It’s official: Broadway to Off is not just a fad. It’s a phenom.

Earlier this week, Million Dollar Quartet announced that it would be closing June 12th.

But it won’t be gone for good.

MDQ will become the latest show to transfer from Broadway to Off-Broadway as it moves into New World Stages in July.

It’s the fourth show to make such a move:  Avenue Q, The 39 Steps, the upcoming Rent, and now, MDQ.  And all of them taking up tenancy at New World Stages (Boy, there were times during the run of Altar Boyz when we were the only show in the building – I don’t expect a show to feel that lonely anytime soon – good news for the owners in what is a fantastic turnaround play.)

It was almost three years ago that I wrote this blog suggesting that Broadway producers look at this model, and it has been almost two since the Producers of Avenue Q courageously decided to go where no Producers had gone before and made the move (and brought us on to GM).  And then the domino effect began.

Because of that blog a few years ago, and because of the surprising MDQ news, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers and reporters alike about what I think now that four shows have done it.

So what do I think?

It’s awesome for all the reasons I wrote about before.  Avenue Q was about to close.  As was 39 Steps.  One can only assume MDQ was about to do the same.  And I don’t think a Rent revival was in the cards in the short term.

Jobs were created.  Theaters were filled.  Investors continue to make money or have a shot at getting more back in the case of unrecouped shows.  What could be bad about that?

Well, there is one thing.

What about new commerical Off-Broadway shows?

As if it couldn’t get any tougher for anyone trying to make a go of it with a new commercially-produced play or musical, it just did.  Because Broadway . . . just got bigger.  That’s right, with Broadway branded shows now appearing in Off-Broadway venues, guess where patrons are going to go first when considering an Off-Broadway show?  Oh, and remember those good deals you used to get because Off-Broadway venues needed to fill a hole, or a vendor needed the biz wherever and whenever he or she could get it?  Well, there’s not as much desperation anymore since mini-Broadway was born.

I’m thrilled about this new distribution model for our industry.  Overall, it’s a great thing.  But now, looking at the landscape, I fear for the commercial Off-Broadway musical . . . as it’s becoming an endangered species.  Oh, they may pop up every now and then, but are they making money?

And the commercial play?  Well, shoot, it’s becoming as much of a myth as the Big Foot.

 

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

– – – – –

FUN STUFF

– Come to our Tony Awards Party THIS SUNDAY!  Click here for more info and to get your ticket now!

– Enter my Tony Pool!  You can win an iPad!  Enter today!  Deadline is MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!

– Enter to win 2 tickets to see the screening of Company!  Click here.

– My next Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar is coming up on June 25th.  Get info here.

 

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.

We’re having a Tony Party and you’re invited!

Tony night is my favorite holiday of the year.  Yep, that’s right, for me (and I’m sure for you, too) it qualifies as a holiday.

It’s better than New Year’s, better than Thanksgiving . . . and hey, if you’re a nominee, it can be better than Christmas!

Well, what better way to spend the holidays than with friends and family. So, we’re throwing a Tony Party and all of you are invited!

BroadwaySpace.com is sponsoring the bash which will take place at my favorite wing place in the city:  Blondies on the Upper West Side.  They’ve got super wings, and super-sized TVs all over the place, so you’ll be able to get a great view from any angle.

And, this is the coolest part . . . we’ve got two super-awesome hosts who will be giving you their running commentary on the festivities all night long . . . Current Hair stars, Annaleigh Ashford and Kyle Riabko!  (And I hear they are working up some pretty cool surprises, including a song or two, to keep you entertained during commercial breaks).

In addition, here are a few more things we have planned for the Big Night:

  • A Tony Pool with a BIG prize!
  • Raffles and contests for cool prizes including free tickets to shows like A Little Night Music, Million Dollar Quartet, Lend Me a Tenor and more!
  • Surprise special guests
  • Broadway Karaoke after the awards
  • A “Quiet Room” with its own large screen TV for those that want a more private viewing
  • And more!

But the best part of the night is going to be spending it surrounded by other folks who are as passionate about the theater and Broadway as all of you.  If you’ve been to one of my socials, imagine that . . . times 100.

There is a food and beverage charge of $25, if you reserve your wings in advance. You’ll get unlimited wings, moz sticks, chicken tenders, fries and veggies, as well as unlimited sodas.  There will be a cash bar . . . and I hear the bartenders at Blondies are already working up a $5 specialty drink called the Tony-Tini!  At the door, you’ll pay $30, so reserve in advance.

