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.

What will happen to Broadway if Spider-Man is a hit?

When the work started back up at the Hilton Theater recently, it felt like that moment in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when, after years of silence, smoke started coming out of the chimneys.  “The Oompa-Loompas are back to work!  They’re making chocolate again!”

Well, unfortunately for the Producers of Spider-Man, they don’t have Oompa-Loompas to do their pre-production.  Their labor costs a lot more than a free room and all the chocolate you can eat.

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding what’s going on in that theater.  Everyone’s waiting to see what will happen on opening night.

Me?  I’m more interested in what happens after opening night.

Spider-Man is the biggest show that Broadway has ever seen.  I’ve compared it to the movie version of Titanic and Avatar before, as it has the potential to create that kind of tsunami-like splash.

But what happens in the aftermath?

First, let me state how much I’m fantasizing about Spidey-success.  That same post I linked to above talks about the potential it has to bring new audiences to the theater, to bring more rock-star composers to the theater, and to re-energize our market by giving us one of the most unique events we’ve ever seen.

It could be a game-changer.

It could also drive up capitalizations and costs quicker than Clark Kent can change into Superman.

We’re an industry that swings for the fences.

And regardless of how out-of-whack some of our labor rules may be, or or royalty pools, or GM fees, and so on . . . when you get a hit, none of it is out of whack.

And that’s why the fees are so high.  The unions, vendors, and so on, keep the rates at high levels to make sure that they have what one Producer I know calls “Bonanza Insurance.”

I call it Phantom Insurance.

And those rates and fees will always stay high, as long as there is one show that defies the odds and mints money like the Oompa-Loompas mint . . . uh . . . mints.

So, if Spider-Man sets a new bar . . . will the unions and creatives and Producers have to set a new one as well?

Me? I’d rather have a whole slew of hits than just one super-sized hit.  So when you hear, “If Spider-Man can do it, ” even if it comes out of your own mouth, make sure whatever you’re discussing makes sense (and ‘cents’) for your show.

Because Broadway musical budgets 50 years ago were less than a million bucks.

Now the average is getting closer to 15 million.  That’s an increase of 1500%. And inflation has increased.

What will the average be in 2060?

Next up in our reading series? Heartland.

The first play in the Davenport Developmental Reading Series, Alex Webb’s Civil War drama, Amelia, was, well, as much fun as Civil War Dramas can be.

We had a great time, learned a lot, and the post-reading survey results on the play demonstrated that Alex was really on to something.  I look forward to giving you updates on what he’s up to next with the play.

It’s already time for the second date in our free reading series.  This time, we found our writer north of the border.  Steven Owad hails from Calgary, Canada.

And next Monday, June 14th at 8 PM, at the Mint Theater thousands of miles from his home, some great actors will read his new play, Heartland.

Steven describes Heartland as “a drama about three men on the brink of self-destruction in middle America.  Loners in a small community, they form a deadly triangle tempered by violence, revenge and a ruthless alpha-male need for control.”

I describe Heartland as a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode . . . before Vincent D’Onofrio shows up.

The reading of Heartland will be directed by another kanuck, Mr. Stafford Arima, known for Altar Boyz, Tin Pan Alley Rag, and an Olivier nominee for the West End Ragtime.  Stafford was also lucky enough to be the first to get his directorial mitts on Carrie, when he staged the reading of that horror show earlier this year.

Stafford got some great actors to play the three alpha males in Heartland, including Greg Stone (Pirate Queen, Miss Saigon, Les Miz), Peter Lockyer (South Pacific, Phantom, La Boheme) and Wes Seals (The Quest for Fame, Sex Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll).

Seating is very limited so if you’d like to come and support a new writer and his work, RSVP ASAP to rsvp@davenporttheatrical.com.  We expect the seats to go very fast, because, well, it’s free.

See you there!

Heartland
Written by Steven Owad
Directed by Stafford Arima
Featuring Greg Stone, Peter Lockyer and Wes Seals

Monday, June 14th
8 PM
The Mint Theater
311 West 43rd St. (between 8th and 9th)
#307

See you there!

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Three reasons why Glee is great.

There is no question that Glee is great for Broadway.  Here are three reasons why I love it:

1.  IT PUTS BROADWAY PEEPS TO WORK

The transition from theater to television is a lot more difficult now than it was in the early days of both industries.  Look at how many great Broadway actors are out there that you haven’t seen headlining in movies and piloting pilots.

And then along comes a show like Glee, and the casting directors can’t get enough from our pool: Lea Michele, Matt Morrison, Jonathan Groff, John Lloyd Young, Debra Monk and more.

The longer it runs, the more our folks will get a chance to lend their talents and their pipes to that program.  And then they’ll hopefully come back to Broadway and bring some fans with them.

2.  IT PUTS SHOWTUNES NEXT TO POP TUNES

“Where Is Love,” “Tonight,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” are just a few of the showtunes featured on Glee, and these classics are smacked right up next to songs like “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Rehab,” and “Single Ladies.”

The line between pop and showtunes is being blurred.

Who knows, maybe we’ll go back to the days when major rock bands like, oh, I don’t know, The Beatles, sang showtunes when looking to make a big splash on television.

3.  IT PUTS SINGING INTO STORIES

So often I hear people say, “I just don’t get musicals.  People start singing.  What the?  People just don’t do that!”

