Written by Robert Viagas — the founder of the news services on Playbill On-Line and Theatre.com and the current host of "Radio Playbill" — the 200-page book is divided into 14 chapters that offer a comprehensive guide on how to enjoy live theatre. With a preface that details how to use the information-packed guide, the chapter titles include "A Little History," "Picking a Show," "Buying Tickets—Full Price," "Buying Tickets—Discount," "Seating," "Special Guide to Off-Broadway," "Getting Around," "How to Pick a Restaurant," "Where to Stay," "Walking Tour of the Broadway Theatre District," "Other Things to See and Do," "How to Sound and Act Like a Pro," "Long-Running Shows" and "50 Broadway Tips You Need to Know." "The Back Stage Guide to Broadway" will be released Sept. 28 and can be ordered on the web. It should hit book stores around the country in October.
Viagas — the co-author of "On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line" and "The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks" — recently spoke with Playbill On-Line about his newest book, which features a detailed theatre-district map that includes theatre locations as well as notable restaurants, hotels and other places theatre lovers will want to discover. About the genesis of the book, Viagas said, "Throughout my career as a theatre reporter, people from across the U.S. and even around the world have written, phoned and emailed me to ask things like, 'Is there a dress code?' 'Where's a good restaurant I can take my kids?' 'How does that TKTS line work?' I could give answers to a hundred other questions along the same lines that I've heard over the years — and I do, in the new book.
"My mother-in-law runs a theatre party group and is always coming up with very targeted questions posed by her clients. I'm a parent myself, and I like to take my boys with me as often as possible, so I've learned all the tricks there are through hard experience. I've visited chat rooms and theatre bulletin boards and seen all kinds of information swapped — some useful, some downright wrong. I thought it was time for a well-researched definitive guide. Nothing on this scale has been published before."
Viagas said that he believes theatre doesn't simply happen on the stage, but it happens in the audience as well. "I'm very audience-oriented," the author emphasized. "This book is designed to serve the needs of the audience exclusively. That's why I tell which seats are the best in each theatre. That's why I list restaurants, not by cuisine, but by how people really pick restaurants: Which ones will impress my date? Which ones have good food for grownups and yet reasonably-priced hamburgers for kids? Which are closest to each theatre?
"Many people are actually afraid to buy Broadway tickets," Viagas added. "The whole process can seem so mysterious and cumbersome, even though it really isn't. They don't know how to find out what the shows are about. They're concerned that they'll get stuck with a bad seat. They are worried that box-office people will be rude. They're afraid to order by phone because they're worried their credit card numbers will be stolen. They're afraid to order on the web because they think they'll punch in the wrong numbers, or that their tickets won't be there at the box office when they arrive. They're also afraid that if there is a blizzard, they won't be able to make it and their money will be lost. My book takes you step-by-step through each process, and lists which websites are reliable and easy and even how to arrange refunds." "The Back Stage Guide to Broadway," Viagas explained, was 15 years in the making, although most of the "hardcore" research occurred between summer 2002 and fall 2003.
When asked the target audience of the new book, Viagas answered, "It's targeted at people who love theatre but perhaps feel fearful or overwhelmed by the typical Broadway experience. It will be especially useful to theatre lovers from out of town who want to feel at home in Times Square. It speaks to groups not normally targeted by theatre PR, but who make up the majority of the Broadway audience, according to the League of America Theatres and Producers' audience survey: women, families, older folks and tourists. But there's lots there for Broadway veterans. Even [Playbill editor and long-time theatregoer] Louis Botto said that he learned things from it."
Published by Back Stage Books, "The Back Stage Guide to Broadway" has a suggested retail price of $12.95. Visit www.wgpub.com for more information.
Beginning Sept. 24, "The Back Stage Guide to Broadway" will be available in the Playbill Store on Playbill On-Line.