Oh sure, if you read Playbill On-Line, you know everything that's going on in New York theatre and beyond. But (alas!), not everyone has internet access, and even so, with so many Broadway shows opening, how do productions break out of the pack to find audiences and bolster box office grosses?
Playbill On-Line asked representatives of a number of new shows to comment on their marketing and advertising strategies.
Good reviews and a traditionally strong audience for Spanish dance shows (Tango X 2, Tango Argentino) made this tango revue not only the first show of the 1997-98 Broadway season, but the season's first hit.
Originally scheduled as a limited run through Aug. 9, the show kept extending until the current "open run" status became a necessary (and most welcome) option. Tickets are onsale (at least) through Jan. 4, 1998. Spokesperson Stephen Pitalo (of Boneau/Bryan-Brown) told Playbill On Line the show is marketing heavily to "an upscale Latin-American audience, and that's paying off. In addition to the usual media ads, the show advertises in "En Moda", "La Voz" (the Hispanic newspaper of NJ), "Viva" (an Hispanic insert for the Daily News) and "El Mundo." Says Pitalo, "We've been pushing publicity-wise on hispanic radio stations, though not so much advertising wise."
Television has also been important, as cast-members have appeared on such shows as "Regis & Kathy Lee," "The Today Show," "Sally Jesse Raphael," "Mi Gente" (on Spanish television) and "Fox News."
Those who've seen Forever Tango's Playbill cover know the visual marketing strategy: two dancers in a balletic embrace. "Our window card is the most consistently stolen window card," says Pitalo. "Wherever we put it up, it's gone." Also, Pitalo points out, the show sports a giant billboard in Times Square. " We'll be in the Macy's Parade," adds Pitalo. "On the John Tesh float." No, that's not a hallucination; Tesh's new album, "Avalon," has a Spanish instrumental, to which the cast has fashioned a special tango for the parade.
A larger-than-life satirization of real events, the comedy Jackie faces an even greater marketing challenge than Tango, since questions of taste and/or overfamiliarity with the Jacqueline Kennedy story come into play.
Said spokesperson Pete Sanders, "Basically there are two target audiences: people who lived through it or those who are younger. A certain number of people would resist coming because they feel those times were too revered, which they really weren't. So people born after the assassination are a better audience. Initially, through focus groups, we were told that women 45-60 weren't going to like Jackie. But that's been disputed! Now the women at matinees make up a great deal of the audience, and do like the show."
As for the marketing of Jackie, radio ads began Nov. 13, while newspaper ads -- including pull-quotes from the show's mixed to positive reviews have already been running. A TV commercial ran briefly when the show was in previews but has since been discontinued. Sanders said a new commercial is planned but will come after the New Year when ad prices ease up after the holiday crunch. Though Jackie employs giant puppets and set pieces, it's not a musical, which means the show can't march in the MACY's Thanksgiving Day parade.
That said, star Margaret Colin has been doing publicity, and spokesperson Sanders said word-of-mouth has been "unanimously good. I've been to the last 12 performances in a row and heard the word of mouth. Reviews were mixed, but none bad enough to close it because they weren't the `slam-dunk, close the show' kind of reviews."
Jackie is currently selling tickets through the end of January. Sanders acknowledges the show's advance sales aren't huge, but he's encouraged that even after the reviews, the show's weekly wrap and grosses have stayed the same. [As an aside, Sanders said of the real-life Kennedy clan-members, only Joan Kennedy (Ted's first wife) has seen the show (out of town), though Lee Radziwill, Jackie's sister, and a character in the show, is scheduled to attend the Broadway mounting.]
The Scarlet Pimpernel
It's no secret that The Scarlet Pimpernel's reviews were not kind, but the musical is doing as well as any show that opened in the first five months of this season.
How did the producers hedge their bets? By sending out 340,000 compact disk song samplers inserted into the home delivery versions of the New York Times. "As far as we know, nobody's really done that," said spokesperson Stephen Pitalo. "The disk hit the same day the reviews hit, Nov. 11. Also, the Los Angeles version of the NY Times had close to 14,000 disks in it, so we hit that left coast as well."
Pitalo could not give exact figures on the show's advance or wraps, but did say, "We've got an extremely healthy advance." As of the week ending Nov. 9, Pimpernel reported grosses of $408,735 and an attendance percentage of 93.5 percent at the Minskoff Theatre.
"We're targeting traditional Broadway theatregoers and anybody who wants to see a great musical," said Pitalo. "Scarlet Pimpernel may tap the vein of people who know and enjoy the story already. The Leslie Howard film, maybe even the Daffy Duck cartoon [parody]. This is an established, respected work of literature. We're using pull-quote ads, plus we have people like Kathie Lee Gifford and Jeffrey Lyons talking it up on the air."
Spokespersons for the musical Side Show declined to be interviewed for this piece, saying that they didn't want to give away "trade secrets" on how the show was trying to reach its audience. For the week ending Nov. 9, Side Show grossed $283,180, with an audience at 64.8 percent of capacity.
-- By David Lefkowitz