Look out licensing houses, here comes Seth!

http://www.theproducersperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/my_weblog/6a00e54ef2e21b88330120a59de3ac970c.jpgOne of the most popular business bloggers in the world took a swing at the theatrical licensing agents yesterday, with this blog about a non-pro production of Grease that cost the theater company $3k in royalties to put on.

It seems like an awful lot, Seth argues, for a show with 3 jokes and 4 chords.  He actually calls Grease an “old, not particularly wonderful musical script.”

I don’t know many people that would disagree with him, yet those 3 jokes and 4 chords have made a lot of audiences very happy and all of the authors very rich.

I worked on the 1994 revival of Grease with Rosie O’Donnell then Brooke Shields then Jon Secada, then Dominque Dawes then Maureen McCormick and so on and so on (It was on Grease where the Weisslers perfected their art of star replacement aka “stunt casting,” that they would use to even greater success on Chicago).  One day during a tech rehearsal, I turned to Jim Jacobs, the book writer of Grease, and said, “You know, Jim, I actually played Kenickie once.”

He laughed and said, “Ken, there isn’t anyone that I’ve met who hasn’t done Grease at least once in their life.”

Back to the subject . . .

Seth argues that the price of Grease was artificially inflated by a bit of collusion by the licensing houses.  I have to disagree.  Grease is high because Grease sells, whether we like it or not.  If that local theater company wanted to do a show with less of a proven box office success rate, then they could find a zillion shows in that Sam French catalog for less.  But no. They wanted to do a show that they knew their audience (and their actors) would love.

Or hey, they could even pull an old Gilbert and Sullivan out of the trunk and save a bundle.

If you’ve never read any of Seth’s stuff before, start with this one.  While technically a marketing book, it is a great handbook for how to pick a show to produce.  Simply stated, if it’s not purple, don’t produce it.

And yes.  That is me playing Kenickie on that 1969 Volkswagon Beetle.  And yes, Grease does take place in 1957.  Maybe we picked the ’69 because we couldn’t afford a ’57 car because the royalties were so expensive. Yeah, that’s it. That’s it.

What’s the difference between Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical?

This question came in over the weekend, after a reader noticed my tweet about going to see the new Broadway revival of West Side Story.

Obviously, the person who asked knew the basic difference between the two awards categories, but she was more interested in how revivals were judged.

It’s a great question – considering that shows like West Side or Hair or Guys and Dolls may have been seen countless times by the voters of The Tonys, Drama Desks, Outer Critics, etc.  These shows have been on Broadway, on tour, in dinner theaters, in high schools, on cruise ships, etc.  Many of the voters have probably performed in these shows at one point in their life!  (When I was working on the Rosie O’Donnell revival of Grease, I mentioned to Author and Greased-Lightning Zillionaire Jim Jacobs, that I once played Kenickie in summer stock. His response?  “Ken, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who hasn’t done Grease.”)

With such familiarity and such an emotional (or lack thereof) connection, how do voters (and reviewers, for that matter) distinguish one revival from another?

This question reminded me of the end of the season awards banquets my high school baseball team used to have.  Every year when the season was through, we got together in the high school cafeteria. After some bad pasta and some bad speeches, the coaches gave away two awards:

Most Valuable Player . . . And Most Improved Player.

And that’s what a great revival is to me; the most improved.  It’s a take on the material that makes it seem even better or more relevant now than it ever was.

The trouble is that it takes a lot of sweat to be an MIP, in baseball and on Broadway.

And if you’re not ready to go “sweatin’ with the oldies,”well, then stay away from producing revivals.

Because, without an MIP mentality, you’ll just end up being another one of the millions of Kenickies out there.