Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tragedy at Broadway’s How to Succeed Cancels 100th Performance Celebration

Brotherhood of Man

I became transfixed with Twitter last night as news started coming through, first of a delayed performance: 20 minutes…. then 45 minutes; followed by word that the performance had been cancelled due to tragedy.

'How to Succeed' at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Credit: Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.
Last night was to be the 100th performance of the acclaimed H2$ revival. The show’s star Daniel Radcliffe, gave out 100 free tickets to lucky fans earlier in the day to mark the occasion.

Shortly after 9pm, visibly shaken, John Larroquette and Radcliffe took the stage to inform the audience that due to a tragedy, the performance would not take place.

Official Press Release: "This evening's performance of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING was canceled as a stagehand on the production unexpectedly passed away backstage just prior to the 8pm curtain. The name of the deceased and any further details are being withheld by the authorities pending notification of the family. The incident was not caused by an accident related to the production. The cast, crew and theatre staff mourn the loss of this member of their theatrical family. No further information is available at this time.

Patrons of tonight's audience who purchased with a credit card will receive an automatic refund. All others should go to their point of purchase to obtain an exchange/refund."

According to Twitter posts by an investor in the show, 'unofficially' quoting one of the producers, the word broke that a stagehand had tragically died backstage, prior to the start of the show. The tweet, “RIP to the crew member at the Al Hirschfeld. My prayers are with everyone” caused Twitter, Facebook and theatre message boards to light up with concern and alarm.

It was later reveal by the New York Times, “According to the police, the stagehand, a 29-year-old man, was found unconscious and incardiac arrest backstage shortly before 8 p.m. He was rushed to St. Luke’sRoosevelt Hospital nearby, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. A policespokesman said that there was no criminality suspected and that investigatorsbelieved the man died from an overdose.”

At this point, there is a lot of speculation whether the death was accidental or suicide; in either case, a tragic night for the cast, crew and fans of H2$ and theatre aficionados everywhere. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Broadway Social Media Marketing: Bang or Bust?

A Bushel and a Peck

How has Broadway adapted to the wonderful world of social media? It’s everywhere. You’d be hard pressed to find a Broadway or Off Broadway production that doesn’t have it’s own website, Facebook fan page, Twitter account and YouTube channel shouting, "Buy our tickets now!"

What is the social media influence on actual ticket sales? That depends on whom you talk to about it.

According to a recent New York Times article, Good Tweets Are Nice, but Group Sales Fill Seats, it’s not what you think… or is it? The prime focus of the article is about the strong sales of the marketing group, Group Sales Box Office. The assumption is made that because there are hard numbers to prove sales, that group sales is successful and social media is not.

Broadway director Jerry Zak, currently represented on the Great White Way by the musical Sister Act, said, “You hope these sites generate good word of mouth, but they’re not the thing that is still, in this day and age, the best measure of our show’s potential popularity and financial return; that’s group sales.” According to the article, networking sites are getting the word out there but not necessarily selling tickets.

Where are the statistics?  Apparently, if anyone in the theatre biz is measuring the influences of social network marketing, they aren’t sharing the results. The technology is still relatively new, but if social media was ineffective, why has everyone jumped on the bandwagon?

Many shows not only make use of the free advertising social sites provide but also purchase “keywords” and place display ads in hopes of boosting visibility and ticket sales. The free advertising through social media isn’t really free. Someone has to write the copy, maintain the connections with the fans, answer questions and most importantly: build an ongoing relationship that may eventually turn in to sales.

Of course group sales continues to remain strong and is an important ingredient in the recipe that fills the theatre. They can still claim a stronger marketing position over social media efforts by their reported numbers. One problem: If you hear about a show on Facebook and want to take a group to see it, where do you purchase the tickets? From a group sales company hired by the show’s producers. You don't purchase tickets from Facebook. Just as most single ticket sales are handled through Ticketmaster and Telecharge, most group sales are handled by an agency (there may be the rare exception). So aren’t social networking sites making it easier for group sales representatives to sell a show?

The best source of statistical information I could find was through The Broadway League. The free information they provide on their site leaves the analyst to make many assumptions. Hopefully, their next survey will ask specifically, how influential social media has been on the patron’s decision to purchase tickets for a particular show.

According to the League’s 2007-2008 survey, online tickets sales accounted for 40% of all tickets sold and then dropped to 34% in the 2009-2010 season. It still remains the most common method people use to purchase tickets.

