5 Signs that Broadway is becoming more like Vegas.

I’ve been in New York for just shy of two decades now, and to say things have changed in the theater district is as obvious as saying Wicked is a big hit.

The transformation of Times Square into a Vegas Strip-like scene seems to have had an effect on what’s happening inside our theaters as well.

Here are 5 things I’ve noticed that indicate we’re getting Vegas-ized:

1.  WHO IS THE HEADLINER?

We’re becoming increasingly dependent on the names in our shows, just like the casinos have depended on Wayne Newton and friends for years.  In some cases (A Steady Rain, anyone?), Shakespeare has gotten a rewrite because now, “the star’s the thing.”

2.  A TRIBUTE TO TRIBUTES.

When Love Never Dies canceled its Fall NYC opening, the show that took its place wasn’t a limited run play revival.  Instead it was Rain, a Beatles tribute show that has been touring the nation.  If it succeeds, expect more of this type of entertainment to be coming down the long and winding road.

3.  BROKERS ARE NOT GOING BROKE.

In Vegas, the Brokers mean business.  If you don’t have them on your side, you’re gonna get Bugsy Siegeled in no time.  In NYC, they don’t wield that much power . . . yet.  But as they continue to out-spend us on advertising, and continue to organize, we may find ourselves not wanting to sit with our backs to the door, if you know what I mean.  My suggestion?  We all have a sit-down.

4.  PARDON ME, I DON’T SPEAK AMERICAN.

International audiences have been slowly increasing here in NYC, with the Broadway League reporting that 21% of our audience was from around the globe in 2008-2009.  21%!  That means more than 1 in 5 people that see a show many not speak English as their first language!  You’d have to be high on glue to not think that stat has an effect on what runs.  If it increases, expect more and more non-verbal entertainment or spectacular events to take over our boards, like, oh, I don’t know, Spider-Man?

5.  ADVANCE = DAY OF.

It used to be that our tourist audiences picked up a paper before they came into town and bought their tickets in advance.  When my Mom bought my fam Phantom tickets we waited EIGHT months. And we sat in the 2nd row from the back. (Side note: when I went to see it a second time, I bought tickets from a broker because I wanted a great seat.)  Our audiences are becoming more like Vegas audiences, and waiting until they get here to decide, causing most shows to have more availability, requiring more discounting, etc.  So much of our marketing dollars now have to be spent on converting the customer when they get here, instead of before.

Will Broadway become the U.S’s second Strip?  I doubt it.  Great plays and great musicals will always have a place here, whereas I can’t imagine that The Pitmen Painters or Next to Normal will ever play The Mirage.

But we do have more in common with Vegas than ever before.

And you can place a big bet that this trend concerns me.

One way I annoy everyone around me.

I can drive a person crazy.  I can drive a person mad.  (That’s my belated Happy Bday tribute to Mr. S, BTW).

Here’s how:

When I fall in love with a song, I listen to it over and over and over. For example, if you came by my office last week pre 10 AM or post 6 PM, you would have heard Michael Buble’s “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” 3 or 4 times in a row, easy (I mean, you can’t NOT be in a great mood after listening to that tune).  A few weeks ago it was “Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies.  Before that it was the American Idiot video of “21 Guns”.

And when I say over and over and over, I mean over and over and over until people start throwing things at me.

But come on, you do it too, right?

There’s just something about music that gets under your skin, and into your soul . . . so much that you want to sing along, right?

Here’s my question:

When you fall in love with a movie, how many times do you watch it in a row?  Do you ever put in on a loop and watch it consecutively like I do with my favorite albums?  What about a book?  How many times have you read your favorite book?  2?  3?  Maybe?  Ok, ok, yes, a movie and a book require more of a commitment than listening to a 3-5 minute song.  But what about a great article?  Or a short story?  Or a sitcom?

How many other forms of entertainment do you experience repeatedly like music?

None.

My point is that if you’re writing a musical and your music sucks . . . so does your show (Ironically, the music can be great, and your show can still blow.)

