Sunday, June 15, 2008

Promoting the Hat: Guidelines for Selecting Showcase Scenes

An employee at work recently called and left a message like the following:

“I’m just calling to let you know that I won’t be able to see my client tomorrow, but if he wants to, I can see him on Friday instead. Just let me know.”

What is wrong with this picture? If you were in charge of staffing 200 people, would you know what to do? We sure as heck didn’t.

It’s amazing what a simple piece of information can do. A first name somewhere in the message would have given us enough to go on to figure out what the message was about.

Xanadu on Live

To me, this message was a little, er, a lot like the recent Xanadu performance on Live With Regis and Kelly in which members of the cast performed “All Around the World.” I haven’t seen the show (though I do have a good idea of what it’s about), and I was totally and completely lost as to what was going on. There was some specific choreography happening, and there was some reason why the chorus was dancing, but because there was no dialogue and no proper set-up, the performance was as engaging as the telephone message above was informative.

This is something good English teachers understand clearly. People need to have enough context so that when they receive new information, they know how to organize it. Imagine reading The Crucible without understanding Puritan America, seeing The Dairy of Anne Frank without knowing what the Holocaust was, or watching The Client without knowing what the mob is. It would be confusing, and you would quickly lose interest.

When Broadway shows give performances on the morning shows, the producers are trying to sell the show. To do so effectively, the audience needs to be able to grasp what is happening in a moment. The performance Xanada gave on The View when it first opened provided that, quickly letting the audience know what Cheyenne Jackson’s character was doing, giving context for the song. The performance on Live did not.

One of the worst Tony performances I’ve seen was from the Into the Woods revival, in which the show was basically thrown into a blender and presented to the audience as a mishmash of color and sound. I’m very familiar with the show, and I was completely lost. What a wasted opportunity for that show!

When producers are provided the opportunity to showcase their musical, it’s crucial to think like a viewer, asking yourself the following questions:

1. If someone doesn’t know the show, what will they need in order to appreciate what is happening?
2. Is there enough set or costumes to provide context?
3. What scene can be comprehended with the shortest introduction?

When you look at how cast recordings have change over the decades, you’ll notice the role intro dialogue plays on many contemporary recordings. Why? Because the dialogue helps provide context for the song to follow.

A Catered Affair on The View
Interestingly enough, the segment with Faith Prince and Tom Wopat on The View was extraordinarily effective in selling the show. Prince and Wopat came off as exceedingly genial and fun, and they were given the chance to speak impassionedly about the project to the point where it felt like seeing A Catered Affair would be the experience of a lifetime. If I was heading to New York, I’d be putting A Catered Affair high on my “Must See” list based upon what they had to say alone.

What might this say about the best ways to promote a show?

the Broadway Mouth
June 15, 2008

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