Why The Book of Mormon is the most successful show EVER!
The Book of Mormon is unquestionably the most successful musical ever written. It may not be the highest grossing of all time (yet!). It may not be the longest running (yet!). And it may not have played to the most number of audiences (yet!). But there is no doubt that it will reach all these records – and it will be helped by today’s announcement of a Melbourne season!
The Book of Mormon has broken box office records on Broadway, across the US and in the UK. The cast album reached number three on the Billboard charts after the Tony Awards selling 61,000 copies and reaching a position that has not been conquered by a Broadway cast album in 42 years. The show has been running since February 2011 and has only played under 102.6% capacity for two week (those were its first two weeks). And it has the highest average ticket price of any Broadway show.
These are statistics that any musical or play would love to be able to own. But it is not a coincidence for The Book of Mormon. There are a number of reasons why this show has been so successful and on the night of this big Australian announcement, there are a few pointers we can all learn from this phenomenon.
Lesson #1: The stars don’t need to be on the stage, but you need to have them!
The Book of Mormon was one of the rare shows that didn’t open with a celebrity in the lead role. But that didn’t mean has forgone the celebrity influence all together. The stars may not have been on stage, but they were still there communicating the show to their incredible existing audience.
Crafting this popular show were the two creators of South Park (one of the most successful animated comedies of all time), Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and the song writer behind the mammoth Broadway hit Avenue Q, Robert Lopez. Robert Lopez gave all the diehard young theatre fans a reason to see the show and the pair behind South Park brought in a whole new crowd. A crowd who would feel the need to see a Broadway show when visiting New York but didn’t really have any appealing options – because remember Broadway primarily reaches a tourist audience.
Lesson #2: Don’t write only for your existing audience
Any industry which solely caters to their current audience is at peril of quickly becoming irrelevant. This audience is already engaging with the service and they are finite. To guarantee long-term success you have to think outside the box.
I’m not saying ignore your current audience. The Book of Mormon didn’t. They wrote a set of songs which strongly translated to musical theatre audiences (and were given lots of thumbs up from reviewers). But they also wrote for those audiences outside the theatre. Those audiences who don’t want to sit through a traditional Rodgers & Hammerstein and would feel more comfortable at an action movie than a romantic comedy. Why is this important? Well it means that, all of a sudden, The Book of Mormon isn’t competing with all the other shows. It is able to draw an audience from a much wider pool of people who wouldn’t see a Broadway show if this one wasn’t an option.
And ultimately, in the future, they may try out another one!
Lesson #3: Push Boundaries
The Book of Mormon is a boundary pusher. There is swearing. Characters sing a song cursing the Lord. And the material pokes fun at a rather serious religious order (which later ended up buying advertising space in the program!). Traditional musicals were lacking their relevance to the younger boundary pushing generation, so to get that relevance back there was a need for theatre to push its own boundaries.
The theatre community would not have ever considered a musical that featured so much swearing, profanity and South Park-esque writing until it happened – and it wasn’t actually that bad. Now that swearing has been done, my bet is that the next boundary pusher will involve some sort of mobile technology!
The Book of Mormon truly is the theatre’s most successful story. It breaks convention, but it does it for a good reason. A reason that isn’t for the sake of furthering the art, but rather furthering the audience. And due to these calculated moves The Book of Mormon appears to have many more successes ahead.