‘Rope’-ing them in

The Drama Dept. has three new productions on its slate, a new partnership with a hip Off Broadway venue and a buzzed-about new musical comedy that just might make it to Broadway.

Not bad for a troupe that a year ago was still digging itself out of $200,000 worth of debt.

First up: “Rope,” the 1929 Patrick Hamilton suspense tale directed by David Warren and set to play the Zipper Theater Nov. 21-Jan. 15.

The $300,000 production kicks off a partnership with the Zipper, which also will co-produce a new play from the Drama Dept. in the spring and a third show in fall 2006.

Then there’s “The Big Time,” the genial showbiz-saves-the-world tuner with a book by Drama Dept. a.d. Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen. Its brief, bare-bones run at the New York Musical Theater Festival in September attracted glowing reviews and serious interest from producers both in Gotham and beyond.

The plan now, according to exec director Michael S. Rosenberg, is to take it to a regional nonprofit for a full production early this spring — they’re talking to theaters on the West Coast, in Washington, D.C., and Chi –and then angle for a return to New York, probably on the Great White Way.

All this activity comes from a pared-down Drama Dept., which phased out its ticket subscriptions with the NYMF presentation of “Big Time.”

Still, the troupe remains scrappy but starry. This year’s $200,000 operating budget comes from corporate support, individuals and fund-raisers, glammed up by the likes of Cynthia Nixon, Charles Busch, Isaac Mizrahi and Amy Sedaris.

And still to be announced: a celeb to join Ginifer King, John Lavelle, Zak Orth and Sam Trammell in the cast of “Rope,” which opens Dec. 4.

‘Sweet’ on marketing

The revival of “Sweet Charity” continues to chug along, even after a tumultuous tryout and preview period and an empty haul at the Tonys. To keep it going, producers Barry and Fran Weissler aren’t just relying on celebrity casting. (Although they’re doing that, too; Wayne Knight of “Seinfeld” stepped into the show Sept. 20.)

They’re hoping to grab some grassroots attention on the Web. Wanna dance on Broadway? Send in a 30-second video of yourself dancing, and, as part of a promotion with Marie Claire, it could end up on the production Web site, where, beginning Nov. 7, visitors could vote you into a one-night stint in “Charity.”

Show is also the first Broadway production to try Internet immersion, an interactive strategy from Web org G4. The strategy offers rewards — i.e., points that can be redeemed for tickets or merchandise — in return for answering trivia questions about the show, all while tracking the demographics of registered users.

“Sweet Charity” sells CDs in Avon catalogs, and filled empty seats in the upper balcony with a successful $25 ticket offer through the Daily News.

The goal is to generate word of mouth by getting auds in seats. For the week ending Oct. 2, “Charity” may have earned just half of its more than $1,000,000 gross potential, but its attendance was up to 84%.

“I consider myself an innovative marketing person,” Barry Weissler says. “But we’re just trying to do things any person selling an item in the retail market should be looking at.”

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