Tonys give tuners second act

With kudos going to all four nominees, shows could see big boosts at the B.O.

NEW YORK — As the “Mary Poppins” tune goes, “a sweep is as lucky as lucky can be.” But in Tony terms, a more democratic distribution of kudos can be even luckier for Broadway.

An awards cleanup on the order of “The Producers” or “Hairspray” can help consolidate a hit into a bona fide behemoth. But the generous spread of prizes across all four musicals, which occurred at the June 5 ceremony, can extend the box office boost beyond just one or two shows.

As Tony recipients were still recovering from the partying the morning after the awards, the spinners were spinning more than usual: They estimated the winner of best musical, “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” would jump to an advance of $29 million, up by $2 million over the previous weekend. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” would sell $200,000 in tix on June 6.

And, not to be outdone, reps from “The Light in the Piazza” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” announced that each of their shows would wrap $300,000 before the day was out.

Such post-Tony jubilation has proved unreliable in the past, with publicists tending to inflate the awards’ impact before more exhaustive figures are available. But, in this case, they were right. Given that all four shows were spring openers and all had been doing steady to strong business in the Tony run-up, the liberal distribution of prizes stands to goose summer sales to a far wider extent than years past.

In the immediate wake of the ceremony, one thing was abundantly clear: None of the four nominated new musicals was going to post a closing June 7. And for Broadway, that is definitely news.

John Lithgow won the Tony in 2002, only to see “Sweet Smell of Success” post its closing notice two days later. In recent years, “The Wild Party,” “A Class Act,” “Jane Eyre” and “A Year With Frog and Toad” all folded their respective tents a week after the awards.

This June is different.

“The awards were spread out,” says Drew Hodges of marketing agency SpotCo, which handles a number of Broadway shows. “Everyone seemed to benefit.”

However, as Hodges is quick to point out, “We have a lot of shows doing well. They were not in a vulnerable position going into the awards.” And that includes the Tony-winning plays “Doubt,” “The Pillowman” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Even after the Tony noms were announced May 10, only two shows posted closings: “Little Women” and “Brooklyn.” Often there are half a dozen, as well as one show that comes down with the Tony curse.

“In the past, there has been one show that hung on because it receives a number of Tony nominations,” says marketing guru Nancy Coyne. “There is a false sense of hope that a speech or a performance or a win on the telecast will make a difference.” Of course, it rarely does.

In the end, the current box office resilience says much more about the strength of the spring season than the publicity power of the Tony telecast, which drew only a modest 6.6 million viewers for CBS, only marginally up from last year’s record low of 6.5 million.

“Brooklyn” closes June 26, and “The Glass Menagerie” and “Steel Magnolias” look vulnerable. “On Golden Pond” definitely could have used a win for star James Earl Jones. However, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” may see a spike in its sales, thanks to Bill Irwin’s unexpected Tony win for actor in a play.

The double win for revival of a musical and choreography was not enough to save “La Cage aux Folles,” which has announced a June 26 closing date after floundering for weeks at the box office. “Unfortunately, despite winning the Tony on Sunday, our sales have not increased,” says producer James Nederlander.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White” is scheduled to move into the Marquis next spring, but the early vacancy created by the “La Cage” exit may attract a limited-run tenant in the meantime.

Beyond the handful of struggling shows, the summer looks strong. In the first week of the new season, Broadway’s cume came to $17.03 million, up from $14.01 million last year and $13.04 million in 2003.

In addition to elevating its soaring advance another notch, Tony victor “Spamalot” also has boosted its premium-price tickets to $301.25 (and over Christmas week, $351.25). Given that regular full-price orchestra seats are unavailable before January, more ticket buyers with fat wallets may be prodded by the show’s Tony wins to start exercising that option.

While it netted only a single Tony, for Norbert Leo Butz as actor in a musical, out of 11 nominations, “Scoundrels” is adding a tweak to an ad campaign that from the start has taken its cue from the show’s con-man theme, proclaiming itself “Winner 2005: Tony Award for Best Musical * (almost).” Both that show and “Spelling Bee” have been playing to north of 90% capacity, indicating major summer B.O. mileage.

“The awards were great for us because we opened and got an immediate bump from the nominations, and now we got another shot from the awards themselves,” says “Spelling Bee” producer David Stone, whose show bagged trophies for book and featured actor. “It’s been a great upwards ride.”

But the show that really stands to benefit most is the more arty “The Light in the Piazza.”

Its six-Tony haul, including awards for score, orchestrations and leading actress as well as design awards, stands as a testament to the fact that even in the age of irony, when irreverent musical parodies are starting to outnumber more traditional fare, a serious-minded romantic tuner can still command industry admiration.

Originally scheduled to play at Lincoln Center only through June 12, the show was extended through Sept. 4 based on growing critical support, positive audience response and stellar reviews for its original cast recording. reported sales for the “Piazza” CD, as well as those for “Spamalot,” “Spelling Bee” and “Scoundrels,” climbed considerably during Tony weekend.

A further extension through Jan. 1 was decided after the Tony wins.

“In our world, where we don’t have the giant advance of a show like ‘Spamalot,’ we’re very dependent on word of mouth, and these awards can help boost that like no others,” says Lincoln Center Theater artistic director Andre Bishop.

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