"Producer's Corner"
by Bruce Lazarus

Will It Play In Peoria?
How to Assess Your Show’s Chances “On The Road”

The majority of theatres across the country that present engagements of touring shows present subscription seasons that offer their subscribers  “Broadway” in their own  town.  These seasons will usually include a popular musical fresh from New York around which the season is based and publicized, such as the current tour of Titanic.  They also typically include a revival of a play or musical starring a well-known performer, such as Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!, a straight play that received some acclaim or awards in its New York life, like Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosenzweig, and perhaps a smaller, lesser known and less expensive play or musical that has been produced off- or put together specifically for the road.

How might your production fit into such a season, and if it does, how will your touring press agent and local press agents maximize its sales potential?

The first thing to recognize is that unless there are highly recognizable stars involved, a brand new play or musical is going to find it very difficult to book for a national tour.  If you have such a new work and are confident that it has good potential on the road, concentrate on producing it in New York first, even if that means starting out with regional theatre productions before it’s ready for off-Broadway or Broadway.  A New York production, even if it is not profitable, carries with it a certain cachet when a booking agent is offering the production to presenters at theatres on the road.

On the other hand, if you have a star in a role with which he or she is associated, such as Carol Channing in Dolly, or a role that is a good match and will be interesting to ticket buyers, like the Pointer Sisters in Ain’t Misbehavin’, it will not matter that the show has not been seen in New York for a while.  Tim Conway and Tom Poston, both well known TV stars, took a brand new comedy play on the road, and their names alone sold tickets.  Keep in mind, however, that the Conway and Poston fans who bought tickets knew they were going to see them in a comedy.  When  Joan Collins went out on the road in Private Lives, her fans were not used to seeing her in a  comedy, and there was no strong co-star for her to play off of, and therefore the tour was not a success.  Occasionally, a work will have such success and acclaim in New York that it will not need a celebrity to sell tickets on the road.

Interestingly, certain stars who sell tickets in New York do not always sell tickets on the road, and vice versa.  The actress/singer Patti Lupone can assure a Broadway musical a strong advance sale and continuing ticket sales, but outside of New York, she is not well known.  A television or recording star may guarantee a strong sale on the road if the role is one that fits his or her public image, but may not be of interest to New York theatregoers.

Bruce Lazarus the former Director of Business and Legal Affairs for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and producer of the current off-Broadway show Shakespeare's "R&J."

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