For the most part, Glee chose the Jersey Boys model (or Altar Boyz model, for that matter) where the musical numbers are actual performances and not “sung scenes.”  Still, having a show like Glee helps audiences get used to the fact that music can be incorporated seamlessly into entertainment.
The movie musical has helped Broadway significantly over the past decade, with shows like Hairspray, Chicago, Phantom and Rent ALL adding years to their runs (and millions to their box offices) thanks to their movie counterparts.

Broadway now seems to be making its way into television, in a subtler way, but in a way nonetheless.

Let’s hope shows like Glee continue to merge the two mediums.

5 More things I learned about Las Vegas.

I’ve written about Vegas before, having spent several months working there as the Company Manager of Chicago at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, and having spent many hours there hunched over a poker table.

I like Vegas. Where else can you stare at a  beautiful nature-made mountainscape in one direction and a beautiful man-made pyramid with a shaft of light shooting out the top in the other.
Pyramids and pirate ships aside, it’s a tricky town, especially for Producers, with more live entertainment produced on and off the strip than anywhere else in the world.  Jersey Boys, Cirque, Hypnotists, Comedians, Strippers, Magicians, etc., you name it, and someone is producing it.
Whether or not they are making money, is another question entirely.
Every time I go out to that man-made-Mecca, I learn something new, and the trip I took this past week, was no exception (special thanks to the NATB and the Ticket Summit, who had me out to speak at their conferences, and therefore inspired the trip and this post – and put a few bucks in my pocket thanks to a Jack High flush against a set of 8s.).
Here are five more things I learned about Las Vegas:
1.  SIN IS IN.
When I first went to Vegas, The MGM Grand had a theme park, and New York New York was promoting its roller coaster.  “Bring the family” was the rallying cry.  There are still plenty of family friendly things to do in Vegas, but for the past several years, the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” marketing-mantra has had its effect on live entertainment as well. The old fashioned sexy/topless Vegas revue is back in style.  The in-room hotel glossy mag advertising the “what to dos” while it town, featuring ad after ad of Crazy Horse, Zumanity, Jubilee, Bite, Thunder From Down Under, etc., etc.
And of course, the Vegas-Broadway love child, PeepShow directed by Jerry Mitchell, with songs by Andrew Lippa, starring Shoshana Bean and headlined by Holly ‘Hefner’ Madison (and yes, you to get to see her two talents – I’ll let you decide what those are).
2.  VEGAS HAS AN OFF-BROADWAY TOO.
Down a ways from the strip is where Vegas began.  It’s old school Vegas with it’s 99 cent shrimp cocktails, penny slots, and more. It’s cheaper. It’s off the beaten path.  It’s intimate and more personal.  Some would call it more “real”.
Sound like a familiar description? It’s exactly what Off-Broadway is.  And just like we try to tell tourists here about seeing an Off-Broadway show, downtown Vegas (or The Freemont Street Experience) tries to let visitors know that they haven’t really experienced Vegas unless they’ve come downtown at least once during their stay.
And I agree with them.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had a 99 cent shrimp cocktail and a deep fried twinkie.
3.  DON’T LIKE YOUR SHOW AFTER IT OPENS?  CHANGE IT.
Vegas doesn’t settle.  Revising a show after it opens is common place.  Le Reve (which I heard was revised twice), Chris Angel’s Believe, and many others have undergone changes well after the shows were “frozen”.  If audiences aren’t digging it, they bring back the team (or bring on a new team), and tweak it until it gets a better response.
If only we could do that here (The Scarlet Pimpernel tried it, but it didn’t take).
It makes sense that Vegas is willing to make these investments. For one, the shows are capitalized at much higher rates, so tossing in a few more bucks doesn’t mean as much.  And two, the shows are designed to run a lot longer and need to, so getting them just right is much more important.
4.  IT’S ALL ABOUT ‘OUTDOOR’.
There isn’t much that isn’t advertised on in Vegas.  Everything is a billboard:  slot machines, walls, giant mobile signs trucked up and down the strip, and even the urinals.  I would have snapped a photo of that urinal mini-board, but frankly, I was a little worried that if I whipped out a camera, the biker standing next to me would stop what he was doing and show me why I should always wear a helmet.
5.  IF YOU’RE NOT INTERACTIVE, YOU’RE DEAD.
Vegas is non-stop excitement. There’s an energy that sweeps you up as soon as you step off the plane and keeps you going, no matter what the time and now matter how much money you lose.  And let’s face it, most people go there to gamble, get drunk, and do the things that you’re not supposed to do at home. It’s an adult theme park.  People who go to Vegas want to play.
And playing doesn’t mean sitting back and watching a “play”.  Every single thing I’ve ever seen in Vegas has some sort of interactive element. Headliners, illusionists, comedians, Cirque and their clowns, and so on.  The interactive element has to be there.  Let your audience sit back and relax, and they’ll start getting anxious about getting back to those tables, wishing they could be losing money rather than sitting through a show.  You better not even think about a fourth wall.
That’s one of the reasons that traditional musicals don’t work in Sin City, and the only ones that even have a shot are the mega-brands like Phantom, J. Boys, Mamma Mia, and Lion King (And I’d double-down that none of these shows are as successful in Vegas as they have been in other locations).
You know what else I learned about Vegas?  Every time I go, which is usually about 4 times a year since I worked there, it somehow makes you want to learn more.
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