Another Opening, Another Closed Door (Part I)
Hands on a Hardbody, the new Broadway musical based on the 1997 documentary about a group of Texans competing to win a truck in an endurance competition of the most Survivor-esque proportions, announced today that it would close after only 28 performances. With a score by the innovative Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and a libretto by Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife), this news delivers a slightly harsher than expected blow to an industry which is already struggling.
Though the musical received mixed to good reviews, it couldn’t stand the test of the Great White Way, perhaps because it is fundamentally a small sized, intimate musical which has been over-inflated to fill a Broadway stage. Reporting on average a $32 ticket price, Hands on Hardbody just couldn’t bring in the audience members when placed next door to adorable moppets (Matilda) and heart-warming, life affirming drag queens (Kinky Boots). More
This morning I was randomly watching CP24’s coverage of Conclave 2013: The Hunt for the World’s Next Papal Superstar. Though a devout atheist, I find religion utterly fascinating in its ability to guide societies towards regrowth and destruction. And as I watched, and Catholics both locally and internationally were questioned about their future papal desires, I was struck by a dominant trend: nationalism. The correspondent in South America found mostly supporters of Odilo Scherer, the Italians were advocating vehemently for Angelo Scola and, on our home turf, Toronto devotees believe that the first Canadian Cardinal, Marc Ouellette, will become the first non European to liaise directly with God. More
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about marketing and packaging of a musical. How much of a show’s success is based on its artistic merit, and how much is simply about how producers pique an audience’s desire to actually buy tickets? We just closed Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, which received more pre-press than any show Acting Up Stage has produced, and nearly stellar reviews across the board. But here’s a little secret: we weren’t selling out the house every night.
I still remember learning in third grade to not judge a book by its cover; but even then, this didn’t entirely make sense to me. After all, there’s always a blurb on the back cover which, to nine year old me, seemed the key to deciding whether I wanted to read it or not. Also, didn’t the artwork on the front capture the spirit of, say Treasure Island, thereby informing me that I was distinctly not interested in reading a story about pirates and shipwreck? (Guess what? I didn’t judge that book by its cover, and I still remember reading 50 pages or so and throwing it back in the library bin.) So what nine year old me learnt (and still continues to believe) is that oftentimes the way something appears can inform – but not dictate – whether its worth further investigation.
On my most recent trip to New York, I saw The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which I’ve already blogged about) which just couldn’t live up to my expectations. However, what I did gain was the value of a clever marketing campaign. The poster outside of Studio 54 declared the show the one thing all audience members and critics alike could agree it was: “FUN!” (Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of this ad campaign online, but suffice it to say that the poster probably declaimed the show “FUN” about 15 times through use of various reviewer’s quotes.) For a show which the critics had found mildly unsatisfactory, this kind of aggressive plugging of a promise of entertainment seemed particularly appropriate, allowing Roundabout to hype a show without the ability to call it, for instance, the “best revival of the season.”
And then there’s Kinky Boots. I never heard about Kinky Boots, I never saw Kinky Boots, I didn’t give a fuck about Kinky Boots. (I don’t even particularly like John Waters’ films.) But then I saw the Broadway poster splattered on top of Times Square. Suddenly, the inner queen in me wanted nothing more than to see this show of which – to this date – all I know about it is that there is a promise of sparkle, sex and a pair of killer legs. So I fell for the ad campaign, and I can guarantee that on my next trip down, I will be visiting the Al Hirschfield without any foreknowledge of the plot. Talk about spreading advance word of mouth!
So how much of a show’s financial success is actually about how successful a marketing campaign is? I don’t believe it can be fully based on strategic and engaging ad placement, but these do seem to play a huge part in making even the worst flops sell. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on what propels you to buy a ticket to a musical. Can a killer ad campaign and good word of mouth alone get you to open your wallet?
This week, Mitchell takes a night off from fathering to go to the movies. Here’s his opinion on Les Mis!
Wait a minute… another posting about Les Mis on the “Musical Notes” blog? Well… given that it’s the most popular movie musical to come out in recent years, I think it’s worth the space!
While I had quibbles with the film, for me this was the most successful movie musical that has come out in my lifetime (I still like many of the ‘oldies’ best including Fiddler On The Roof, Cabaret, Oliver, etc.). I believe that this is all because the actors were singing live and not recorded to track like all of the other movie musicals of recent year.
One of the things that moves me most about musical theatre is that when emotion becomes too intense, song allows it to be expressed in a way that words cannot. The power of song enables complete suspension of disbelief so that I never once think “Why did they just start singing?”. However in musical films, I constantly think “STOP SINGING!” “Why are you singing?” “What the heck is going on?”. More
I’d been waiting for months for the Les Mis movie. After several majorly disappointing movie musical adaptations of the past few years, I didn’t have the same unreasonably high expectations that I did for, say, Sweeney Todd. Also, having seen the touring production in Montreal some time around 1994, it’s another one of those shows that I know mostly from hours of listening to original cast recordings – and, in this case, PBS broadcast tribute concerts.
I also love to cry at media. Theatre, film, visual art – you name it. I’m a sucker for heavy emoting. And, trust me, on this count Les Mis did not disappoint. Almost to a fault.
You’ve heard all the standard reviews by now. Anne Hathaway is mind blowing (sort-of), Russell Crowe is woefully miscast as someone who can sing (true), Aaron Tveit looks really cute in a tight pair of 19th century pants (yes please). More