One could argue that the magic number to watch when deciding if the Broadway musical “Little Women” will survive isn’t $5.6 million, its capitalization, but 15 – the number of stalls in the female restroom.
“That was a big factor” in choosing the recently renovated Virginia Theater, confessed Dani Davis, one of the producers, who said her team picked it over smaller, unrenovated houses with fewer stalls.
It’s a good thing, too, since “Little Women” is so eagerly targeting its title demographic, and the mothers who buy the tickets. According to Davis’ estimates, 75% of the audience has been women, while the Broadway average is 63%.
“To target in a broad and open way that we’re looking for mothers and daughters is slightly unusual,” says Barbara Eliran, of the tuner’s ad agency, the Eliran Murphy Group.
Tuner has been compared to other recent musicals popular with young girls. An op-ed in The New York Times compared the show’s “girl power” message to that of “Wicked” and “Hairspray.” Reviews in the Times and the Associated Press compared “Astonishing,” the heroine’s solo number at the end of act one, to “Defying Gravity,” the heroine’s first act closer in “Wicked.” The AP and the New York Sun compared the tuner to “Brooklyn.” “Little Women” star Sutton Foster gained a young girl following during her Tony-winning run in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” All of these tuners are about young female outsiders trying to achieve their artistic dreams.
“I was a tween once and they all feel like they’re outsiders, even the ones that are insiders,” said “Hairspray” producer Margo Lion, referring to a demo usually pegged as 8-to-12-year-olds. Original pic’s helmer John Waters once told her that “the biggest market for this movie is girls between 10 and 12 having slumber parties,” she recalled.
The marketing campaigns of these tuners show some similarities. The “Little Women” merchandise stand sells pink shirts glittered with the word “Astonishing,” while “Wicked” sells shirts that say “Defy Gravity” and “Popular” (another song title), to comply with the trend of girls wearing clothing with one-word slogans. While “Little Women” has partnered with the beauty product brand Bonnie Bell, “Wicked” and “Hairspray” teamed with cosmetics companies Stila and Avon, respectively.
But what’s different about “Little Women” is how focused it is on a particular target – mothers and daughters. “Wicked” and “Hairspray” have a broader appeal, and gross far more per week than “Little Women.”
Other “Little Women” partners include Seventeen and Teen magazines, Macy’s and the Ms. Foundation, which funds projects that benefit women. Print and radio ads will highlight a quote from Michael Sommers’ Newark Star-Ledger review: “a mother-and-daughter must-see.”
Tuner’s notices were generally mixed to bad, but all of its major reviewers were men.
“Female reviewers might have been more receptive to it,” said Pete Sanders, the show’s press rep. “The book holds a place in their life.”
Can the show survive by ignoring an entire gender? Davis pegs the weekly running costs at $375,000, and the gross has topped that figure every week except its heavily comped opening night frame. The advance currently stands at a so-so $2.5 million, with another million in group sales.
Tuner does have one guaranteed sellout, Eliran noted: “Everybody should book their tickets for Mother’s Day now.”