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Playbill? Showbill? Stagebill?


Playbill, a venerable institution, has been providing Broadway theaters with programs for over 100 years and doing quite a good job if you ask me. Only this year has there been some confusion over its distribution. First, it was over The Lion King, then Ragtime, and now Cabaret. And it's all about a mark, a yen, a buck, and a pound.

Playbill provides programs to the theater free of charge and collects its revenues from those who place advertisements. Not a bad deal for everyone involved. Half the fun of collecting Playbills are the advertisements. For instance, I'm looking at a Playbill in my collection from I Am A Camera from 1952 and there is Dorothy Collins holding a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes with the headline "Be Happy-Go Lucky!" Or the 1968 revival one of Cabaret with Liza Minelli in a two page gorgeous ad for Revlon.

Playbill has a subscription program where you can get opening night Playbills for every show on Broadway. Generally, they are in color and have a gold seal on the cover proclaiming opening night. Needless to say, I was a bit annoyed on finding out that The Lion King would not be using the services of Playbill, thereby disrupting my collection. Disney went with "Stagebill" for their programs and one can only assume it was over an advertising thing where Disney would have control making sure no competitive advertising appeared. In comparison though, the quality of the program is hardly Playbill or Showbill's standards.

Ragtime at the Ford Center opted to go with "Showbill" which is the sister publication of Playbill and again, one can only assume Ford didn't want to see pictures of Chevrolets next to their products. In any event, the Showbill for Ragtime has a gorgeous cover.

Advertising is a tricky business and people who work in the field know that when playgoers go to the theater and thumb through the programs they have about three seconds to capture someones attention. And this is what advertisers pay for. If you look at the centerspread for Ragtime there is a gorgeous two page color ad with a beautiful bouquet of flowers by a company called "Surroundings" and guess what? They're selling flowers, so the next time you need a floral bouquet....burn that in your brain, "Surroundings." They pay for you to burn that in your brain. It's what advertising is all about. Now, have you ever walked out of the theater and noticed all the programs on the floor that people simply disregard. Obviously, you have to burn the brain before curtain or during intermission.

And this brings us to Cabaret. There's been a lot of bruhaha over the distribution of Playbills for the Roundabout production. It seems that the artistic team behind the production only wish to issue the programs as patrons of the Kit Kat Klub are leaving. Well, that didn't sit right with Playbill and I don't blame them for pulling the plug by providing them with free Playbills. They were essentially denying Playbill's advertisers exposure. Cabaret is being presented in an environmental setting and the creative team want patrons to feel as if they are in a sleazy night club in Germany in 1930. To me, it's a bit silly, this whole issue of the program. I, for one, want my Playbill when I enter the theater, night club or not. I know where I am when I go to the theater, and I love to sip my drink while perusing the cast list or burning my brain for three seconds. To have their complete environmental setting, Roundabout will have their way by opting for a "Showbill" to the tune of $1300.00 a week. Pretty hefty for a production company like Roundabout which hardly has a cache of money lying around. However, that's their business and I see Playbill's point of view and agree wholeheartedly with them even though my collecting habits are in disarray.

Tidbits: Other Cabaret news is that the Tony committee is meeting on April 9th to discuss whether the production will be eligible for Tony nominations. The musical is in the Henry Miller theater and this was a Tony eligible house at one time, before it was turned into a disco. With the cabaret setting there are 522 seats which is 23 seats over the minimum, otherwise, the show would be considered Off-Broadway. I would be surprised if the committee turned this down as it would make no sense and deprive the people who have worked so hard on this great production the recognition they deserve, for surely, come Tony time, Cabaret deserves a nod in quite a few categories.

Talkin' Broadway's favorite actress, Christiane Noll, has extended her contract for Jekyl & Hyde. Both Linda Eder and Robert Cuccioli will continue as well. So, you have til Labor Day to catch this fabulous threesome. This news should thrill the Jekkies!

We reported incorrectly that Phantom of the Opera would be raising top ticket prices to $80.00. It just goes to show you, you can't believe everything you read in the papers. They are not changing the prices at all, but Rent will be hiking their prices as of June 30th to a top of $80.00 for weekend performances.

The email has been wonderful about the Brian Stokes Mitchell Spotlight interview. A very special thanks to Stokes and Christina D'Angelo. We have more interviews coming up in our Spotlight section will be Steve Schachlin (The Last Session), Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Stephen Bienskie (The Fix).

One of the hardest decisions theatergoers have to make is where to eat in the theater district. Many tourists who plan their trips actually don't have a clue as to what is available and believe me there are many great restaurants all within walking distance to all the Broadway houses. Soon, you'll be able to solve your dining problems with our new column called "The Restaurant Revue" which will be making its debut very soon. Stay tuned!


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