A sad day for Shrek.

Yesterday, Shrek confirmed what had been circulating the street all week: the ogre will be leaving Broadway and heading back to the swamp on January 3, 2010.

How could one of the most powerful entertainment brands of the last twenty years not survive on the Great White Way?  Too expensive?  Maybe.  Too much Hollywood influence?  Who knows.

I believe the closing of Shrek represents the end of an era; an era which attempted to capitalize on kids first, and put adults second.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen the premature closings of shows like Shrek, Little Mermaid, and even my own, 13.

All seemingly fantastic sells . . . except for the fact that they happened to be plopped right in the midst of one of the most difficult economic climates in our history.  And no demographic was hurt more than families of four from the suburbs.

When family folk were trying to decide on a show to see, here’s what happened:

– Shows that just the kids might want to see went out the window.

– Shows that appealed to both kids and adults went bye-bye as well (Grease, Legally Blonde, Hairspray, etc.).

What’s left on Broadway now is more adult fare . . .because the parents that are still going to the theater are leaving their kids at home (another reason why plays are doing so well).

Why do you think Disney doesn’t have anything in the immediate pipeline?

I don’t think you’ll see another animated feature making its way here anytime soon, do you?

My Tony Award Predictions

Ok, here they are, as promised:  my predicts for what the 800 or so Tony Voters will select as the winners of this year’s Tony Awards.  To clarify, this is not what I think should win, nor is it what I necessarily voted for myself, but rather this is who I expect to be standing on that stage on Sunday night.

Drumroll, puhleeze.

BEST PLAY:  GOD OF CARNAGE

The French can be snooty and smelly, but neither of those adjectives apply to French writer Yasmine Reza or her work of “Art.”  Her star-studded, super-grossing ($900k for a play?), smart yet accessible comedy (complete with barf jokes) will win out over the primary competition, Labute’s reasons to be pretty.

BEST MUSICAL:  BILLY ELLIOT

The Best Musical landscape is similar to Best Play.  Another import, this one British, squares off against a smaller, perhaps more challenging, American musical, Next to Normal.  Unfortunately for all you patriots out there, the British and Billy will take the big prize of the evening.  And seeing the 147 kids in the show storm the stage at the end will be a sight to see, so stay up!

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:  TOM KITT & BRIAN YORKEY, NEXT TO NORMAL

The Americans strike back here, as N2N deservedly picks up the score trophy.  This award also comes with a note from many voters that reads, “Sorry we didn’t vote for you for Best Musical.  We loved your show, but . . .”

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL:  LEE HALL, BILLY ELLIOT

For awhile, I thought N2N would pull a Urinetown or Falsettos split (and take both score and book while giving up the big prize to a more commercial choice, Millie and Crazy for You, respectively), as the voters like to reward writers of challenging work.  The upset of the night would be if the voters tipped their hat to Hunter Bell and the TOS crew with an award.  But frankly, I just don’t think enough of them saw the show last fall to make that happen.

BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY:  THE NORMAN CONQUESTS

Great revivals were like foreclosures this year . . . on every block!  (Too soon?)  This category would have been even tougher to pick, had the nominators not forgotten about some of the fall shows (specifically, The Seagull).  Norman gets the girl in this category, partly for its great production, and partly because of the degree of difficulty in staging three British comedies and running them in rep  (I’d also bet that a bunch of voters voted for Norman while only seeing one of the plays.)

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL:  HAIR

The Most Improved Show award goes to Hair this year.  Luckily, West Side doesn’t need it with its Wicked-like grosses (it’s a revival!).

