Pace’s challenge

Can 'Rugrats' match the Power Rangers?

By partnering with Nickelodeon to produce a live touring show based on the cabler’s “Rugrats” series, the execs at Pace Theatrical Group are not only hoping they have the next big thing in the live show circuit, but that they are cultivating the kid’s audiences of today into becoming the adult theatergoers of tomorrow.

While Nickelodeon has produced shows around its popular “Double Dare” game show and its “Mess-A-Mania,” the “Rugrats” touring show will take the cabler’s live offerings to a new level with expensive production values and the potential to gross millions of dollars.

It will also make Pace — which put such music-based stage shows as “Tommy” and “Chicago” on the boards — into the burgeoning genre of kids theatrical perfs previously the domain of successful roadshows as “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Disney on Ice” and “Barney.”

Pace, which hopes to have the “Rugrats” tour in the marketplace by January, is one of the biggest producers of live entertainment in North America with its network of theaters in 26 cities.

“We feel it’s important to develop theatrical audiences beginning at a younger age and this show will help us do that,” says Jonathan Hochwald, business development veep for Pace Theatrical Group. “With shows like “Rent,” “Tommy” and “Chicago” among the kinds of shows en vogue, audiences are perhaps at their youngest age group in a long time. We are hopeful that shows like “Rugrats” can help introduce kids to the theater-going experience which they will carry into adulthood.”

The entry into the “Rugrats” arena is part of Pace’s long-range plan to expand its presence in the kids theatrical marketplace.

Pace envisions several touring companies traversing the U.S. with several different roadshows.

“And Nickelodeon has its finger on the pulse of audiences like no one else,” Hochwald says. “There’s no one better to be in business with.”

The “Rugrats” show is expected to be the first of many future touring shows Pace creates under the Nickelodeon pact which was inked in June.

But while Pace has high hopes for “Rugrats” and will invest more than $2 million into the touring production, some concert promoters remain on the fence concerning the tour’s potential.

Many cite the success of the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” as the quintessential live show with its heavy appeal to boys and its high production values and special effects. They suggest a more cerebral — or at least less action-packed — show like the “Rugrats” is going to be a hard sell.

“It is an interesting idea,” says Larry Vallon, exec veep of Universal Concerts. “But are the kids as fascinated by, or as loyal to, the characters as they were for the Power Rangers? I think that still needs to be determined.”

But Hochwald asserts the “Rugrats” will be every bit as lively and its appeal can be wider than those costumed crimefighters.

” ‘Rugrats’ is not a boys-only appeal and our research is finding the age group for the show is slightly older (than ‘MMPR’). The parents also seem to be into it. We won’t be creating a heavy drama. There will be plenty of effects and visuals to make it exciting along with the cutting edge humor and jokes for the adults. It’s being conceived as a sophisticated kids show,” he says.

Hochwald declined to discuss financial aspects of the show, but tour industry vets suggest a “Rugrats” tour could gross more than $15 million depending on the number of multiple-night stops and cities the roadshow visits.

“If they can find a way to make sure the popular TV property translates into a credible live version, they could have a winner,” says Frank Roach, a 20-year tour booking veteran who shepherded ‘MMPR’ for Universal Concerts and recently bowed TourVen, which has handled the booking and marketing of the live “Barney” show. “But a big scale show in a theatrical setting has never been done before so there are some risks.”

Pace predicts the show will have a recognition value that will draw audiences to it over and over, much like a good film or such stage shows as “A Chorus Line” or “Cats.”

“We want to do for traditional kids theater what Cirque de Soleil did for the circus or David Copperfield did for magic,” Hochwald says.

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