Duran Duran launches new rock era on Broadway

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NEW YORK -- "We've always viewed Duran Duran as an art school project," keyboardist Nick Rhodes says. "So each time we want to do something new, we look at a blank canvas and say, 'What do we do this time?' " The answer to that question, posed during the making of Duran Duran's 12th studio album, "Red Carpet Massacre," turned out to be Broadway.

And starting tonight through Nov. 13 (the release date for "Massacre"), that's exactly where fans will be able to find them: performing a three-act concert at the nearly 1,100-seat Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

A rock residency is hardly new, but in recent years Las Vegas has been home for such long-stint acts as Celine Dion and Prince. But while Tom Waits, Neil Diamond and Elvis Costello have trod the boards over the years, it's been at least eight years since a rock act performed on the Great White Way, according to the Internet Broadway Database. And it's hard to imagine any band launching its record via a Broadway stint.

It also might seem a particularly unusual move for a band known for its stylish 1980s videos and such hits as "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "The Reflex" and shares songwriting credits with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake on its latest release.

But, Rhodes insists, it all fits: "While there's always a theatrical element to (Duran Duran), it's not an all-singing, all-dancing Broadway show. It's a rock show in a Broadway venue."

One reason for the dearth of rock bands on Broadway is cost. Even with ticket prices set at $75-$150, concert promoter Ron Delsner says Duran Duran likely will break even. "Nobody in their right mind would do it because it's so expensive," Delsner says. "These guys are going into it knowing it isn't to make money; these guys are making a statement."

Enter financial services company Citi, which in an unusual move for a residency has ponied up sponsorship funds for the limited run. Through its Citi Private Pass program, cardmembers get presale tickets and special access to the band. In return, Duran Duran gets its front money for the shows -- plus a lot of free advertising for the new album when Citi sent out the alert to its customer database.

"Without a sponsor, I'm not sure we would have been able to do this," says band manager Wendy Laister of Magus Entertainment. "Because of the economics of doing something on Broadway, without them it just wouldn't have been possible -- or at least not with the ticket prices the way they are."

If there's one area that seems to concern no one, it's whether a three-decade-old band determinedly pursuing new millennium hipness -- rather than just resignedly going on an endless greatest-hits tour -- should even consider Broadway. New York might be the place to be, but the environs around 42nd Street are not suffering from trendy overkill these days.

Not to worry, Laister says. "They're a brand, and they have a strong brand identity. They've always been perceived as incredibly stylish, and Broadway has those same qualities. Everyone says, 'That's so cool, that's really fantastic.' They don't say, 'A lot of old fogies go to Broadway; that's old hat.' Literally not a soul has said that to me. Everyone has felt it's an interesting thing to do."
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