This legit season, more than any other, the Tony-nominated producers are casting their eye beyond the Hudson River. Presenters of Broadway shows on the road represent a bigger bloc than in the past, a mighty 12% of all Tony voters, now that approximately 100 journos have been dropped from that list. (A few crix will be invited to return to vote in 2011.) What those presenters like and which musical they think will benefit most from the Tony imprimatur decides their vote. In the past, some Broadway producers have even courted presenters by announcing national tours that never materialize. Shocking but true.
In 2010, “The Addams Family” represented the ideal choice for presenters, since it falls into that time-honored position of a well-known title like “The Producers” or “Hairspray” with which auds are already familiar. The Tony nominating committee, however, did not oblige, and instead placed into competition three titles (“Memphis,” “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Fela!”) that are original to the theater, and a fourth that’s taken from a rock LP (“American Idiot”) unknown to your typical legit subscriber base.
The producers of these four tuners couldn’t be happier with the Tonys’ rejection of the familiar, and all of them are ready to put forth a case why their show is destined to do boffo biz on the road and beyond.
As “Million Dollar Quartet” producer Gigi Pritzker sees it, her show has already proven itself on the road, having first played short runs in Daytona Beach and Seattle before moving on to a sit-down production in Chicago, now in its 19th month.
“We had very strong sales over the past year in Chicago,” Pritzker says. “It took a while for word-of-mouth, but after a year, (tix sales) rocketed. I’m sure the Tony nominations will spike it in Chicago.”
Pritzker looks to launch a road tour in fall 2011, with the Booking Group. “The show is ideal for touring: it’s one set, eight players, no costumes changes.”
Pritzer’s fellow lead producers include Broadway Across America, and its 42 markets could make “Million Dollar Quartet” a very well-known title in the heartland where its subjects (Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, etc.) are more than just legends. “Cash and Presley are also big in Asia,” Pritzker points out.
“Memphis” also claims BAA in its producers corner, with the Booking Group in tow as well. The tour opens this October in Memphis, of course, but they’re playing it safe and doing just 10 days. “We’d rather go in with a big bang and go back,” says producer Randy Adams.
He and fellow lead producer Sue Frost are still basking in the show’s White House visitors, who gave “Memphis” major exposure beyond Gotham.
“That Michelle Obama brought the girls sent the message that it’s a family show in a way that we could never get the message out,” Adams says.
A sit-down in London, for now, is just “rumblings,” says Frost. “Definitely, our strongest response is from Germany, Japan and Korea,” where that Memphis sound reigns. Not that her show is a jukeboxer. “We fill out a category that seems to have been slightly endangered,” Frost says of “Memphis’s” original score and book.
The next step for the bio-tuner “Fela!” is London, where its 12-week engagement at the National Theater begins in November.
The “very prestigious” offer to play there, says producer Stephen Hendel, “came out of the wild and deep blue.”
The last Broadway musical to make the transfer from Gotham to the National was “Caroline, or Change.” Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s tuner didn’t move to the West End, but Hendel has hopes “Fela!” will.
“Fela Kuti’s fan base has been in France, the Benelux countries, Italy and the U.K. He spoke of a third-world society, so he also has tremendous resonance in Brazil. The place in the world where he’s least known is the United States.”
Hendel is especially proud that the Broadway show is attracting auds that are 40%-45% African-American, which could help to attract a new audience on the road.
Since “Fela!” will play in repertory with “Hamlet” in the National’s Olivier Theater, the physical production will rely more on projections than does the current Broadway staging, which replicates Fela’s nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria. That pared-down production could be a blueprint for a national tour, which looks to go out in the second half of 2011, with CAMI repping. “It will open in a major market,” Hendel says. “It just won’t be Memphis.”
Over at “American Idiot,” they’re just catching their breath. “Hey, we just opened 10 minutes ago!” says producer Tom Hulce. “We were in Berkeley in November, got a Broadway theater in January, so we’re just doing our best to keep on the front end of this wave.”
That said, Hulce and fellow-producer Ira Pittelman just know in their gut that there’s a national audience for their “American Idiot.” They can thank Green Day for that. “We’re constantly meeting people in their 30s and 40s who tell us they grew up with Green Day,” Pittelman says. Some of those old fans are now “bringing their 13-year-old kids,” he adds.
Hulce and Pittelman last joined forces on “Spring Awakening,” which went on to win the 2007 Tony for best musical. “But the frustrating thing was we didn’t have a handle easily available to communicate what that show was about,” Hulce recalls. “With ‘American Idiot,’ even if people don’t know Green Day, they know songs like ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams.’ It’s an amazing gift to this theatrical enterprise.”
The two producers look to capitalize on the rock group’s popularity not only in America but in the U.K., Germany, Japan and Korea.
The “American Idiot” set on Broadway features all kinds of videoscreens and projections. Hulce says it doesn’t pose a problem for tours: “The company Senobva, which takes care of all our media systems, tells us there’s an equivalent version (to Broadway) that can respond to the logistics of getting in and out of theaters on tours.”