Theater biz woos auds with marketing ideas

No time to grab a pre-theater cocktail? Don’t fret — at Broadway tuner “Rock of Ages,” you can drink during the show. And then play a round of vidgame “Rock Band” at intermission.

Even before the economy hit the skids, legit producers were testing experience-oriented offers and events to help lure auds away from their TV, movie and iPod screens.

Now ’80s hair-metal tuner “Rock of Ages” has aggressively worked to create a vibe that’s far less formal than the norm at Rialto theaters, aided by low ticket prices, in-seat cocktail service and free lighters for aud members to wave during appropriate power ballads.

It all amounts to a wide range of tactics to boost the show’s profile and snowball it into a cross-platform property. The movie rights for the tuner were optioned by New Line in December.

“We really just want people to have a great time,” says Matthew Weaver, who produces along with Carl Levin, Barry Habib, Jeff Davis, Scott Prisand and Corner Store Fund, among others including Relativity Media in its first stage investment.

“I think ‘Rock of Ages’ could have a sustainable life in many different media platforms,” says Relativity founder Ryan Kavanaugh.

Producers of the show — which draws its score from 1980s hits by acts including Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister and Poison — recognize that while they hope traditional theatergoers will turn out, the target demo isn’t necessarily the one more accustomed to Rodgers & Hammerstein than Journey and Whitesnake.

The tuner, which bows April 7 at the Brooks Atkinson, aims to hook rock fans with the help of an informal arrangement with MTV. “Rock” is advertised on the cable net’s main electronic billboard in Times Square and touted in in-store ads at the channel’s flagship merchandise outlet.

Lower price points also aim to bring in broader crowds. Top pricetags are $99 for weekend perfs and $89 on weeknights, while other tuners on the Street top out at $135.

There’s also the in-seat imbibing, which seems like it could raise controversy among tradition-minded theater fans.

But so far, Weaver reports, they’ve had no complaints. Aud members purchase drink tokens that minimize fumbling for change during the show, and servers filter through the house two or three times per act. (A package for four-person parties in the theater’s box seats also will be offered.)

The house opens an hour ahead of curtain, to give auds a chance to hang out and drink before the perf. Producers are planning to install setups for MTV vidgame “Rock Band” in the lobby.

Other rock musicals also have worked to break through to younger auds — “Rent” initiated a low-priced lottery for front row seats, and later “Spring Awakening” turned youthful heads with a robust Internet and mobile-phone campaign — but “Rock” is likely the first to exploit a vidgame connection.

Such initiatives help re-create a laid-back nightclub atmosphere similar to the one at the Vanguard Hollywood, where “Rock” preemed in 2006. After a stint in Vegas, the show bowed Off Broadway last fall before shuttering in January ahead of the Broadway run.

The book, by Chris D’Arienzo, centers on a young couple chasing their dreams in the Sunset Strip music scene of the 1980s. Kristin Hanggi (“Bare”) helms a cast that includes “American Idol” alum Constantine Maroulis.

The tuner also has found support among the ’80s music acts whose songs are woven through the plot. For instance, REO Speedwagon and Styx, soon to embark on a new tour, will play onstage after the April 27 show.

“Half of the bands’ websites have links to buy ‘Rock of Ages’ tickets,” Weaver says.

Also online, auds can follow the “Spinal Tap”-style backstage mockumentary, “ROA Productions,” from two thesps in the show, Lauren Molina and Mitchell Jarvis.

“We think the show is a franchise,” Weaver says.

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