getting an iPad!

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