Let’s face it: Ventriloquism, the vaudevillian art that treads a fine line between charming and creepy, is a tough sell. And it’s even tougher on Broadway.
Take “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only.” The solo show, starring ventriloquist Jay Johnson and a host of dummies, was a surprise hit at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company in 2004. But for its first two full weeks on the Broadway boards, the show brought in $108,488. Total. For 16 performances.
Still, Nancy Coyne, the Rialto advertising vet, has a plan to get tickets sold. Step one: Don’t advertise.
“If you spend your money covering your losses while you build an audience, that’s a smarter use of it than spending it on advertising,” she says.
The show’s ad campaign, even after generally favorable reviews hit Sept. 29, remains low-key, with what she calls “a couple of little print ads.”
“I don’t know that advertising is going to convince people,” she adds. “But I think audience members will recommend the show so strongly that they can convince people to actually overcome their aversion to ventriloquism.”
Substantial discount offers and papering also are helping get potential converts in the door. In its second week, the show played to 75% capacity auds — but the average ticket price was just $15, a figure more common to the shoestring productions of Off Off Broadway.
Coyne is hoping the show can hold out long enough for word of mouth to attract the holiday auds that descend on Broadway toward the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the show’s marketers are brainstorming ways to drum up press attention. “It’s the underdog this season,” Coyne says. “That’s a press angle.”
The “American Idol”-style dance competition “So You Think You Can Dance” was, in TV terms, a modest hit for Fox this summer, growing in viewership during its second season to become the summer’s top-rated reality show among the 18-49 demo, during a period when many new reality offerings tanked.
But even modest success on TV can translate into big numbers on the live-entertainment circuit. The touring version of “Dance,” featuring the top 10 contestants from the show, sold out its nearly 40 national stops in less than two hours, including two dates in the 5,600-seat theater at Gotham’s Madison Square Garden.
Overall, the tour sold just over 120,000 tickets. That may be nothing in terms of TV viewership, but it’s enough to fuel a hit tour.
“The fans are very fanatical,” says Simon Sidi, producer of the “So You Think You Can Dance” tour, who is also behind the “American Idol” tour series.
The TV show and the hot-on-its-heels live incarnation make a fine cross-promotional pair. “These kids become known, and then we immediately go out on tour so people can see them in person,” Sidi says.
The tour even exposes the show’s rabid, mostly youthful fanbase to some good old-fashioned legit choreography. While there are plenty of hip-hop moves on display, the show includes an extended tribute to Bob Fosse (including a newly choreographed version of “Steam Heat” from “The Pajama Game”) and caps off with all 10 dancers bopping to the finale from “Hairpsray.”
Sultan of Rialto
Newly minted CAA agent Olivier Sultan has scored Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik for his client roster — two creatives hot on the Rialto these days thanks to their tuner adaptation of “Spring Awakening,” which was a hit at the Atlantic and opens on Broadway Dec. 10.
Sultan preceded his transition into agenthood with a two-year stint as business manager at CAA, and before that was an attorney at Paul Weiss. Also on his list of clients are helmer John Rando (“Urinetown”), choreographer Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening”) and scribe Rupert Holmes (“Curtains”), among others.
Jason Cooper, also from Paul Weiss, has been brought in to CAA’s business affairs department to replace Sultan.