Give us great music, and we’ll gorge like me with a bottomless basket of chips and salsa at Chili’s.

Which brings me to a second way that I annoy people . . .

Will Broadway ever have an album at the top of the pop charts again?

Last week, the cast album of Love Never Dies hit Number 10 on the UK National Charts.

Yep, a musical was right up there with Lady Gaga and Rihanna and Michael Buble (who I saw in concert last Saturday, and who is destined to croon on a Broadway stage at some point in his career – hopefully before his “buble” pops).

First the West End boosts their attendance by 7.6%, and now they put an album in the Top 10!

Over on this side of the pond, Broadway tunes, especially for new musicals with original music, never chart that high (the Hair revival recording got up to #63, but that was a revival.  I found one release that had Wicked at #187).  In fact, Billboard created a special chart for cast albums in 2006.  Why?  To quote Playbill.com, “The addition of the chart generates exposure for the genre which does not often chart on the Billboard 200.”

Sad face.

Now granted, the Love Never Dies recording has got to be one of the most anticipated cast recordings in decades, with a super phantastic brand, and a composer who might as well be Lady Gaga, he’s such a rock star to his fellow Brits.

But still, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous.

There was a time when Broadway tunes charted higher, or were covered by artists who could force them to the top of the charts.

Don’t believe me?

Take this 10 Question Quiz and test your knowledge of Broadway chart toppers (I got an 80%).

When you’re finished with the quiz, go back and look at the years of the hits in the questions.  Nothing past 1975.

We’ve lost our support from pop music.  It’s no wonder we’re losing audiences.

And it’s no wonder why the West End is gaining on us.

What can we do?  Lobby the music industry?  Ask our composers to write with the charts in mind?  Make one of our musical theater composers a rock star, too?

Let’s do it all and then some.

Because re-establishing Broadway’s place in the fabric of popular culture is one of the most powerful things we can do to grow our audience.

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 1: A Broadway Mad Man.

Today on The Producer’s Perspective we’re introducing a brand new feature, which is a spin-off on my Advice From An Expert articles.

In “10 Questions for a Broadway Pro,” I ask . . . yep . . . a Broadway Industry Professional 10 Questions!

We’ll talk to all sorts of people involved in the modern theater and get their perspective on their job, their role in the biz and what they’d like to see change.  We’re gonna hear from Casting Directors, Marketing Directors, Press Agents, and more (let me know if there is a position you’d like to hear from).

The inspiration for this feature came from my first gig on a Broadway show.  I was the Production Assistant on the Barry and Fran Weissler revival of My Fair Lady, starring Richard Chamberlain and a 23-year-old Melissa Errico.  My duties included everything from getting Richard his fresh-off-the-bone turkey sandwiches to typing up the rehearsal schedule on a Mac Classic.

And it was one of the greatest times of my life.

The best part about the gig was that I was exposed to a whole bunch of people and positions that I never knew existed before.  The job gave me a chance to see who was pulling the curtain strings of Broadway . . . and made me realize that I was even more excited about being behind-the-scenes rather than in them (I was on the actor-track).

I used to ask everyone involved in the show questions about what they did. Thanks to their answers, I learned so much about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do.

So, I thought I’d give you a virtual experience of what I went through back then, and introduce you to not only the biggest players on Broadway whose names aren’t on the marquees, but also help us all understand what exactly they do on a day-to-day basis.

First up is one of Broadway’s own Mad Men, Drew Hodges, the founder and CEO of SpotCo, one of the two Broadway heavyweight ad agencies.  (Drew also happens to be #21 on BroadwaySpace.com’s 50 Most Powerful People.)

Having sat in many an ad meeting with Drew, I can tell you that he’s one of a very rare hybrid that combines incredible business acumen with unbridled creativity.

Without further ado, here are 10 Questions with Drew!

