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.

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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Top Five Biggest Broadway Grossers of ’08. Are we like the movies?

As promised, here’s the follow up to yesterday’s post re: the top 10 grossing domestic films of 2008.

Since the film industry produces so much more product than we do, I thought it best to compare the top 10 grossing films domestically with the top 5 grossing shows (interesting to note that there isn’t an off-Broadway in film – pretty much everything gets lumped together – that’s a subject for another post).

Before I name the Top 5 Grossers . . . can you guess what they are?

Go on.  Give a shot.

When you’ve got them in your head, scroll down.

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Almost there . . .

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Here we go . . .

1.  Wicked                                    $75,641,794
2.  The Lion King                         $61,014,194
3.  Jersey Boys                            $58,871,925
4.  The Little Mermaid                  $49,184,168
5.  Mamma Mia                            $47,580,493

Well?  Think we have the same trends as the film industry?

I’m not so sure if the trends are as strong, but there is certainly something there.  3 out of 5 are the same big budget “fantasies” that the film audiences love.  And the other two are jukebox musicals.

And all based on pre-exisiting material – either a book, a movie, or a songbook.

Curious about the 2nd set of 5?  Here’s where we start to mix it up a bit:

6.  Mary Poppins                           $42,743,618
7.  The Phantom Of The Opera    $39,044,221
8.  South Pacific                            $35,817,950* (partial year)
9.  In The Heights                          $34,001,301* (partial year)
10.  Spamalot                                $32,386,699

Or do we?  Once again . . . all are based on pre-existing material, except for one.

Now which shows do you think will make the Top 5 next year?

Special thanks to Beverley D. Mac Keen and New World Stages for the research and for allowing me to borrow their cool spreadsheets.

The Producer’s Perspective “Best of 2008” Awards: Who Is The Producer of the Year

“Best Of” lists at this time of year are like Liza during Act II of Liza At The Palace:  all over the place but definitely worth checking out.

As I poured through this year’s collection of the best/worst lists from every paper, mag and e-zine, I realized that there was a group of folks left out of the annual accolades . . . Producers!

Well, no longer, my TPP readers!

Introducing the 1st Annual Producer’s Perspective “Best Of” Awards, including The Producer Of The Year Award.

Here’s how it works:  there are no set categories except for the big one (next year, I’ll let you propose categories).

Now, without further adieu, here are the winners!

BEST MARKETING CAMPAIGN . . . DISNEY

Maybe it’s unfair to put a company like Disney, which has more leverage and brand-awareness than many small countries, up against all the rest of us trying to launch new product.  But you have to give the mouse credit for its menage-a-trois-like DisneyOnBroadway campaign, which has made their three shows as much of an attraction as The Magic Kingdom in Orlando.  In ’08, they also managed to turn the critically-ravaged Little Mermaid into a oft’ member of the million-dollar club.

BEST VIRAL MARKETING CAMPAIGN . . . TIE:  TITLE OF SHOW and XANADU

TOS kept their ball in the air for many a month before they arrived on Broadway with their Title of Show Show (which is continuing on even now).  And the birth of Cubby Bernstein for Xanadu was a terrific Hail Mary toss at the Tony.  Both were great examples of viral campaigns:  funny, celebrity-filled, cheap to create . . . and difficult to convert, as Xanadu lost the Tony and TOS closed prematurely.  A for effort.

BEST PENETRATION INTO POP CULTURE . . . LEGALLY BLONDE

In ’08, Blonde parlayed their ’07 MTV appearance into a reality show, cleansing our reality-show casting palettes after the disappointing You’re The One That I Want.  While Legally Blonde and Bailey Hanks were expelled from the boards a bit early, the tour is doing pretty well and I’d bet that the millions of eyeballs the reality show got helped build a brand-foundation in middle America.  And hey, no matter what you think about reality show casting, when young people are telling millions that their lifelong dream is to be on Broadway, it’s good for all of us.

BEST NEW ECONOMIC MODEL . . . WHITE CHRISTMAS

The limited run play has been a successful model for years.  But the limited run musical?  It’s a relatively new one, and with grosses of 1.4 and 1.5 million over the past couple weeks, White Xmas could have finally cracked the “nut”.

BEST STAR CASTING COUP . . . WHOOPI GOLDBERG IN XANADU

This was a competitive category with celebs like a wand-waving Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Cruise debuting on The Great White Way.  But come on, how many people ever thought Whoopi Goldberg would replace in a musical that was struggling to stay afloat?  The Producers of one of the best reviewed shows up for a Tony in ’08 did everything they could to keep their show open, and their work in getting Whoopi on board not only kept the show going, but it got the grosses up.

BEST AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT AWARD . . . 13

Have to give it to my own show on this one, thanks to the ultra-active 7,000+ members of 13fans.com we captured in such a short run.  That’s a lot of youngsters falling in love with a musical and wanting to chat about it.  And there’s no doubt they’ll be excited to see another one.  When I was a kid, my 5th grade class went to see Julius Caesar at a local Shakespeare company.  I fell asleep.  I’m surprised I ever wanted to see another piece of theater after that.  You want to develop audiences for the 22nd century?  Give ’em Mamma Mia before you give them Macbeth.  There’s always time for the medicine after the spoonful of sugar has gone down (damn that Disney leverage).

BEST USE OF NON-PROFIT MONEY . . . SOUTH PACIFIC

Non-profits should deliver what can’t be done commercially.  They should be homes for the artists whose vision and spirit can’t fit in the small economic box of Broadway.  There was no greater example of that in ’08 than the Atlantic Ocean-sized production of South Pacific.

BEST WE’RE STILL KICKING AWARD . . . 39 STEPS

39 Steps is tenaciously stepping into their 3rd Broadway house.  It ain’t easy or inexpensive to pick up a Broadway show and move it down the block, so they get kudos for grinding it out.

BEST USE OF AN AMERICAN IDOL . . . NO WINNER

Enough said.

And now the big one . . .

THE PRODUCER OF THE YEAR IS . .  . . .

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s entry!

In the meantime, I feel guilty that I didn’t collect your nominations this year, so give me your comments on what you think is the “BEST OF 2008”.  It can be anything:  Best Website, Best Logo for a Musical, Best BS Excuse By An Actor For Leaving A David Mamet Revival . . . you know, anything.

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