Broadway shows crave Tony bump

Musicals bank on kudos for box office bonanza

The questions about who would score a Tony nomination were answered May 5. But along with those answers come a slew of new questions.

Even though “9 to 5” didn’t score a best-musical bid, shouldn’t that well-known property nonetheless get a broadcast showcase on the always ratings-challenged award telecast?

Will Angela Lansbury win her fifth Tony, tying Julie Harris for the all-time record for an actor?

In the history of Tonys, has there ever been a weirder combo than the “special theatrical event” category that mixes Liza Minnelli, George Bush, Shaolin jumpers and Russian clowns?

And the most vital question of all: Just how useful and important is a Tony nomination for box office?

In answer to that last one: Very important. Or not. Depending.

“We all know the box office driver of the Tonys is the new musical category,” says Kevin McCollum, producer of nommed shows “West Side Story,” “White Christmas” and “[title of show].”

But since “Billy Elliot” already regularly posts sales of more than $1 million per week, it doesn’t seem like the show’s whopping 15 noms would make a difference.

Actually, it does help, says Eric Fellner of Working Title, one of the producers of “Billy Elliot.” It’s especially useful for a show that already has a presence abroad — in this case, the original London production plus one in Australia — and seems a natural candidate to hit the road in North America.

“It’s amazing how powerful the Tonys are on a worldwide basis,” Fellner says. “Not only will the recognition expand our audience for Broadway, it also splays out to all the international territories.”

The potential rewards of acclaim for “Next to Normal,” up for 11 awards, are more readily apparent.

The tuner scored strong support with Gotham critics, but without a high-profile brand or a big-name cast, box office has been slow to build.

“When you open this late in the season without a huge advance, it’s the combination of reviews and the advertising and the nominations that fan the flames of word of mouth,” says producer David Stone (“Wicked”), who shepherded smaller-scale tuner “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” to a Tony-winning run.

Bill Damaschke, topper of DreamWorks Theatricals, says the eight noms for “Shrek the Musical” will help the show’s selling power on Broadway and for the upcoming tour.

Although critical reception was mixed and box office has fluctuated, the show’s performance clearly indicates that “Shrek” does well when tourists are in town. “Obviously, we do fantastic at the holidays, fantastic at spring break, and we anticipate doing fantastic this summer,” he says. And the Tony validation will help lure those out-of-towners.

Aside from box office, the noms also rep a highly public validation from the legit industry. Damaschke hopes the Tony nominations can help boost the show’s cred with theater folks who automatically pooh-pooh a Hollywood-generated tuner.

“The nominations seem to indicate that a lot of people are saying, ‘This is a real show,’ ” he says.

Matthew Weaver, a producer of goofy hair-metal tuner “Rock of Ages,” couldn’t agree more. “We’ll take any legitimacy we can get!” he says of the production’s unexpectedly strong haul of five nominations.

“Rock” scored the up-for-grabs fourth tuner slot that many pundits expected to go to “9 to 5.”

But those behind the Dolly Parton tuner shouldn’t despair. Some shows have proven that a Tony profile isn’t always a necessity for a healthy future.

With Parton as the nominated composer, it seems a safe bet the Tonycast will find a way to include her and/or a seg from the show in the telecast, which could use the boost from the singer-songwriter’s legion of fans.

And an earlier musical based on a popular, femme-friendly pic property, “Legally Blonde,” has proven that being left out of the main Tony tuner race doesn’t spell certain doom. Although the show didn’t manage to recoup on Broadway, exposure on the Tonycast and MTV pumped up its image beyond Gotham, yielding a current road incarnation that has pulled in impressive biz. Similarly, insiders suspect “9 to 5” could be a strong touring property.

As for tuner revivals, the season’s big-ticket offerings, “West Side Story” and “Hair,” don’t need much help in terms of aud recognition. But with both shows set for upcoming tours, the four noms for “West Side Story” and the eight for “Hair” surely help remind potential ticket buyers around the country that new, hit productions of those familiar shows are coming to town with the imprimatur of the Tonys.

The diversity in the roster of nominated shows — which focus, variously, on a boy ballerino, an off-her-meds mom, a flatulent ogre and spandex-clad rockers — also serves as a nice publicity shot for the varied attractions of the Main Stem in general, notes Broadway League exec director Charlotte St. Martin.

“The cross-section is very exciting, and it bodes well for Broadway as a whole,” she says.

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