Thursday, April 26, 2007

Touring Hairspray Caught In Sticky Net

Touring Hairspray Caught In Sticky Net

There's a serious bait and switch taking place throughout the United States as Hairspray tours the nation in the Broadway Across America series. Only trouble is, despite advertising itself as "Broadway's Tony Award-winning musical-comedy phenomenon," this one is strictly a poseur.

Unsuspecting audiences throughout North America will be forgiven for thinking that they're seeing a production that has all of the same production credits as the original Broadway tuner, but they need to beware that the tour is not directed by Jack O'Brien, nor is it choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Furthermore, audiences are paying the same prices to see non-equity actors that they'd typically pay to see equity actors.

This is an outrage and just plain wrong. Something is seriously amiss in all of the advertising materials. For example, in Minneapolis where the touring Hairspray is currently performing, the Hennepin Theatre District Web site "clearly" states:

Broadway's Tony Award®-winning musical-comedy phenomenon takes you back to 1962 Baltimore, as 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad sets out to dance her way onto TV's most popular show. Can a big girl with big dreams -- and even bigger hair! -- change the world … and still have time to win the boy she loves? It's the winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical. As The New York Times says, “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like Hairspray. It's irresistible!”

Alongside the description, the Hennepin Theatre District provides two Internet links:

The first, of course, is not to the touring production's Web site, but to the official site of the Broadway show. The second link goes to Broadway Across America, which provides the same description as the Hennepin Theatre District site in an expanded version that also adds: "This mega-hit is piled bouffant-high with laughter and romance -- and enough deliriously tuneful new songs to fill a nonstop platter-party."

It's only after getting four clicks in -- and two clicks beyond where the unknowing consumer would likely purchase tickets -- that a link for the touring production of Hairspray is found. It's another three clicks before I finally found the following line buried in the scroll at the very bottom of the synopsis icon:

This produc- tion of Hairspray is based on Jack O'Briens [sic] original direction and Jerry Mitchells [sic] original choreography, recreated by Matt Lenz and Danny James Austin, respectively.

Sure, Lenz did serve as associate director on the original Hairspray to Jack O'Brien, but that's no guarantee that he has the same deft the Tony Award-winner.

Since I just don't think too many consumers will go to the trouble of digging as deeply as I did before deciding to see this popular show -- and they certainly won't know that they're paying top ticket prices to see non-equity actors -- I believe that the producers are perpetrating a morally deceptive practice and taking ill advantage of their audience's goodwill and excitement engendered by the original production.

Interestingly enough, Minneapolis' Star Tribune critic Rohan Preston (the very same Rohan Preston to serve as a member of the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama whose recommendation was completed ignored) didn't seem to mind, but Dominic P. Papatola of the competing Pioneer Press in St. Paul called this a "fourth-rate production" with a "third-tier cast."

If life were everything it should be, productions would be more honest with their patrons. Shame on this touring production. Caveat emptor, indeed!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for ticket information for the touring production.
Click here for tickets to the real deal on Broadway.
Related Stories:
Hairspray To Brush With West End Style (March 9, 2007)

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At 27 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, this appears to be the production that I'll be seeing in a couple of weeks. I don't remember exactly, but I think I'm paying $60 or $65 for an orchestra seat.

You're right - you really have to dig for the information. And I'm not sure the average person would read "based on" and know what it really means. I don't know what it really means!

I pretty much assume that most touring companies of Broadway shows are non-Equity. I realize that means I may not be getting the same caliber of actor, singer or dancer. But I assume that the show itself would have the same songs, dialogue and dance numbers, that it would be the same running time. I guess I just assumed that the people who created the Broadway version would exercise some creative control over the tourng version to make sure it adheres to the same standard in terms of content. The only difference might be a scaled-down set.

Now, I don't know what to expect. I mean, how do you know when a touring company is going to adhere pretty faithfully to the original?

