Bubbles bathe N.Y.

Family-friendly show hopes to fill niche

NEW YORK — Does playing with bubbles hold the same attraction as playing in the snow?

That question’s being floated at New World Stages, where “The Gazillion Bubble Show” is hoping to fill the family-friendly void recently created by the closing of “Slava’s Snowshow.” Like that clown-centered hit, which ran for 2½ years at the Union Square Theater, “Bubble” relies on visual spectacle over words. That means it could draw the two valuable demos of parents with young children and tourists who speak little English.

But in their attempts to mint an all-ages brand, backers are avoiding several standard marketing strategies.

Even though the show opened Feb. 15, don’t look for newspaper ads or TV spots touting Fan Yang, the “Bubble Show” creator and star who performs high-concept stunts with a bubble solution he invented.

Producer Ron Severini says, “We have not paid a dollar for advertising. We’re relying entirely on word of mouth.”

And while auds may indeed tell their friends about Yang’s feats — such as putting dozens of people inside a single bubble — some might wonder if it’s wise to eschew a marketing push for a $2.5 million production.

Severini feels awareness can be better raised with a less traditional approach.

In January, for instance, “Gazillion” held a six-day test run at New World Stages; Severini offered comps to everyone attending the Assn. of Performing Arts Presenters conference running in Gotham at the same time. Yang, who was born in Vietnam and lives in Toronto, also appeared on Gotham TV station NY1 and was featured in consumer mags such as Time Out New York.

Combined with email blasts from ticketing services, Severini says these heavily comped perfs generated enough sales for the official run to warrant an extension from April to September.

“We really didn’t concentrate that much on selling tickets in January, but people heard about the show and bought tickets anyway,” he says.

And some people, of course, have heard about the toys. Yang may not be a star in the States, but his line of bubble-related toys, on shelves in stores including Wal-Mart and Target, sells nearly $20 million per year. Merchandise revenue — combined with profits from international dates in cities like Moscow, Seoul and Hanoi — has allowed Yang to front much of the Gotham capitalization money himself.

But could this pre-existing business damage the show? Some might dismiss the production as a cynical excuse to sell bubble kits while also commanding $60 a ticket.

“The art and the science and the entertainment were there way before the toys,” Severini counters. He says efforts have been made to make the show satisfying, including the use of a costly laser-light system and the addition of new tricks for Gotham crowds.

Severini says presenters from as far afield as Las Vegas and London have expressed interest in mounting additional “Gazillion Bubble” productions.

However, one hindrance to new stagings could be a lack of bubble artists. Yang considers his wife the only suitably trained stand-in.

But no matter how many performers are available, a Gotham hit could spur demand for extra “Bubbles Shows.” Commercial producers foam at the mouth for this kind of visually driven property, since it can sell tickets to a broad audience while instilling the theater habit in younger patrons.

Yang’s show could fill the gap created at New World Stages by the closing of “Drumstruck,” an all-ages spectacle that ran for 18 months.

” ‘Drumstruck’ was a show that reached everyone, and we needed another one like that,” says Beverley Mac Keen, exec director of the five-theater New World Stages plex. “If you don’t have a family-oriented show, you’re short-changing your future.”

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