1.    What is your title?

Founder, SpotCo Advertising

2.    What show/shows are you currently working on?

Next Fall, Million Dollar Quartet, La Cage, Memphis, A Behanding in Spokane, Chicago, The Pee Wee Herman Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Hair, A View From the Bridge, Billy Elliot, Fences, Time Stands Still, Red, In The Heights,  The 39 Steps, Avenue Q, West Side Story, Come Fly Away, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Present Laughter, The Miracle Worker, Blue Man Group, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Love Never Dies.  In no particular order.

3.    In one sentence, describe your job.

We create identities and sell tickets for live theatrical events.

4.    What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Creativity, marketing, problem solving, humility, humor, and fast thinking.

5.    What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I owned my own design studio doing advertising and design for entertainment – film, cable, and the recording industry – for 12 years. Before that, I got a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts.

6.    What was your first job in theater?

I did the poster for The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart for Tom Viola and Roger McFarland.  It’s a portrait of my right hand.

7.    Why do you think theater is important?

It creates joy and outrage, both often when we need it most.

8.    What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Conservatism, and too many cooks.

9.    If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

That every challenge be met with humor and poise, rather than blame.  The team is always better when unified and caring.

10.    What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

If you wanted to work in advertising for theater, there are several paths to take.  If you are a graphic designer, video editor, web designer, etc., we just look for a great portfolio that has vibrancy, a sense of humor as a person, and the ability to move fast.  A love of theater is not essential, and often times, I like that people bring a more diverse palette to our Broadway materials.  If you wanted to be an account person, a writer, etc., a passion for theater is a great help.  A sense of marketing, or marketing courses as a background are nice.  We have several people from the BMI workshop, and the producing program at Columbia.  We also have people who have worked at other more traditional ad agencies, and that knowledge can be a huge help, when combined with the joy (or the heartbreak) of theater.

Because Drew is the kind of guy that always goes a little further in everything he does, he also answered a bonus question.  When asked what kind of advice he would give to someone that wanted to be a Producer, he answered as follows:

Surround yourself with the best people, and be willing to understand that every friend you have will tell you your project is perfect.  You need to listen to real people, and if your advance is falling, people don’t like it as much as you think.  The opposite is also true- if your advance is climbing, no matter how slowly, people are genuinely loving your show and you should keep going.

Want to hear more expert advice from Drew but don’t have a show that he can advertise yet?  Listen to some of his American Theatre Wing panels here.

The Phantom sent me an email. Ooooh, creepy.

I signed up to receive email alerts from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber some time ago. If you’ve never checked out Webbie’s website, you should.  The guy video blogs, emails, and more.  He’s got to be the most social networking-savvy Knight there is.

He’s definitely the most social networking-savvy Tony Award-winning musical theater composer there is.

The irony is . . . he doesn’t need to be.

Or does he?

We all know Phantom II is gearing up, and we all know our industry’s success rate for sequels. So perhaps Sir Andrew knows that he’s got to take advantage of every viral aspect he can, if he’s going to get this chandelier to fly.

Well, so far so good.

Earlier this week, I got this email from The Masked One directly:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At 11 O’Clock on the eighth day of October 2009, I will be making an announcement of global importance.

Should my commands be ignored, a disaster beyond your imagination will occur.

Amor Numquam Moritur.

Your Obedient Servant,

The Phantom

Ok, a little cheesy, yes.  But definitely fun. And for the real phantom phans, definitely cool.

But that’s not it . . .

Today, I got a follow-up email from the Love Never Dies site offering me a chance to be one of the few people who could witness this announcement live in London.

Oh, and did I tell you that The Phantom tweets?

That’s a lot of buzz-building e-activity around a show that’s had a pretty enviable brand for the last twenty years.  And all their e-efforts are working.  Sir Andy got me to visit this website to watch their trailer.  And after watching the vid, for the first time since hearing about this sequel, I got excited about it.

You know the coolest part about their use of this technology?

When the original Phantom first opened on Broadway . . . it didn’t even have a website.  Think on that for a moment!

You’ve come a long way, Phantom baby.  It’s nice to see your Master keeps up with the times.

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