The Tony Awards Countdown #3: Advertising Right

The Tony Awards is theatre’s night of nights. All the talented performers who have hit the stage in the last twelve months gather together in one room and awards are awarded to shows judged by a special nominating committee. But unlike awards nights in other industries, there is a lot more to this awards show than first meets the eye.

Fun Home

The awards themselves are very important to the industry. Next to star power and stories which audiences already know, winning lots of Tony Awards completes the trifecta of powerful opinion shapers when it comes to the general public purchasing tickets. In fact, winning the Best Musical Tony Award dramatically increases most shows’ runs.

But there is more to this telecast.

Unlike the Oscars, Golden Globes or Grammys, the entertainment form which is being awarded at the Tony Awards needs to get audiences through the door every performance in order to keep running the shows. The movies and albums that are being celebrated at the other awards shows have often already been and gone and this extra bit of promotion can certainly encourage people to go out and buy the DVD or purchase the album, but it won’t really make or break that piece of entertainment. The Tony Awards are slightly different . . .

Each show nominated for the major awards gets the opportunity to perform during the broadcast. While it may be seen as an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful work of the casts, directors and writers, these performances are essentially an advertisement hidden in a piece of entertainment. Producers will pray for good placement during the ceremony and hope to reach the most eyeballs from across the country and world in hope that this performance will inspire the viewers to see the show next time they are in New York (or a touring version of the show comes to them).

With this in mind, the choice of song is imperative to success. It has to have great appeal to the audience (who has very little knowledge of the context or storyline) and also strongly represent the experience that viewers will have if they purchase a $150 ticket.

Fun Home have been carefully treading this line with their song choice.

A Best Musical favourite, this off-Broadway transfer focusses on a young lesbian whose father kills himself after acknowledging that he, too, is gay. The Tony Awards committee pushed strongly for the cast to perform a number in the family’s funeral home where the kids pretend to record a television advert called ‘Come to the Fun Home’. This number would have had the audience in hysterics before producing a rousing applause from this comedic number. But there is one issue . . .

The show is not a predominantly happy show. It deals with some pretty emotional themes and focusses more on self-discovery than funny one-liners. So while ‘Come to the Fun Home’ might have been a great choice to inspire ticket sales, it would have resulted in a lot of disappointed audience members because their expectation was dramatically different from the product.

Instead they have fought to include a much more representative song sung by one of the show’s young leads entitled ‘Ring of Keys’. It may not have the grandness or hilarity of ‘Come to the Fun Home’ but it will resonate with the audience who will get the most out of the real life experience of Fun Home. And that is incredibly important to safeguard the show’s incredibly positive word of mouth.

Advertising is a tricky business and while there may be a component which resonates with more people, it is only worth highlighting if this matches the actual experience.