The room can only accommodate a limited number of people so reserve now, and you won’t end up wondering on June 13th, “What am I gonna do tonight?”

It’s gonna be a blast.  I can’t wait.  In fact, if I can’t be at Radio City up for an award, then this is the only other place I want to be.

See you there!

THE BROADWAYSPACE.COM TONY PARTY
with Hair’s Annaleigh Ashford and Kyle Riabko

Blondies
212 West 79th St. (between Broadway & Amsterdam)
Doors and Wings at 7:00 PM
Show starts at 8:00 PM
Sunday, June 13, 2010

(Arrive early to play the Tony Pool and to get a good seat)
Karaoke immediately following the awards until ????

Unlimited Food and Soda
$25 in advance
$30 at the door

Reserve today.  Click here.

The Top 5 Tony Nomination Surprises.

The 2010 Tony Award Nominations were announced just two-and-a-half hours ago and, as always, they included a few surprises.

Here are my top five head-shakers:

1.  The season’s biggest hit doesn’t get a shot at Best Musical.

Poor Addams Family.  On second thought, with their last week’s gross topping $1.3 million, I think the last word that we can use in the same sentence as Addams Family is “poor.”  However, for the 3rd year in a row, the Tony Nominators snubbed a big, fat (yet original), commercial show that steamrolled into town to less than enthusiastic critical acclaim, but a lot of popular love.  Legally Blonde, 9 To 5 and now The Family.  Honestly, this wasn’t much of a surprise.  What was a surprise was that the jukebox-y Million Dollar Quartet took the fourth spot over Come Fly Away . . . and frankly, I’m still surprised at how both of them were considered more of a contender for this slot than Family, considering that Family is more of a traditional musical than both of them combined.  Let’s face it . . . the nominators officially like the jukebox musical. They embraced Rock of Ages last year, and this year, MDQ.

So, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert . . . fear not.

Two questions come to mind as a result of this surprise:

– Will Addams Family get a number on the show?

– Will their grosses suffer an immediate drop as a result of the snub?

Answers?

– Yes.

– And no.

2.  Stars actually got nominations.

Sometimes the Tony nominators like to tell Hollywood stars to go back where they came from, by overlooking them for a possible Tony trophy.  Not this year. Denzel Washington (who was overlooked in 2005 for his Caesar), Catherine Zeta-Jones, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Kelsey Grammer, Jude Law, Christopher Walken, Linda Lavin, David Alan Grier, and Sean Hayes all got nods for their work on the boards this year.  (Left off the list were our usual favorites, Kristin Chenoweth, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, but their mantles are doing just fine, I’d say).  The fact that the nominations look like the invite list to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party is a good thing.  Most importantly, all of these stars did fantastic work this year and deserve the kudos.  Now let’s hope this will go a long way in getting more of their brothers and sisters from the Hollywood Hills to come join us for a “limited time only.”

3.  There are four nominees for best score.

We saw this one coming last week, when the Tony Admin Committee announced that both Enron and Fences would be eligible in the Best Score category.  It was a good move, IMHO, because Shubert Alley had been buzzing about the dearth of original scores this year.  I don’t think they need to seat those two scores too close to the podium on award night, but it’s nice to see the category rounded out. And the scores are unique, interesting, and definitely deserving of some love.

4.  Sherie Rene Scott owes Megan Mullally a drink.

Six weeks ago, SRS was looking at an uneventful spring.  Then, MM ups and walks from Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and now, SRS has two Tony nominations to keep her busy!  (Interesting side note:  Sherie Rene Scott replaced Megan Mullally in the Rosie O’Donnell Grease that I worked on back in ’94).  This surprise story isn’t over yet . . . because by my read, SRS has a good shot at taking home a trophy on Tony night.  And all this star-aligning-stuff couldn’t happen to a nicer gal.

5.  The British hit about an American company won’t be Best Play.

You know what the most difficult translation in the world is?  From English to American and American to English.  You’d think it’d be so much easier to predict what works in each of these markets based on the success in the other.  Alas, it ain’t that easy.  Unfortunately, Enron, a British play based on American subject matter, didn’t impress the nominators and failed get a Best Play nom.  Nine months ago, I would have bet big on this one not only getting a nomination but also taking home the top prize.  Just goes to show you, you never know what’s going to happen until that curtain goes up.

How did I do with my predictions?  I scored a 75% overall, missing one show in each of the three categories I predicted (which, coincidentally is exactly how I scored last year).

How did you do?

And stay tuned . . . The Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool will be announced shortly.  We’ve just got to figure out what the prizes are going to be . . .

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