I would like to make the assumption that one of the reasons for the drop in online sales is due to the difficulty in navigating ticketing sites to find the best availability for dates and tickets. If you’ve ever searched tickets online, you know that you basically have to start your search over, every time you search for different seating locations or try a different date. It is very time consuming and most people would rather call the ticket agents and have them do the work for them.

I have spent many hours trying to find the best seats. If I’m going to pay as much as $140 a ticket to see a show, I want to see the show. I don’t want partially obstructed view and I don’t want to be in the back or crammed all the way over on the side. Another problem is that theatres don’t always make their entire inventory of seats available online. If Ticketmaster and Telecharge would make buying tickets simpler, I think online sales would skyrocket.

Measuring the success of converting social media efforts into ticket sales is complicated. First, you have to be able to track someone’s path from say, Facebook, to the show’s website and then to the ticketing site. One factor to consider: I may hear about a show and be interested enough to want to buy tickets but may not do so immediately. If I purchase tickets a week or so later, the tracking is lost. The only way to know how I heard about the show is to ask. The big ticket brokers don’t usually do that.

Year after year, word of mouth continues to be the most influential reason audiences choose a specific musical. The most recent League survey showed 48% attended based on a personal recommendation.  Based on those facts, we know that social media helps ticket sales. But how much? 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review - Stephen Sondheim’s Company is BRILLIANT! A MUST SEE!

Note 6/22/11: Additional screenings added June 23-26! If you missed it- here's your chance!

Side By Side By Side

Don’t miss your chance to see the definitive version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company with the NYPhilharmonic at a movie theater near you! Hurry because the limited-release, filmed version of this staged concert is only playing a few more days.

I’ve seen numerous productions of Company over the years, and this edition is by far the best. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Neil Patrick Harris, Patti LuPone, Martha Plimpton and Stephen Colbert; this version is conceived and immaculately staged by the brilliant director Lonny Price.

What makes this production so special? Aside from the cast, the dynamic orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick (conducted by Broadway-great Paul Gemignani) and solid choreography by Josh Rhodes; this production tells composer/lyrist Sondheim and book writer George Furth’s story better than any I’ve seen.

Cast of Company  Photo by Chris Lee
According to the press release, Company is the story of "five married, once-married, and soon-to-be-married couples and their mutual friend, Robert, a bachelor who has been unable to connect in a long-term relationship. The relationships are presented in a series of vignettes, primarily through Robert's eyes." The show's songs include "Company," "Side by Side by Side," "The Ladies Who Lunch," "Another Hundred People" and "Being Alive."

This may not be the best vocal production ever performed, but by far, director Price has assembled a talent cast of actors that bring the best to life on the stage. Emmy Award winner Neil Patrick Harris plays Bobby with empathy and understanding, unequalled, in his struggle for self-discovery and search for commitment. There is a joyous truth and honesty in this production that I have never witnessed before. Price helps make these characters real and not just caricatures as is often done.

One of the standout moments for me personally, was Stephen Colbert’s “Sorry-Grateful” which normally bores me to tears. His sincerity and skilled handling of the song gave me a new appreciation for its depth and humanity. Also, Jim Walton finally made me like the easily forgettable character, Harry. His style and charisma fully brought the character to life.

Chryssie Whitehead as one of Bobby’s girlfriends, Kathy, gave what was to me, the most impressive performance.  Her grounded, understated characterization was countered by her amazing dancing in the often cut dance number, “Tick, Tock”. This was the first time this number made any sense to me and Whitehead was stunning. It was one of the highlights of the show. (I’ve seen some incredibly bad and embarrassing renditions of this song.)

Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone. Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Patti LuPone’s “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” is perfect here. Anyone who tackles the role of Joanne will forever be compared to Elaine Stritch’s immortal performance. LuPone’s unique vocal stylization here, is at its best.

I was a little disappointed in Tony winner Anika Noni Rose’s rendition of “Another Hundred People”. This is one of my all-time favorite songs written for the theatre and her well-sung performance felt void of any true emotion. Equally disappointing was Katie Finneran’s rendition of “Getting Married Today”. If there is any number in the show to be overplayed, this is the one.  I wonder if her understated performance had anything to do with not wanting to be compared to her riotous Tony-winning role in Promises, Promises.

The original Broadway production of Company opened in 1970 and ran 705 performances, garnering 12 Tony nominations and 6 wins including Best Musical. It was revived in 1995 and again in 2006 for which it won the Best Revival of a Musical under director John Doyle’s unique conception.

