B'way Shows Plan Strategies in Wake of Tony Nominations

Tony Awards   B'way Shows Plan Strategies in Wake of Tony Nominations
Some are licking their wounds, others are sitting in the catbird seat. Producers, press agents and others in the business of theatre are counting their blessings and bandages now that the 1996-97 Tony Award nominations have been announced.

Some are licking their wounds, others are sitting in the catbird seat. Producers, press agents and others in the business of theatre are counting their blessings and bandages now that the 1996-97 Tony Award nominations have been announced.

For a complete list of nominees, see The 1997 Tony Nominations in Theatre News.

Jekyll & Hyde, an audience favorite around the country has gotten used to being ignored or scoffed at by the critical establishment, so its poor showing in the Tony nominations (no nod for Best Musical, Best Score or Best Actress) didn't come as a complete surprise and won't deter the producers' marketing strategies. Scott Zeiger, a principal of PACE Theatrical Group, told Playbill On-Line, "The good news is that Bob Cuccioli not only got nominated, but he won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a musical. We'll tout his OCC win and Tony nomination. Since the intelligentsia and most of the critical press have dismissed us as a pop culture type of project that appeals to the masses but not to them, we'll market to the masses."

A rumor that Jekyll & Hyde just missed getting nominated and was squeezed out by a virtual tie with Juan Darien could not be confirmed with the nominating committee. A spokesperson from Keith Sherman Associates, which handles the Tony Awards, told Playbill On-Line that those on the nominating committee were not to speak with the press. "They made their statement with the nominations."

"The NY Times is important," said Zeiger, "so we'll continue to advertise there. People look there for information. But the bulk of our buy will go into broadcast media. We have a spectacular TV commercial in heavy rotation. We've had a 10-second spot that was an animated version of our logo. The new 30-second ad will expand to include a video montage of the production, with `This Is The Moment' playing underneath." Zeiger continued, "On May 7, we start on radio stations with four different commercials, including greatest hits from the show and quotes. We did get pretty good reviews from the NY Post and Daily News and a rave from the Washington Post." Commuter advertising will also be important, so the show is being touted on "a massive amount of NYC buses, and in all the subway stations."

With Jekyll & Hyde recording part of its cast album at Atlantic Records, as we spoke (May 6), Zeiger couldn't help but be optimistic. "We didn't get a Best Musical nomination, but we're winning audiences like crazy. Sure, they'll get a boost from the nominations, but we'll overcome it. Our advance is about $2 million, which I think is substantially higher than the others."

Producer Roger Berlind later told Playbill On-Line Steel Pier's advance is nearing $3 million.

Asked if Jekyll & Hyde will at least be able to have a production number on the Tony Awards broadcast, Zeiger said that because the Tonys will showcase all eight new and revival musical nominees, plus a musical montage, the likelihood of a J&H number isn't good. "Still, we're trying to get our number up there. I think our show and our performers could deliver at Radio City better than any other."

If Zeiger has several options, producer Roger Berlind has an embarrassment of riches: both The Life and Steel Pier took Best Musical nominations, and several others. Does he have a preference? Berlind laughed and answered, "I keep quiet on my allegiances that's what I do. For both shows, between now and Tony time we're marketing extensively. We're on television with both shows, with big quote ads in print, calling attention to the Tony nominations. Luckily we have a lot of really good quotes on both shows, so we have plenty of ammunition to deal with."

But if Pier and The Life put all their eggs in the Tony basket, what happens if the nominations don't pan out into wins? "After the Tonys the strategy will change," said Berlind, "depending on how many wins the loser gets. The longer we run, the longer word of mouth takes over. That's when we get past the reviews and the nominations and the wins. Hopefully the shows will then have a life of their own."

Berlind is also the producer of another Tony-nominated show, the English drama, Skylight, which finished its limited Broadway run in the winter. "I wish Skylight were still running," said Berlind, "But the memory of that show will hopefully be strong in the voters' minds."

Playbill On-Line asked Berlind if he's considered copying the idea of movie companies who take out ads in the trades to remind Oscar voters of worthy films and performances no longer in circulation. "No, we're not going to do anything to make that happen with Skylight. There's no commercial pay-off, really, and we haven't even had time to discuss that. I also don't like such obvious electioneering. I think the play stands on its own."

Asked if the numerous nominations for Steel Pier and The Life have helped the grosses for both shows, Berlind said, "Frankly, I haven't checked the box office yet. As our Friday and Sunday ads take hold, those should have a major impact. For Steel Pier we're going further afield -- Newsday, Newark Star Ledger, the tri-state area newspapers. The Life is more concentrated in New York, because it may have to be validated before it plays to out-of-town audiences. Advertising is a guessing game anyway."

Steel Pier has close to a $3 million advance, "a function of starting earlier with a direct mail campaign before previews," said Berlind. "The Life didn't have that opportunity and it's in a smaller house. Its advance is just creeping up now from under a million."

If musicals have a tough time gaining audiences, plays have an even greater struggle. Though Wendy Wasserstein is a Broadway and Tony favorite, An American Daughter was not picked for a Best Play Tony nomination, nor was lead actress Kate Nelligan recognized.

A spokesperson for the show said he was happy Lynne Thigpen picked up a nomination, but that wouldn't significantly change the show's marketing strategy. "It's not the same as being nominated for best play. Still, we're selling tickets through June 29 and looking to extend." Though the show was heavily sold to Lincoln Center subscribers, single ticket sales are also important. "In the last couple of weeks we've grossed over $200,000, close to capacity," said the spokesperson. "We're doing very well."

The New York Daily News reports that the critically-panned Titanic is hoping its Best Musical nod will buoy sales (important to a $10 million musical), with Tony nominator Sheldon Harnick echoing a growing number of audience members who believe strongly in the musical -- "It was very vivid in my mind, especially Maury Yeston's music."

For information on how to purchase tickets for the Tony Awards, refer to our story, Tony Ticket Update: They're Going Fast.

To see PBOL's opinion of who was left out of the Tony Nominations, please refer to our story, And the 'Egregiously Overlooked' Are....

To contibute your opinion of the Tony nominations to our service, please take the Playbill Poll.

--By David Lefkowitz

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