As a trade organization, it's the responsibility of the League of American Theatres and Producers to preserve, protect, and promote the Great White Way, a responsibility that has grown exponentially in importance since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. When Broadway grosses collapsed and New York's vaunted, unchallenged theatrical brand seemed in dire straits, the League proved well equipped, and ever so adept, at responding, and responding aggressively.
Because the League had already created so many Broadway-centric promotions, programs, and services over the last few years, it's almost as if the organization was, however inadvertently, preparing for such a catastrophe. Just think about it: There's the annual "Broadway on Broadway" concert, in which live numbers from Broadway shows are performed on a giant outdoor stage in Times Square for some 50,000 spectators, as well as television cameras. There's the Broadway Theatre Awards, which asks theatre lovers in the hinterlands to vote for which actors, songs, and shows they liked and/or loved the best. There's "Stars in the Alley,"a free, end-of-season concert, held May 29, with the casts of "Mamma Mia!," "Oklahoma!," "Sweet Smell of Success," and "Thoroughly Modern Millie" performing. And there's "Kids' Night on Broadway," a fun event for youngsters that recalls a not-so-subtle moment in a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Shortly before waltzing, Che says, simply, "Get them while they're young, Evita/Get them while they're young."
On a smaller scale, there's the Broadway Open House tours, and, in an appeal to the factoid-lover in all of us, a website called www.IBDB.com--the Internet Broadway database. And you can call 1-888-Broadway to find out all about, well, Broadway, including ticket availability. And, speaking of tickets, this winter's "Season of Savings" scheme, which tied deep discounts to Broadway shows with restaurants, hotels, museums, and other tourist-oriented activities, clearly helped the Main Stem make it through a harsh winter. Another League promo, "Spend Your Regards to Broadway," which tied the spending of $500 on goods and services to free pairs of tickets in January and February, did more of the same.
Finally, this week, "Broadway Under the Stars," a free 90-minute concert in Bryant Park, attracted an SRO crowd of over 10,000. Amid blankets, picnic baskets, and picture-perfect Gotham weather, performances by Savion Glover, Lillias White, Jason Danieley, Donna Murphy, Norbert Leo Butz, Linda Eder, Karen Ziemba, Marin Mazzie, La Chanze, and Jane Krakowski, among others, wowed the crowd; a montage of classic New York movie moments unreeling upon a screen made the evening complete. That event dovetailed with the launching of ilovenytheater.com, a website geared toward summertime promotions, and there are even more Bryant Park concerts coming up this summer when "Broadway in Bryant Park" holds forth every Thursday at midday. From "The Lion King" and "Harlem Song" (June 27) to "Hairspray" and "Mamma Mia!" (July 25) to "Chicago," "Cabaret," and "The Full Monty" (August 15), the Broadway brand will be as ubiquitous as ever during what is expected to be a slower-than-normal summer season.
Jan Svendsen, the League's director of marketing, says the slew of promotions is "always trying to keep Broadway top-of-mind," even though "many of the programs were in place" long before Sept. 11. "Our programs are strategically developed to target different markets so we can sort of do a 360-degree marketing approach to promote Broadway. That's the approach we go in with, and we certainly are trying to leverage--and help our members leverage--those programs so if, in fact, this summer is not as busy as summers in the past, at least we have ways of targeting potential audiences, say, for example, the northeast corridor. It's true that there are only so many times you can go to the well, but it's really up to us to think tactically and strategically."
For the autumn, Svendsen says, "There's another big program coming--it's an event that would be very strategic and would target a very different kind of market than we have in the past. It's a program that will excite people about Broadway, but in a different way that would generate awareness, excitement, and enthusiasm for people who are not as familiar with Broadway or who think Broadway is not accessible to them because it's cost-prohibitive."
For now, at least this much is certain: With tourism down and producers nervous, the League, as their representative, is hedging its bets. So expect more promotions, more events, and more media--and more Broadway.