I guess now, I'm a little wary of buying tickets to shows that are coming to my city next year. How do I know they won't be "fourth-rate productions with third-tier casts?" I guess the only thing I can do is wait and read reviews from other cities before I buy my tickets. Or at least do some digging for the fine print!

At 27 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, When most Broadway shows are fresh out of the gate with touring productions, they are equity shows. After first taking in the Hairspray with its original cast, I did see the touring production with Bruce Vilanch - that was an Equity production.

Most consumers should have a realistic expectation that if a show is still on the Great White Way, the touring production they see that's billed as the Broadway show should have most of the same production values as its Rialto namesake.

I'll be very interested in hearing what you think of the productino of Hairspray you have tickets for.

At 27 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that the first touring production is usually an Equity show. For some reason, mostly the cost, I assumed most tours were not Equity, especially if it's coming to a smaller market. I know that Cherry Jones is touring with Doubt, but I figured that was a pretty unique case.

This is a very interesting topic. For most people, the choice is not between seeing a show on tour or seeing it on Broadway. It's seeing it on tour or not seeing it at all. They don't have another version to compare it with. And this is how most of America "sees" a Broadway show, or at least it's their first introduction to one.

You're right, with the marketing emphasis, most people do expect that it's going to be pretty darn close to the experience of seeing it in New York. And if they go away disappointed, not only is it unfair to the audience, it's unfair to the people who created the original show, because it reflects on their artistic integrity. People might walk away thinking, maybe this show wasn't that good to begin with, rather than thinking, maybe this production wasn't that good.

I guess the answer is, like you said, to just make sure people are aware of what they're going to see and let them decide if it's worth their while.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Hairspray, and of course I'll let you know what I think! Then, in another couple of months, I can compare it with the movie!

At 27 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was really annoyed to find that this was a non-equity cast and yet we are being charged comparable ticket costs. We were not informed when the season add-on (as it is billed) was announced.

I really want to clarify that there is nothing defective with the individuals in a non-equity cast. They are performers there experience is not as qualified as an Equity performer. The choreography and sets are usually not the same. However, the local promoters and Broadway Across America does not serve its patrons well burying this information.

I don't know where Esther lives but most casts going out are equity. Often most members of the first national company are plucked from the road and placed into the B'way cast when an opening develops. Many times there are two or three companies of the show out at one time to capitalize on the momentum of the B'way production.

Bus and truck companies that play smaller venues across the country are usually equity. Often they have some "faded star" appearing in a leading role. However the pricing is appropriate for that level of production. Pricing is the crux of this whole discourse....we got a Wal-Mart show with Saks' pricing.

What is pathetic here in Minneapolis is that the local equity members did not picket this show. The local equity staff did announce to the public before the show arrived this was not a union show.
The city council here is not pro-active in pushing ordinances related to the full disclosure by Hennepin Theater Trust, the local presenter, as to the companies equity status.
This is also annoying given that the city still has some ownership of the theaters and the taxpayers and patrons (via a ticket surcharge) have been paying for those venues. The city bills itself as supporting first class theater and having Broadway productions stop here early in their tours. They leave out the bit about mop-up productions of a bigger hit.
Perhaps this was easier money to be made by the NY producers by licensing it out at such a young age. The NY producers didn't have to fret about the costs and the union concers that often happen in first national companies. This action fails to acknowledge the audience's intelligence in markets served.
Shame on those producers and local presenters for foisting frauds onto the theatergoing public who in all earnesty expected a first-rate production.

As Steve points out buyer beware!

At 27 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I HAVE seen this particular cast and say that they are all incredibly talented people and the production is top rate. I also saw the original cast on Broadway. Who cares what their union affiliation is.

At 27 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous - I appreciate you weighing in.

My beef is not whether the cast is union or not (I've seen many talented non-Equity performances), it's going to Gene's point that the unsuspecting audience is being told this is the Broadway show when it is not, as well as paying ticket prices that typically come when you have union scale performers in the cast.