BEST SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT:  LIZA’S AT THE PALACE

Obviously, I’m praying that I’m wrong with this one.  Will’s got a chance, thanks to the phenomenal success of the run and because it’s fresh in everyone’s memory.  But a Hollywood A-lister bringing down Broadway royalty seems like a long shot to me, so I’m putting my money on the safe bet. That’s ok.  I’m still happy having put my investors money on the other guy.  🙂

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN  A PLAY:  GEOFFREY RUSH, EXIT THE KING

This is the easiest to call, which is unfortunate for Raul Esparza, who deserves to have a couple of trophies on his mantle.  But God knows, he’ll have more chances to get up on that stage, as I don’t see him making an exit anytime soon.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN  A PLAY:  MARCIA GAY HARDEN, GOD OF CARNAGE

There is a 60 second section in God of Carnage where Marcia doesn’t utter a word.  But you can practically read her thoughts as if they were written in a bubble above her head.  She wins for that moment alone.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN  A MUSICAL: THE THREE BILLYS, BILLY ELLIOT

Tatum O’Neal, Daisy Eagan , Anna Paquin.  Voters love to give a kid a trophy.  And the only thing better than one kid nominee  . . . is three.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN  A MUSICAL:  ALICE RIPLEY, NEXT TO NORMAL

In an example of the Hollywood Rain Man syndrome (where playing a challenged individual of any type, physical or mental, gives you a boost at award time), Alice will win for her terrific portrayal of the challenged mom in N2N.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN  A PLAY:  JOHN GLOVER, WAITING FOR GODOT

This one could also be called the Best Spitter Award (previous winners would have included Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening).  John wins for saying the most with the least to actually say.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN  A PLAY:  ANGELA LANSBURY, BLITHE SPIRIT

There is currently only one woman who has won five Tony Awards.  After Sunday, there will be two.  Watch for the standing ovation when Angela takes the stage.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN  A MUSICAL:  CHRISTOPHER SIEBER, SHREK

The guy is on his knees for the whole show for Shrek’s sake!

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN  A MUSICAL:  HAYDEN GWYNNE, BILLY ELLIOT

Hayden hits a trifecta here:  Outer Critics, Drama Desk, Tony.  That much momentum can’t be stopped.

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY:  MATTHEW WARCHUS, GOD OF CARNAGE

For awhile, I thought Matthew’s two noms would split his vote, but then I saw I took another look at God’s grosses ($900k for a play?), and realized that he would take the Tony on the back of the show’s success, and deservedly so.

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL:  STEPHEN DALDRY, BILLY ELLIOT

For awhile, I was calling a bit of an upset here, because without Diane, Hair would not be the hit it is.  But at the end of the day, I think the majority of voters will give it to Daldry for the sheer magnitude of the work he did in directing Billy.

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY:  PETER DARLING, BILLY ELLIOT

When dancing is a major part of your plot, you better win choreography!  Hands and toes down, Darling is the winner.

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS:  MARTIN KOCH, BILLY ELLIOT

Big show + big score = Tony.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY:  DEREK MCCLANE, 33 VARIATIONS

The other nominees in this category are mostly stationery sets, so Derek’s “musical” set wins.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL:  IAN MACNEIL BILLY ELLIOT

They had to drill a giant hole in the basement of the theater to allow for that house to come up through the ground, like a man from a mine, but it’ll earn this man a Tony.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY:  DALE FERGUSON, EXIT THE KING

Whenever Kings and Queens are in a play, the odds for winning a costume award jumps up tremendously.  Normally, I’d say give this one to Mary Stuart, but I’m going with Dale, for the absurdist suit of armor.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL:  TIM HATLEY, SHREK

Costume awards go to designs that stand out, and in a field of nominations that include one show about the 60s and two shows about the 80s, Shrek certainly stands out.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY:  HUGH VANSTONE, MARY STUART

On Broadway, “rain” is an electrician and a lighting designer’s job. It rains in Mary Stuart. And that’s cool and memorable. So it’ll rain a Tony on Hugh.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSCIAL:  RICK FISHER, BILLY ELLIOT

With the design awards, sometimes bigger is better.  The bigger the show, the bigger the budget, and the more toys the designers have to play with.  In this case, bigger is Billy.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY:  RUSSELL GOLDSMITH, EXIT THE KING

This is a tough one.  Your guess is as good as mine.  I went with the sounds of a dying king.  Creepy.

