“We got the groovy audience,” says Baz Luhrmann, “but we don’t yet have the coach audience.”
Luhrmann is referring, of course, to his Broadway production of “La Boheme,” which has been doing respectable but not stellar business since opening to rapturous reviews in December.
The production is expensive to run — it breaks even at $600,000 — and has been grossing a little below that in some recent weeks, as grosses in general have waned across Broadway.
So Luhrmann himself is taking a hand in a new attempt to market the show directly to a larger audience, the general theatergoers unimpressed by the show’s rep as the show to see for cocktail-party conversation.
He is at work on a new TV commercial, replacing the visually stunning Broadway spot that launched the show’s ad campaign.
“That ad was too clever by half, too artistic,” Luhrmann says. He should know — he directed it. “We now shot a vox pop,” he admits.
In the new ad, testimonials from happy theatergoers will trumpet the news: “This is the grandfather of all musicals. There are hit tunes and lots of frocks and wonderful sets.” That’s Baz talking, not someone from Des Moines, but you get the idea.
Testimonials aren’t exactly the most innovative marketing approach. But in Baz’s hands, “They are fresh and playful,” says Spotco marketing chief Drew Hodges.
In addition, a soprano-tenor duet (“O soave fanciulla”) used in the original ad will be replaced by the chorus singing the show’s most well-known tune, “Musetta’s Waltz.”
The tenor voice is not as familiar to contempo theater audiences. Ever since Rodgers & Hammerstein, baritones have been favored to sing the romantic male leads.
Over the years, the tenor voice became “a joke, too artificial-sounding,” Luhrmann believes. He illustrates by singing a few falsetto notes.) With “Musetta’s Waltz,” the helmer says, “We’ll give them something more celebrational.” As well as something that sounds pretty much like a traditional Broadway chorus.
Luhrmann admits the show faces a tough battle due to its high break-even. He takes some of the blame for that problem.
“I indulgently insisted on more musicians than you had to have,” he says, somewhat wryly (in fact, the production uses far fewer musicians than it would in an opera house). “Also, strangely enough, everything is human in our show. We talked about putting a few engines on some of those trucks and knocking $200,000 off the show, just by mechanizing” the moving of scenery.
But there are no plans to ax any stagehands.
While the new “La Boheme” spot goes out sometime before the Tonys, Baz continues to juggle his other projects. He soon will announce the songwriting team for his legit version of “Strictly Ballroom,” expected to hit Broadway in 2005. And Las Vegas awaits his choice of casino for “Moulin Rouge.”
On his future agenda, one thing is for sure: Principal photography on his “Alexander the Great,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, will be done on Baz’s home turf in Australia. He recently visited Morocco and Jordan, where some desert exteriors will be filmed.
“But you can’t get insurance for the principal actors,” he noted.
As for the deserts of Australia, “They do exist,” Baz says. “I was just there for the first time.”