DYNAMIC DUO: Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman recently hosted the Tony Awards and performed skits from various Broadway Shows.
The Tony Awards, live from Broadway, was a thrilling evening of entertainment again this year. Marketing arts events which is my day job, can be as much about website keyword optimization as anything else sometimes, so when I see Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman dusting off nuggets from West Side Story, Funny Girl and Anything Goes and making them sparkle, I think, “Ah, musical theatre!” I’ve been in love with it since, at age seven, I saw a high school production of The King and I. Watching theatrical performers at the top of their game reminds me of what a special field I get to touch in some way every day.
This year the Tony Awards were particularly of interest since I spent four days in New York City recently and saw a Broadway show each night. The Book of Mormon, the big Tony winner for 2011, was an impossible ticket to get even early on, so I waited in the Eugene O’Neill Theater’s cancellation line for over an hour. I was ecstatic to land a third row, center seat. What a night!
The musical deserves every award and word of adulation, but it’s not for everyone. After the show, as I was strolling down West 49th Street looking for the subway, I noticed walking next to me were two of The Book of Mormon leads, Rory O’Malley and Josh Gad. I congratulated them, told them I was from Tulsa, and added, with regret, that their irreverent musical, written by the team who created South Park, would play in Salt Lake City before it ever came to Tulsa. And that is probably the case. While The Book of Mormon has more in common with a musical icon like The King and I than one might suspect, it’s not the type of Broadway fare that Tulsans are accustomed to seeing here. I can hardly imagine what expensive marketing would have to occur to get 16,000 people in our market to see a show – one that covers every imaginable taboo subject – about errant Mormon missionaries in Uganda.
Tulsa is fortunate to have an abundance of arts available for every age and pocketbook. Our Tulsa Opera and Tulsa Ballet are internationally known; we have two symphony orchestras and more theatre groups than you’d expect to find in a medium-sized metropolis. Our local Broadway promoter, Celebrity Attractions, presents shows to one of the largest subscriber bases in the country. The Tulsa Trust holds its ticket prices low so the arts are available to everyone, and Choregus Productions is fearless in presenting non-mainstream arts events. Regardless, it’s not easy to get people to live theatre these days – especially for programs that are esoteric in some respect, R-rated, or without name recognition.
Presenting quality entertainment in spite of the economy and competition is an uphill battle. Theatre can be a tough business and, like any, must consider supply and demand. Tulsa, in general, is conservative and its tastes are for family shows. Last year, the Trust took a risk by presenting August: Osage County, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, written by Tulsan Tracy Letts. Starring Estelle Parsons and an equally stellar cast, it was the theatre event of the season.
If there is an element missing in Tulsa’s entertainment picture, it may be hot Broadway productions with adults-only content like August: Osage County, Spring Awakening, Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. Getting them to Tulsa soon after they go on tour is a matter of finding a presenter willing to shoulder the financial risk or spend years, like Celebrity Attractions, to grow an audience base.
With Tulsa’s strong theatre community, we still are able to view popular Broadway shows that didn’t make it to the PAC’s Chapman Music Hall. I’ll be buzzing about them later, but we’ll get to see two local productions of Urinetown this season and The Full Monty.
Currently, three of the PAC’s theatres are filled with SummerStage events. Peruse the roster of shows at TulsaPAC.com. You will be surprised at the variety and the low ticket prices. Musical Theatre, presenting Evita, The Light in the Piazza and Trouble in Tahiti, assures some fine performances. I regret missing The Light in the Piazza on Broadway, so I’m delighted that included it this summer. The previews I’ve heard are impressive.
Unfortunately, I can’t list all the SummerStage shows, but put Playhouse Tulsa’s hysterical Moonlight and Magnolias on your list. Encore Theatre Arts’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be a big hit, and a production by Tulsa Project Theatre titled Broadway Your Way – songs voted for by Tulsans who know and love Broadway – will be a little bit of Tony Awards heaven for me.
Nancy Hermann is Director of Marketing for the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.