The myth of the monster hit will not die. It goes like this:
A new tuner comes to town bloated with rave reviews from the West End, Chi or beyond. Puffed up by the press, the advance soars to $10 million, $15 million and counting. Theater parties make it a must-see, and suddenly the season’s B.O. oxygen is all sucked up, leaving nothing but the vacuum of the TKTS booth for everybody else. Then, as if to rub it in, the Tonys morph into an anticlimactic coronation with all bets superfluous, if not off.
Only now, three years later, does “The Producers” seem overrated, as any record-setting Tony winner — 12, count ’em, 12 — would have to be.
But here we go again: Loving it and fearing it, Broadway looks ready to resurrect the monster myth with “Spamalot,” opening March 17.
The show’s reported $15 million-plus advance matches what “The Producers” had riding into town in April 2001.
And once again, the media are pumping up the volume: New York magazine wonders, “Is ‘Spamalot’ the next ‘Producers’?” Newsweek thinks so, producing not one but two features on the Monty Python tuner.
In the blockbuster mythology, every hit requires a victim, and some crix have already predicted in their “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” reviews that “Spamalot” will spoil “Scoundrels” the way “The Producers” ran over “The Full Monty.”
Despite upbeat reviews, “Monty” achieved very few soldout weeks at the smallish O’Neill Theater before “The Producers” rubbed it out.
As for the intense media attention, calling any show the next “Producers” means it won’t be.
” ‘The Producers’ came at a time when we had to wrack our brains trying to think of another musical comedy that had been successful,” says “Producers” producer Richard Frankel. It was a short list from long ago: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1962), “City of Angels” (1989). “We played that game,” Frankel adds.
With “Producers,” Broadway was eager for a change. “It heralded the return of fun to Broadway,” says Spotco’s marketing chief Drew Hodges.
Before the “Producers” phenom, Broadway’s monster hits included quasi-operas (“The Phantom of the Opera,” “Rent”) and, later, the Disney extravaganzas. Instead of squashing the competition, “Cats,” “Phantom,” “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon” fed off of one another.
“Success breeds success,” says Alan Wasser, general manager of the Cameron Mackintosh shows. “A hit show creates interest in Broadway, makes people more likely to buy a ticket to another show.”
Disney’s one-two punch of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” kicked off the current family entertainment trend. Likewise, “Producers” made comedy king again.
This season alone, “Spam” shares the boards with “Scoundrels,” “All Shook Up” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Can one breakout hit gobble up everything?
“There are only 1,400 seats in a theater,” says marketing guru Nancy Coyne. “There are many more theatergoers than that.”
The “Spamalot” producers aren’t exactly courting comparisons to “The Producers.”
“Leave us alone!” barks one. “We haven’t opened yet. Let’s see what happens.”
Contrary to the myth, Broadway’s latest B.O. monsters haven’t killed one another off. They spawn!
“Historically, the big money-makers were separated by at least a couple of years,” says Broadway lawyer John Breglio. “It’s unusual to have four or five hits open this close together,” Breglio says, referring to such post- “Producers” fare as “Mamma Mia!,” “Hairspray,” “Avenue Q” and “Wicked.”
Coyne’s and Breglio’s Broadway days go back to “A Chorus Line,” arguably the biggest monster Broadway has seen in 30 years.
Did its media hype and Tonys sweep hurt competitor “Chicago” back in 1976? “A huge hit can pull the press away and it can pull awards away, but the audience is based on word of mouth at the end of the day,” says Coyne.
“Miss Saigon” lost to “Will Roger’s Follies,” but ran years longer. “Aida” wasn’t even nommed for musical, but outran all other shows from the 1999-2000 season.
“People ask if ‘Wicked’ would be doing better business if it had won the Tony,” says Coyne. “It can’t do bigger business.”
“Spelling Bee” will take up residence underneath “Wicked,” at Circle in the Square, and is expected to piggyback on its success.
“The shows could not be more disparate, but the (tween) audience will cross over and the proximity of theaters will help,” says Coyne, who plans cross-promotions.
One thing is for sure: They won’t be advertising it as the next “Avenue Q.”