Family shows look beyond Broadway

Who needs the TV cameras when you can tour?

The Broadway road is always happy to get top-tier titles like “Spamalot” and “Jersey Boys.” But those shows don’t fill one increasingly crucial segment of the touring market — family-friendly entertainment that appeals to multiple generations. To fill that need, the road has to look well beyond Broadway.

“There’s a huge demand out there for family entertainment,” says Steve Schnepp, whose new Broadway Booking Office NYC has come online this year. “And it can be very hard to come by. Edgy titles just don’t land in every market.”

These days, fulfilling that demand often means looking toward the U.K. In the case of this fall’s tour of “My Fair Lady,” for example, Networks Presentations essentially imported the recent U.K. tour, bypassing Gotham and going straight to the U.S. road.

“Our whole idea from the start was to tour the show in the U.K. and then do the same thing here,” says Networks president Ken Gentry. “It would be an extraordinarily expensive show to build here. But all we have to do is load the show off the ships and into the theater. It was a way for us to get the show out in very grand form.”

The tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Whistle Down the Wind,” which has never played Broadway, is doing much the same thing this fall. And so is “Dirty Dancing,” another U.K. title that makes its North American debut in Chicago in the fall of 2008.

“This one will be point-of-origin Chicago,” says g.m. Nina Lannan, who rolled out the smash hit “Mamma Mia” in similar fashion nearly a decade ago.

A Broadway run for all three of those shows remains a possibility. But these shows are bypassing some of the potential downsides of starting in New York, most notably the cost and timing hassles of finding the right theater and the risk of less-than-stellar reviews.

But the titles must sell themselves. “There are a handful of titles that work on the road on a continuing basis,” says Gentry. “Really, those shows are part of our national cultural heritage. It’s not hard to sell ‘Annie.’ ”

And it’s not hard to sell Lloyd Webber, whose compositions form a big part of Troika’s roster.

Troika has a new touring revue based on the perennially populist composer’s backlist, entitled “New Ways to Dream: A Celebration.” In addition, “Evita” is out again, and there’s a new production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

The road also likes older shows like “Fiddler on the Roof,” which Troika is touring. “That one hasn’t been on the road in 10 years,” says Troika CEO Nicholas Howey.

And Schnepp is selling a new touring version of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” based on the Scott Schwartz production seen recently at the Paper Mill Playhouse and the North Shore Music Theater. Patti Colombo’s choreography was widely praised and the easy-to-understand title still has some oomph.

“Better yet,” says Schnepp, “the show is going out at an affordable price,” arguing that road presenters will get a Broadway-quality revival with union actors without any of the associated costs or baggage.

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