Stephen Sondheim with director Lonny Price. Photo by Chris Lee
This 2011 version presented through Screenvision and Fanthom Events will be presented one more time, Sunday June 19th nationwide, and in some locations June 21, 2011. The press release says it best. "This is a special, limited engagement that brings the very best of Broadway to movie theatres across the country and is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this great show from New York." Check your local theater listing for details.

All in all, the production is fantastic. It proves once again, that a well-written show with a capable cast does not need high-tech sets, lighting and effects to make an enjoyable and moving theatrical experience. I highly recommend it to everyone. If you are a Sondheim fan, it can’t be missed!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Theatre From the Centre Aisle Blog Survey

Theatre From the Centre Aisle Blog Survey

Fill in the Words

Have a comment or suggestion? Here’s your chance to tell me what you’d like to read about in the Theatre From the Center Aisle Blog!

I am currently in the final months of finishing my master’s degree in entertainment business at Full Sail University. This survey is part of my digital market class and will help me to improve the quality and content of my blog. There are only eight questions in this mostly multiple-choice survey and it will only take a moment of your time. Your assistance is greatly appreciated!

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Broadway Tony Awards- Book of Mormon and War Horse Are Big Winners

Give My Regards To Broadway

In case you missed it, here are this year's Tony Award nominees and winners. The award ceremony was held June 12, 2011 at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Congratulations to everyone for a remarkable season.

The Book of Mormon wins nine Tony Awards.

Best Musical
The Book of Mormon - WINNER
Catch Me if You Can
The Scottsboro Boys
Sister Act

Best Play
Good People
The Motherf—er With the Hat
War Horse - WINNER

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Frances McDormand, Good People - WINNER
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice
Vanessa Redgrave, Driving Miss Daisy
Hannah Yelland, Brief Encounter 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes - WINNER
Beth Leavel, Baby It’s You!
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Donna Murphy, The People in the Picture

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Brian Bedford, The Importance of Being Earnest
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherf—er With the Hat
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Al Pacino, The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem - WINNER

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can - WINNER
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Joshua Henry, The Scottsboro Boys
Andrew Rannels, The Book of Mormon
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Best Direction of a Play
Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, War Horse - WINNER
Joel Grey & George C. Wolfe, The Normal Heart
Anna D. Shapiro, The Motherf—er With the Hat
Daniel Sullivan, The Merchant of Venice

Best Direction of a Musical

Rob Ashford, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes
Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon - WINNER
Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Ellen Barkin, The Normal Heart - WINNER
Edie Falco, The House of Blue Leaves
Judith Light, Lombardi
Joanna Lumley, La Bête
Elizabeth Rodriguez, The Motherf—er With the Hat

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Mackenzie Crook, Jerusalem
Billy Crudup, Arcadia
John Benjamin Hickey, The Normal Heart - WINNER
Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Yul Vázquez, The Motherf—er With the Hat

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Tammy Blanchard, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Victoria Clark, Sister Act
Nikki M. James, The Book of Mormon - WINNER
Patti LuPone, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys
Adam Godley, Anything Goes
John Larroquette, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - WINNER
Forrest McClendon, The Scottsboro Boys
Rory O’Malley, The Book of Mormon 

Best Revival of a Play
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Merchant of Venice
The Normal Heart - WINNER

Best Revival of a Musical
Anything Goes - WINNER
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Best Book of a Musical
Alex Timbers, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon - WINNER
David Thompson, The Scottsboro Boys
Cheri Steinkellner, Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane, Sister Act

Best Orchestrations
Doug Besterman, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Larry Hochman, The Scottsboro Boys
Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus, The Book of Mormon - WINNER
Marc Shaiman & Larry Blank, Catch Me If You Can

Best Original Score Written for the Theater
Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon - WINNER
John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys
Alan Menken (music) and Glenn Slater (lyrics), Sister Act
David Yazbek, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Best Choreography
Rob Ashford, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes - WINNER
Casey Nicholaw, The Book of Mormon
Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Peter Hylenski, The Scottsboro Boys
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Catch Me If You Can
Brian Ronan, Anything Goes

Brian Ronan, The Book of Mormon - WINNER

Best Sound Design of a Play
Acme Sound Partners & Cricket S. Myers, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Simon Baker, Brief Encounter
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Jerusalem
Christopher Shutt, War Horse - WINNER

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jess Goldstein, The Merchant of Venice

Desmond Heeley, The Importance of Being Earnest - WINNER
Mark Thompson, La Bête

Catherine Zuber, Born Yesterday

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, Priscilla Queen of the Desert - WINNER
Martin Pakledinaz, Anything Goes

