Winning a Tony Award not only impacts a show’s Broadway box office, it can help boost its profile on the road.
While theaters across the country plan the majority of their seasons in advance, the Tony Award can help secure a slot in the season for a touring musical or play without brand-name recognition. This has been the case with many of the previous best musical winners, including this year’s “Hadestown” and recent winners, “The Band’s Visit” and “Fun Home.”
This season, “Hadestown” had good buzz, strong reviews and robust Broadway grosses — all factors that presenters consider when deciding what to book. But because the title does not bring immediate name recognition, making it potentially more difficult to market to audiences, some presenters held back until the Tony Awards, said Meredith Blair, president of The Booking Group.
That said, many were “hedging their bets,” placing holds on their calendar in the hopes that “Hadestown” would win the Tony Award for Best Musical, Blair said. In the days following its Tony win, those presenters have reached back out to confirm the booking and Blair’s office has received additional interest.
“Because it’s new source material, the Tony helps ‘Hadestown’ enormously,” Blair said.
The Tony Award lends that mainstream appeal and brand to these shows, said Orin Wolf, lead producer of “The Band’s Visit,” which is about to embark on a national tour.
“It instantly gives you a much wider reach,” Wolf said. “It helps allow a show like mine to be a part of the mission of a lot of these series.”
That mission, for many, is to bring the best of Broadway to their subscribers, which is a barometer that the Tony Award helps set. But ultimately, each touring market and the tastes of their subscriber base varies.
When deciding what to book, Jeff Chelesvig, president of Des Moines Performing Arts in Iowa, said he looks at the sales records of a show in New York and at the general manager and producer behind it.
While the Tony Award may help his marketing team promote the show, all decisions are ultimately funneled through a question of taste, with Chelesvig as the arbitrator.
“To bring the best of Broadway to Des Moines to me it is about quality,” Chelesvig said. “It is about bringing shows that are not only going to have a broader appeal, but also that are going to be socially relevant at times.”
That means he does not shy away from challenging shows, having booked most touring plays since “Doubt” in 2007 and titles such as “Spring Awakening.”
Al Nocciolino, president of NAC Entertainment, Ltd., which presents touring shows in theaters across New York state and in Pennsylvania, said his audiences tend to be more aware of what’s happening on Broadway, given the proximity to the city, and place trust in the titles he selects. While he aims to give them Tony Award winners, the hope is that he has already booked the winning show before the award is given out.
“If I haven’t, I certainly will make it a priority to book the show,” Nocciolino said.
To that end, booking agencies are increasingly asking presenters to book tours before the show has even opened on Broadway, particularly if it’s a well-known title or if it’s already had an out-of-town tryout.
Overall, touring theaters have more titles to choose from. Presenters are booking more shows per season, as blockbusters such as “Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon” have led to a growth in subscriptions and a greater demand for shows in the touring market, Nocciolino said. At his theater in Buffalo, Nocciolino said he has expanded to a seven-show season, compared to five to six in the past.
“There’s a need for shows, and they’re quality shows,” he said.
With that in mind, some shows receive a better reception on the road than in New York, regardless of the outcome at the Tonys.
At The Booking Group, the tours of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which did not receive a Tony nomination for best play and “Tootsie,” which did not win the best musical category, have been booking well, based on the fact that they’re familiar titles, Blair said. “Pretty Woman,” which did not receive any Tony nominations, is one of the strongest tours the office is booking.
And, now that it has the Tony Award, the “Hadestown” tour is also booking well, as Blair fills in the route and potentially adds additional weeks.
“This is the time where all the pieces start to fall into place,” Blair said.