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL:  PAUL ARDITTI, BILLY ELLIOT

Paul will win for excellent work, yes, but also for a syndrome I call, “Tony By Association.”

So that’s it!  Make sure you tune in on Sunday to see how I do!  And don’t forget to make your picks on my Tony pool!  There is only 2 days left to play and win $500!  Click here.

If you’re not following me on Twitter, click here. Just like last year, I’ll be tweeting from my $900 seat (yep, that’s how it costs – crazy, huh?) and I’ll fill you in on everything that’s going on from inside Radio City, including the not-suitable for airing, in between commercial breaks stuff.

If you don’t yet have a place to watch – try Times Square!  The Tonys will be on the Big Screen!  With the new blocked off streets, it should be fun.  Tweet me from there if you go. I’d love to hear what the party is like.

Oh, one more prediction before I sign off:  during the telecast, I predict there will be two Jeremy Piven jokes.  🙂

Tony Nominations are Tomorrow. My picks for the big ones.

May Madness begins on Tuesday morning at 8:30 AM with the announcement of this year’s Tony nominations.

There are a few places to watch this year so tune in to either:
  • CBS’s The Early Show (which promises to show “some” of the categories).
  • NY1.  This is Roma Torre’s favorite time of year.
  • In the middle of Times Square on the JumboTron (someone please go and tweet a pic to me)
Below are my predictions (plus a few ‘type bytes’) on the nominations in the two big money categories (Best Musical and Best Play), enumerated in order of my confidence:
BEST MUSICAL
 
1.  Billy Elliot
Billy had us at hello.  Billy was a shoe-in for a nom (and a possible win) when it was first announced that the show was happening, and he won’t disappoint.
2.  Next To Normal
N2N is the Passing Strange of 2009 – the gutsy, artistic, “non-commercial” choice, that took a strange but courageous path to Broadway.  Nominators (and voters who like to look really smart) love these types of shows.
3.  9 to 5
Many shows like to open late in the season, in order to use the Tonys as free publicity at a time when they need the boost.  Unfortunately, if you’re not reviewed well, those reviews are fresh in the nominators minds when they head to the Edison cafe to pick the nominees.  That’s what happened to 9 to 5.  Nevertheless, Dolly’s charm beats Ben Brantley’s any day of the week, so expect a nom.
4.  Title of Show 
The fourth spot is the tough choice.  It’s the wild card.  You’ve got TOS, Rock of Ages, 13, Story of My Life, Tale of 2 Cities, and the big one . . . that twenty million dollar monster known as Shrek.

I think Shrek and Dreamworks will get Disney-fied (3 out of 6 Disney shows have not been nominated for Best Musical:  Aida, Tarzan and Little Mermaid).  And as much as I’m pulling for what I call a “Marisa Tomei” for 13 (Marisa shocked the world when she was nominated, and then won an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny), I think the fourth spot is a cage match between the scrappy and you-tubey Title of Show and the jukeboxy, and surprisingly well-reviewed shock of the year . . . Rock of Ages.

When it comes down to it, the insidery nominators will choose a show about their own industry that tells the story of how hard it can be to put on a show, over a show that just wants you to rock . . . hard.
BEST PLAY
1.  God of Carnage
This year has made a lot of people sick to their stomach. God of Carnage is this season’s Pepto.  Comedy is back, and that makes Carnage a cinch to lead the category.
2.  Reasons to be Pretty
Neil Labute made his debut on Broadway and he’ll make his debut in this category as well.  The real question is whether this solid play can compete in this market and stay around until the ceremony?
3.  Dividing The Estate
 