Ann Roth, The Book of Mormon
Catherine Zuber, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Todd Rosenthal, The Motherf—er With the Hat
Rae Smith, War Horse - WINNER
Ultz, Jerusalem
Mark Wendland, The Merchant of Venice

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Beowulf Boritt, The Scottsboro Boys
Derek McLane, Anything Goes
Scott Pask, The Book of Mormon - WINNER
Donyale Werle, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington, The Scottsboro Boys
Howell Binkley, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Peter Kaczorowski, Anything Goes

Brian MacDevitt, The Book of Mormon - WINNER

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Paule Constable, War Horse - WINNER
David Lander, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Kenneth Posner, The Merchant of Venice
Mimi Jordan Sherin, Jerusalem

Friday, June 10, 2011

Are Coupon Companies Like and Groupon Bad for Consumers and Businesses?

Food Glorious Food

Are coupon companies helping or hurting business?

My friend (who is still ranting about the situation in the background as I write this) purchased a $50 gift certificate for $25 from to the restaurant where we had already planned to have dinner with friends from out of state. We met our friends in the parking lot, entered the restaurant, to stare at a small sign posted that read:

As of June 1st we will no longer accept or honor gift certificates from

Keep in mind, this is June 10th and my friend purchased and printed the certificate minutes before we left for dinner. We asked to speak to the manager (who was not there) and we were told they were sorry but they had been trying to get to take them off their site for some time. The staff was friendly enough, but they did not appear overly concerned with our frustration over the matter.

If it had just been the two of us, we would have walked out, never to return. Our friends from out of state, really wanted to go there so we stayed. Dinner was fine, the service was good, but there were never more than three other tables filled at any point during our visit.

Our bill was $130 for six people. (I forgot to mention, the certificate stated that the check had to be a minimum of $100. This information was NOT on the site, either. You did not find this out until AFTER the certificate was purchased and printed.) We paid our bill, tipped our waitress 20% and left. We’ll never go back. Not because there was any problem with the food or the service, but because of the way they refused to do anything to make up for the inconvenience over the certificate, nor did they make us feel like our business was important.

All the way home I got to listen to my friend saying, “This is why I don’t shop on the Internet!” and “All these companies are a bunch of scams to take your money!” Immediately, stepping out of the car, he was on the phone with the credit card company to dispute the charge and file a complaint. The credit card company transferred him to where he had to sit on hold for 8 minutes, waiting to speak to a customer service rep. that of course, couldn’t do anything to help. A manager was called, who stated they would give credit, but no refund. 

The story was explained and the manager, Jonathan, said our problem was with the restaurant, not them… but they would give us a certificate to another restaurant but exchange only, no refund. My friend hung up, called the credit card company back and filed the dispute.

Needless to say, lost six customers in the span of three hours. My friend said, “I will NEVER buy another coupon or certificate online again!”

I started searching online and found pages and pages of complaints from consumers and business owners about bad experiences with This is a huge problem for consumers and businesses alike. I read several cases of people purchasing gift certificates, driving to the restaurants, only to find they had been closed for several months. (Keep in mind, these certificates supposedly never expire.) The only one benefiting is Why are they not responsible?

This afternoon I had just read Rocky Agrawal’s  article, Groupon Was “The Single Worst Decision I Have Made As A Business Owner”  and in it, Jesse’s Blog about how her café’s relationship with Groupon cost her business $10,000 in losses and created many aggravated customers.

If you are not familiar with how the coupon sites work, it goes something like this: A coupon or certificate is listed for say, “get $20 for $10”. You pay the coupon company $10 and the business that will provide the service gets, at most, $5 in return for providing you $20 of their food or product.

Depending on the business, this might be a beneficial arrangement, especially if it results in repeat customers. For many small businesses, if they are not extremely careful with their arrangement with the coupon company, it could force them to close.

Companies such as and Groupon need to be required to include all restrictions that might be associated with the coupons they are offering, up front, before the purchase, not afterward. They should also be required to return a customer’s money when the coupon is not honored by the business. (Especially if the business has closed.) The consumer is paying money to the coupon company, not the business.

Resulting refusals to honor coupons and certificates or hidden restrictions hurt all of us. They hurt the business, the consumer and potentially many other businesses when consumer trust is violated. Even if this only happens in a small percentage of the cases—how many negative experiences can your business really afford to endure? How many times will consumers (=YOU) pay for services they do not receive?

