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Why audiences are buying tickets to ‘Waitress’

Call it the Sara Bareilles effect. “Waitress” has played more than 700 performances on Broadway, after opening in the same season as “Hamilton,” which swept the 2016 Tony Awards.

Sara Bareilles is a primary buying factor for "Waitress" attendees. (Photo: Josh Lehrer)

Call it the Sara Bareilles effect.

“Waitress” has played more than 700 performances on Broadway, after opening in the same season as “Hamilton,” which swept the 2016 Tony Awards. Part of its staying power has come through the show’s marketing efforts, which evolved to target what advertising company RPM sees as the driving force behind the musical — Sara Bareilles fans.

RPM launched the agency in August 2017, with the “Waitress” account in tow. At first, “Waitress” marketing leaned into the all-female creative team and the message of the play, with ads aimed at showing that the dark comedy had an uplifting message.

But after gathering audience reaction, Nick Pramik, managing partner of RPM, said they found Bareilles was the resonating factor, as audience members listed her music as the main reason they bought tickets.

“That was the launching point,” said Pramik said.

Additionally, rather than the traditional Broadway theatergoer — typically a 44-year-old, according to the Broadway League’s demographic survey for the 2015 to 2016 season — they found that the majority of the audience were in the 25-year-old to 34-year-old age group.

The audience also skews slightly more female at 75%, rather than the typical 67% found in the League’s survey.

This data led to largely digital marketing campaign, with targeted ads on Spotify and social media, as well as the creation of videos featuring Bareilles and her music on an almost weekly basis.

“We lean on Sara’s music,” said Kara Carothers, vice president of planning and operations at RPM.

But there has also been a physical ad push, with billboards around Times Square and posters on trash bins in the area, which are closer to eye level and used as a means “to try to influence that purchase while they’re on the ground,” Carothers said. The same tactic is applied to “Chicago,” another Barry and Fran Weissler-produced show and a client of RPM’s.

“Waitress” recouped its $12 million capitalization as of January 2017, less than 10 months after the show began previews.

The show’s box office tally has had its ups and downs, but when Bareilles was in the show, from March 31 through June 11, the show brought in more than $1 million every week she was there.

Without Bareilles, the show has dipped as low as $593,000, in the week ended Sept. 10, 2017.

Bareilles will return to the musical from Jan. 16 to Feb. 25, playing opposite recent addition Jason Mraz, who extended his time in the show to Feb. 11. Their two fan bases largely align, Pramik said, which should translate to similar buying behavior.

“There’s a massive crossover,” he said.

While other popular singers have not seen their popularity translate to a successful Broadway musical, Pramik says he feels that Bareilles’ music already has a musical theater sensibility and matches up well with the message of the musical.

“I think it’s a matchup of brands. Sara Bareilles’ music is known for its storytelling, its melodies. It’s deeply emotional. It’s funny,” Pramik said.