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Movie helps ‘Hairspray’ stage show

Folks check out film before investing in tickets

Last winter, it looked like the many wigs of “Hairspray” were in for their final tease on Broadway. The tuner struggled along at below-breakeven biz with little more than $407,952 during the week of Feb. 5-11 this year.

Three weeks after the release of the movie “Hairspray” (July 20), however, the box office at the Neil Simon Theater was back to doing capacity business.

“It’s like reopening the show on Broadway,” says the tuner’s lead producer, Margo Lion. “We’re just enjoying the ride, thanks to the movie.”

How have the Broadway producers actively piggybacked on the film success? “Not much,” she admits, “except for a new ad campaign that says, ‘See It Live!'”

Over the years, “Hairspray” largesse has put money in coffers on the other coast, too. Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theater, which hosted the tuner’s pre-Broadway tryout in spring 2002, has averaged about $300,000 a year from its participation. Because of the movie, “We’re anticipating greater income this year than we would have otherwise,” says Fifth Avenue’s producing artistic director, David Armstrong.

Lion doesn’t expect that B.O. bump to be short-lived. “The movie finally brands the name ‘Hairspray,’ ” she adds. “When we toured the show, we found that despite having won eight Tonys, people still thought of it as being based on that movie with Warren Beatty.”

No longer to be confused with “Shampoo,” “Hairspray” has definitely been Hollywood-blessed, as were the stage shows of “Chicago,” “Rent” and “The Phantom of the Opera” — all of which hum along on Broadway long after their movie versions have gone off into DVD heaven. Surprisingly, “Phantom” and “Rent” benefited despite movie versions that did middling biz or totally tanked, respectively.

The general manager of “Phantom,” Alan Wasser, has previously opined on that spectacular bump: “The film’s campaign was so concentrated — the shattered chandelier, the rose, the mask — it had a dramatic impact on the stage show.”

The movie “Rent,” despite a dismal showing at the box office, proved a bonanza for the original, long-running legit version.

In fact, when the movie trailer featuring “Season of Love” hit cineplexes six months before the film’s release, it sent Broadway receipts soaring.

According to “Rent” publicist Richard Kornberg, who also reps “Hairspray,” the crucial link between stage show and movie was the original cast of “Rent,” most of whom reprised their work on the bigscreen. “Also, the DVD rentals have helped push down the age level of audiences,” he adds. Where the core had been late teens, it’s not unusual to see lots of 12- and 13-year-olds at the Nederlander Theater this summer.

Hollywood helping to goose Broadway isn’t new. The original “Grease,” which ran more than eight years on Broadway, got some needed mileage out of the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. But lightning did not strike “The Producers.” When the 2005 movie quickly disappeared from theaters, it created nary an uptick at the Broadway box office, and the tuner closed a year later.

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