Thursday, July 30, 2009

Broadway Mathematician Style

It was a surefire hit. Dolly Parton. Allison Janney. Joe Mantello. An adaptation of a well-known movie. It even had a music video for one of the songs.

Oh, wait. I got that wrong. It should be: Elton John. Anne Rice. A title everyone would know.

Shoot! I got it wrong again. Boublil and Schonberg. Irish dance. Irish culture. The producers of Riverdance. Big sets.

Okay, maybe I mean them all. And Phil Collins. And an adaptation of a beloved Disney movie. And Jason Robert Brown. A unique show concept. The music of the Beach Boys. Johnny Cash. Elvis. Christina Applegate. Adaptation of a John Waters movie. A unique cast of four.

The list goes on and on and on. And looking at the list of titles—9 to 5, Lestat, The Pirate Queen, Tarzan, 13, Good Vibrations, Ring of Fire, All Shook Up, Sweet Charity, Cry-Baby, and Glory Days—one thing is clear. Broadway is not a place for cookie-cutter anything. In Hollywood, producers rip things off all the time. If Transformers is a big hit, tap into another popular 80s toy and make G.I. Joe. If The Wedding Crashers is a hit, make Knocked Up and a host of other “adult, R-rated movies.” If Beauty and the Beast is a hit, make Thumbelina, The Swan Princess, and Anastasia. But Hollywood can get away with it; they produce a great deal more movies than plays or musicals ever appear on Broadway. Statistically, they have a better chance of making money off bad ideas.

If a producer is looking for a surefire hit, the only guarantee is to find a show that is truly entertaining (and even that isn’t a guarantee). If Dolly Parton, Allison Janney, and the name 9 to 5 can’t be a hit on genetics alone, then no show can. Each of those flops—and no doubt they were passion projects for some producer—didn’t work, even though they all fit the mould of some other success. You can just see investors (and maybe producers) thinking Cry-Baby would be the next Hairspray, that Good Vibrations and cousins would be the next Mamma Mia, that no one would miss out on Hollywood starlet Christina Applegate in a revival of Sweet Charity.

So, if I was a producer, I would clear away my concerns about a musical being marketable, worries about finding a star name who won’t screw things up too much, trying to find a recognizable title, or trying to find that unique, stand-out-from the crowd Purple Cow concept. Find something that’s strong and make it stronger. Make it entertaining.

To paraphrase Alan Jay Lerner—In the end, all anyone cares about is if it’s good.

the Broadway Mouth
July 30, 2009

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