Through the power of social media and the Internet these ‘isolated’ incidents aren’t so isolated anymore.

Considering buying a coupon or certificate? I highly recommend calling the business before making the purchase to see it will be honored. I know I will.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Digital Marketing Leads Theatre and the Entertainment Industry Into the Future

Our Time

Broadway and theatres around the country have really begun to jump on the digital marketing bandwagon. Discounts, blogs, Twitter, video teasers, Facebook ads and fan pages are all at our beck and call. A few brilliant theatre professionals have even experimented with streaming live productions. It’s most definitely a new age.

Remember the early days of the Internet, when the movie and film industry would spend huge amounts of money to make sure tantalizing video trailers would appear before our eyes every time we logged on? Well, we’d have to wait several minutes for it to download, but we waited because it was something new and exciting. 

Now we have YouTube and many other ways all of us can now share video content with a few simple clicks of the mouse. We now live in a digital society. Television, radio, cell phones, mobile devices, Internet, social media… all digital. Just to think, I can still remember when the only reference to something “digital” was my Mom and Dad’s alarm clock.

In a 2008, New York Times (NYT) article, Gregory Schmidt explored Broadway’s step into the online marketing and digital arena. At that time, MySpace was all the rage and a small number of producers began using the new social media outlet to market their shows. Sample songs, video and anything to tease the senses are more effective than old school print advertisements. It’s all about making a connection.

The article went on to feature clever ways Broadway productions were attempting to stand out. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and genius behind In the Heights produced some highly effective parody videos to draw attention to the show. offers one series, capitalizing on the popular MTV series, Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods. Spring Awakening was another Broadway show that capitalized early in the new market.

Broadway Theatre and Digital Marketing
A few ways digital marketing has changed the way theatre’s inform and sell us their product include:
• Targeted Ads and Email Lists Based on Consumer Habits
• Twitter Updates, Live Actor Q&A’s, Special Last Minute Deals
• Facebook Fan Pages and Ads
• Company and Show Websites Featuring Unique Engaging and Interactive Content
• Pictures, Video and Streaming Live Content on Websites, Through Social Media Sites Like YouTube
• Quick and Easy Evaluation of Digital Content for Theatre Marketing Through Free and For-Pay Services such as and
• Links, Contests, Giveaway Promotions, Databases, and so much more

Social Media is the NEW Thing, not EVERYTHING.
Jim Glaub, Creative Director of Art Meets Commerce, made some great observations about using social media at a recent Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) panel discussion. He pointed out that targeting social media for advertising was the wrong approach. It should be used for developing relationships and building the brand. Glaub said, “Think of your product as a person and remember that this person has a voice”.

Glaub went on to say that show websites are different from theatre companies’ main websites. He said, “theater companies want to be the brand, but each show also has its own brand.” Moderator Bob Ost reminded that theatres needed to brand the company at the same time as the show, making the most of the opportunity.

The TRU panel also discussed the importance of behavioral targeting on Facebook and through other forms of social media. This is accomplished by the scanning of a consumer’s profile, activities and likes and dislikes, allowing for targeted marketing opportunities. In most cases, people are sharing their preferences without even knowing it.

Live Theatre Streaming Over the Internet
The latest frontier is streaming digital live theatre, for pay, over the Internet and to select movie houses around the country. One of the first projects to experiment, merging live theatre with technology, was Better Left Unsaid in January and February 2011. Shot with multiple cameras and mixed live in front of a studio audience, it was streamed to Internet audiences for $8 per view.

Taping and streaming live performances for broadcast in movie theaters is a relatively new marketing tactic.  The Metropolitan Opera has successfully done this for a few years. Rent: Live On Broadway became the first Broadway show to try this new method of reaching potential audiences across the country. A handful of other productions have followed suit.

Nothing beats a live theatrical performance and nothing will ever replace it. Still, with a nationwide market for Broadway shows and the skyrocketing costs of national tours, streaming live content is a necessary and viable option that can’t be overlooked.

Until teleportation is possible…it’s the next best thing.

Boyett, J. (2010, March 17). New Trends in Marketing for the Arts and Effective Uses of the Internet. Theatre Resources Unlimited. Retrieved June 3, 2011 from

Jacobs, L. (2010, September 22). The Era of Live-Streaming Live Theater Has Arrived. The Clyde Fitch Report. Retrieved June 4, 2011 from

Schmidt, Gregory. (2008, December 25). Broadway’s Marketing Turns Interactive. The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2011 from