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This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The New York area is home to 10 professional sports teams, but attendance for Broadway shows last season topped all of them combined. According to the Broadway League, an association of producers and theater owners, women make up 67 percent of Broadway audiences. Producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo look at those stats and see an opportunity to lure to Broadway an elusive demo: the sports-loving male.
Kirmser and Ponturo have teamed with the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball for Bronx Bombers, a play that looks at the legacy of such legends as Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter. The show, written and directed by Eric Simonson, begins previews Jan. 10 at the Circle in the Square and opens Feb. 6.
Sports has a checkered history on Broadway. For every hit like Damn Yankees (1955), there’s a flop like The First (1981), about Jackie Robinson. Kirmser and Ponturo worked with the NFL on Lombardi, a show about the famed Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, which ran for 244 performances in 2010-11 and has been optioned for a film by Legendary Pictures. But their Magic/Bird, about the rivalry of basketball greats Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, flopped quickly the following season.
“Sometimes when we talk to that theater person who says, ‘Sports, really?’ we try to articulate that these are really stories about people and their jobs and their influences and their motivations,” says Ponturo, who admits their new show has prompted skepticism from traditionalists.
Although they don’t involve the major leagues in day-to-day production, Kirmser and Ponturo utilize them for marketing. With Bronx Bombers, capitalized at a little less than $3 million, Yankees season-ticket holders received email blasts, there are banner ads for the show on Yankees.com and MLB.com and, adds Ponturo, “MLB Network gave us some free commercial spots.”
The producers are working with Steiner Sports Collectibles to create a mini Yankee Hall of Fame in the theater lobby and will offer postshow talkbacks with authors and former players. Ironically, it might be cheaper to see Bronx Bombers than the real Bombers at Yankee Stadium — tickets for orchestra seats range between $137 and $69, while field-level seats can cost $300 or more.
Kirmser says their previous plays have lured a 50-50 mix of sports fans and regular theatergoers. And they’ve been attracting locals. “The New Jersey ZIP codes come in stronger than any other place,” she adds. Bronx Bombers already has a “seven-figure advance” in ticket presales, according to Ponturo. That includes many groups.
The show had an off-Broadway tryout at Primary Stages earlier this season, and author-director Simonson says it was easy to spot the sports fans: “Yankee fans definitely have big smiles on their faces as soon as they see a familiar hero of theirs onstage.”
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