Broadway Features and Reviews
Broadway Folklore: When Avenue Q Beat Wicked
By Eva Hogan, Broadway Magazine
Sometimes the Tony Awards® can surprise you. The irreverent little show "Avenue Q" shocked theatre fans when it claimed the gong for best musical at the 2004 Tony Awards, despite the lavish and much-lauded "Wicked" being hot favorite.
The quirky little show - which finished up its run on Broadway last year - also nabbed awards for Best Book and Best Score , sending shockwaves around the awards arena and audiences alike. No mean feat for a slightly odd musical about angsty Brooklynites portrayed by puppets.
So how did Q do it?
Well, its quirkiness for one. The story of Princeton, a bright-eyed college grad who comes to New York City with big dreams and a small bank account, Q follows our hero and his new collection of wacky friends as they search for a purpose in life.
While it might be a fairly regular plot, its execution was anything but. Likened to a Sesame Street for adults, Q is a profanity-punctuated show where all the characters are played by live actors and puppets, something that garnered it rave reviews and fans.
But its success wasn't just lie in its appeal. In fact, a costly campaign played a huge part in the show's surprise clean-up at the awards ceremony.
From full-page newspaper adverts to pizza-parties for out-of-town voters, the show's producers pulled out all the promotional stops to garner it the recognition it deserved.
Not only did they get on the Facebook bandwagon for publicity, they also sent out hundreds of promotional CD's with a new song 'Rod's Dilemma', written especially for the Tony race, about a puppet voting in an election.
The campaign - estimated to have cost about $300,000 - also leaned heavily on political images. Promotional buttons were handed out at the theatre, while the box office was decorated to look like a campaign HQ.
The campaign's slogan, 'Vote Your Heart' was also seen as a blatant dig to Wicked, encouraging people to vote for the little guy.
And Q really was little in comparison.
Playing in the 796-seat Golden Theater, it generally grossed $400,000 a week. Wicked meanwhile had a $14 million budget and weekly sales of more than $1 million, all of which combined to give the Broadway smash an air of invincibility in the awards arena.
Despite the lavish promotions, show producer Jeffrey Seller said the campaign was merely trying to remind votes of the show, which transferred from a small Off-Broadway house to Broadway.
"I think we were able to get people thinking about Avenue Q again", he revealed. "We felt if we could get them to think about it again and see it again, we'll have a shot."
Other theories were also being voiced, including the idea that voters had perhaps decided that Wicked, with an advance of over $20million, didn't need the victory, whereas underdog Q could do with the boost.
While the consensus around Broadway was undoubtedly that the show had cleaned up thanks to a clever ad campaign that wooed voters, fans of the show were delighted and, thanks to its growing popularity, while Avenue Q has moved Off-Broadway to New World Stages, it will forever be a part of Tony Award history and Broadway folklore.
Which surprises will this year's Tony Awards bring? Find out on June 13 as the Tony Awards are aired live on CBS.
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