The public is being duped. And as Esther has so eloquently stated, "If they go away disappointed, not only is it unfair to the audience, it's unfair to the people who created the original show, because it reflects on their artistic integrity."

At 27 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless the audiences in Minneapolis is paying $110.00 per ticket (which is price of Hairspray on Broadway), I can't see how you can say they are being "duped". The top ticket price for Hairspray in Minneapolis is $63.00. The top ticket price for the "First run" tour of Jersey Boys in Minneapolis is $83.00. It seems that the theatre is in fact passing on the savings of having a non-union cast right to the consumer. I agree that this non-union cast is terrific. Who cares if they belong to a union or not. If all the shows were equity and all priced the same, the average subscription ticket would be so high that the theatre would not be able support a Broadway season at all. I applaude Minneapolis for bringing a varity of productions to our town. If I have to wait for the non-union cast of Jersey Boys before I can afford to take my family of four to see it, so be it!

At 28 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, I appreciate the dialogue.

Two points in response.

First, you are incorrect about the top ticket price for Hairspray at the Orpheum. The ticket prices range from $22 to $72 - the top price is equal to what Equity touring productions have been charging over the past year. I just checked tickets I had for Chicago's Equity production of Wicked and Equity production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the Equity production of The Pirate Queen before it went to Broadway, and their top priced tickets were all at about the same level within a few dollars.

I also attended the Minneapolis stop of the Equity production of Twelve Angry Men and again, the top ticket price was the same.

The upcoming Equity production of All Shook Up that is on its way to the Twin Cities is priced the same as Hairspray.

Tours are typically less expensive to see -- and substantially so -- than the Real McCoy on Broadway.

The top ticket price for the upcoming Equity production of Jersey Boys is significantly higher (it's actually much higher than you thought... $133), but given the fact that Jersey Boys continues to pull in a capacity crowd of 100.7% on Broadway and maintains its place as the Great White Way's most expensive average priced ticket at $118, it's no surprise that the producers are seeking a significantly higher return on the show.

But here's where you've really missed my point. All of the marketing and advertising materials for the current non-Equity production of Hairspray that purports to be the same as the Broadway show that received all those awards and all those raves is in fact not the same show. The advertising is deceptive.

If the advertising didn't give the appearance that this was the Broadway show's sister tour, I would have no quarrel with it. As I've said on many occasions, I wish that theatre could be more reasonably priced so more could enjoy the experience. But guess what? The current production of Hairspray should have been less expensive and advertised for what it was.


At 29 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're absolutely right about the pricing structure. I found a list of Equity tours on the Actors Equity Web site. Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life is an Equity tour. Hairspray, as we know, is not. But the ticket price for both shows at the theater where I'm seeing them is exactly the same: $38 to $65.

At 29 April, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Appreciate your additional comments, Esther. What our anonymous friend should realize is that we're trying to look out for his best interest in seeking truth in advertising.

At 30 April, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My few cents here after the show has left town.....nonetheless my question to anonymous is: are cast members being paid wages comparable to those of Equity to justify the ticket price? Is this cast given comparable per diem while performing in this show?
My general complaint is that the local producers did not inform us that this is a non-equity cast and billed it as if it was a first or second national company. Yes, booking a "hit" like this may assist in balancing the books for some slow sellers but patrons should be informed that this is a non-equity troupe before they plunk down the cash.
I will acknowledge to "anonymous" that I have seen several non-equity productions. Some have been right up there; some have not.
I have friends who have produced Equity tours and related the agony they experienced with union complaints.
I am not insistent that a production be union; I am insistent that the local producers charge patrons with the same profit margins for a non-union show that they do for a union show. Give us, the patrons, that pricing fairness as we deserve it and will look kindly on future bookings rather than wondering if I will be scammed again paying Saks' prices for Penney's products.
One final word to know those premium seats in NY where you pay some awful amount to sit somewhere....well, I've paid that price. I don't regret it. And, I am the last person in the world to remind of the difference between NY and MN pricing.


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