News, info, buzz light up the chat stage

“The Full Monty,” Broadway’s first real musical success of the season, garnered its earliest notice from an unlikely quarter. “The night before our opening, someone in the audience ran into the cybercafe next to our theater to post a review of the first act during the intermission,” says producer Lindsay Law.

Luckily it was a rave.

At Broadway chat sites, gossip columns and news forums, information and buzz flits about at a much quicker (and looser) pace than in the print realm. The larger commercial online news services such as Playbill Online insist upon confirming their leads with a reputable named source, but chat forums and anonymous postings are unhampered by such restrictions.

Nonetheless, independent sites such as James Marino’s “BroadwayStars.com” and John Gillespie’s “Talkin’ Broadway” can be informative and entertaining guides to the doings of the theater world. Here, a newbie can eavesdrop on some of the backstage doings of Broadway’s amateurs and aspirants. “We’ve grown tremendously in the last six months,” says Gillespie. “We have a few thousand registered users, but perhaps there are 50 times more people who just log on to read the postings.”

Marino, a producer who founded his BroadwayStars.com as a promotional venture and found it grew as an online theatrical news wire, observes, “There are really only 500 people that run Broadway. There is a very big old boys network. I’m not so much interested in changing it as challenging it.”

As “Seussical” producers SFX, Barry and Fran Weissler, and Universal Studios have found out recently, the results of Internet gossip can be far-reaching. When they fired their original costume designer and brought in a new director, Rob Marshall, to shore up the piece, Internet sites went to town on the story.

Creatively, the changes “Seussical” underwent are not unprecedented. Broadway shows often gestate this way in the quiet cocoon of the out-of-town tryout. Only now, the process is cataloged by online chat group observers and by blind items posted anonymously on theater news sites. The many-tongued “chatterati” may not know how to spell the title of “The Rhythm Club” but they are acute when it comes to spelling out its financial troubles.

When “Club” recently lost some of its capitalization and decided to forgo its Chicago tryouts because of the expense, part of the problem for producers was the threat of negative buzz on the Web. In the meantime, the show’s Broadway date has been postponed — perhaps indefinitely.

Bad news travels fast in a wired world.

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