This transfer from Primary Stages had an all too short 10 week run on Broadway.  A possible extension was in the works, but the theater was booked (with the even shorter run of Story of My Life).  Hartford Stage did its part to keep the play in the minds of the nominators.  There’s a strong emotional movement ‘a foot’ to give Mr. Foote the Tony Award that eluded him (he passed away in March of this year at 92, which was too short of a run as well, if you ask me), and that will help secure the 3rd spot.
4.  The American Plan
The fourth Play spot is a tricky one with two major contenders:  Plan and Irena’s Vow.  While the subject matter and pure emotion of Vow is much more gripping than Plan, expect the nominators to give this spot to Mr. Greenberg, whom they know and love, rather than the Hollywood outsider, Dan Gordon.  Personally, I’d like to give Gordon kudos for taking a break from Hollywood and giving the stage a shot (If only more writers would do that).  Tovah will get a nom to make up for it.
Do you agree?  Disagree?  Have your own picks for tomorrow’s nominations?  Comment away!
Read tomorrow’s blog (or watch one of the viewing options mentioned above) to see how I did.
And make sure you continue to read throughout this awards season.  Our annual ‘Producer’s Perspective Tony Pool’ is coming up (prizes, prizes, PRIZES), and of course, I’ll be tweeting from The Tonys as the awards are given out.
So stay Tw-uned.

Airlines have change fees. Should we?

Somehow, I got to the Madrid airport a lot earlier than I expected to. “Just in time to take the earlier flight back to Newark,” said Ms. “You’re Lucky I Speak English” Continental Airlines employee.

Just in time, that is, if I was willing to pay the $50 change fee.

It wasn’t a tough choice.  Sit in the airport for 3 extra hours or pay $50 to get to my office 3 hours faster.  Since I consider my in-office hourly rate to be higher than $16.67/hour, I forked it over.

And Ms. Continental smiled so sweetly as she violently ran my credit card and racked up another $50 in sales for the day.  And for what?  For printing out a new ticket?  For the 2 minutes it took for her to switch my reservation?  The earlier flight wasn’t sold out, so moving me around wasn’t costing them anything.  In fact, since I was moving to an earlier flight, that gave them another seat to sell on a later flight, and gave them more time to sell it!  They got more cash and more profit potential!

Airlines have very strict no refund/no exchange policies, just like we do, but they’ve figured out how to use it to their advantage. (BTW, here’s a tip for you or your box office managers:  when customers do complain about not being able to get tickets refunded because their plans change, etc., my sales team reminds them that buying theater tickets is a lot like buying airline tickets, or cruise ship tickets, or any vacation ticket.  They tend to calm down a bit when they realize we’re not the only industry that doesn’t give cash back.)

So if airlines do it . . . should we?

If your cat had to be rushed to the VET because she ate your Annie action figure, and you’d rather see Shrek next week instead of ‘tomorrow’, would you pay $5/ticket to switch ’em?  I bet you would.

In fact . . . would you be more inclined to purchase tickets in advance to a show if you knew you could make a switch later on for a small fee?

I know I often buy airline tickets weeks in advance to lock in a deal, knowing that if my plans change, I’ll pay the fee and move the tickets as I need.
Would theater patrons do the same?

Of course the problem here is seat locations, and sold-out shows.  This isn’t a service everyone could offer, but it seems it could be designed in a way that could do two things:

  • Make the patron happy
  • Make the production more money

And shouldn’t those be the goals of every one of our initiatives?

Overheard at Angus: Volume III

This special edition of OAA comes courtesy of a 6 year old little lady on her way to Kids’ Night on Broadway.

6 Year Old:  Umm, how come Ariel wears rollerblades in The Little Mermaid?Broadway Vet:  Sweetie, we’ve all been asking ourselves that same question.

Oh kids and their curiosity . . .

That 6 year old was going to see Shrek last night.  I wonder what she’s asking today.

But whatever she’s asking, and whatever we’re answering, at least KNOB is starting the conversation.

Take a kid to a show.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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