There’s the pitch, the swing . . . and it’s a hit!

Looks like they’ve done it again.

Lead producers of In The Heights, Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller, have another hit on their hands.  Word of mouth is good, reviews were good, and I’d put my money down now that these two will have another trophy on Tony night.

But let’s do more than pat them on the back.  If we want to look at what makes hits, let’s think like baseball players.  If we want to be better batters, we’d analyze David Ortiz’s swing and adopt some of the mechanics to our own.

So let’s look at Kevin and Jeffrey’s swing . . .

Since they burst on the scene with Rent in 1996 they have produced four new musicals on Broadway together:

  • Rent
  • Avenue Q
  • High Fidelity
  • In The Heights

If In The Heights holds, that’s 3 out of 4 hits.   They’re batting .750 in terms of hits, and could be batting .750 in terms of Tonys!  Not a bad record for producing new musicals.

So what do these three hit musicals have in common?

1.  Geography

First thing that struck me?  Rent, Q and In The Heights are all about small geographic subcultures in New York City.  Hmmmm.  Funny, isn’t?  I hadn’t thought about it either until yesterday.  Lower East Side, a mythical last stop in an outer borough, and Washington Heights.

What does it mean?  Well, I’m not sure this is the most important characteristic for us to focus on, but it is important. All of these communities have very distinct voices that we hadn’t heard from before on Broadway.  These shows taught us about the issues facing the youth of these three very distinct NYC communities.

Hmm, there’s another one.  All three of them have to do with young people, starting their lives.  Huh.

2.  Who Wrote Them Again?

This for me is the most important element.  You probably never heard
of the writers of these musicals before their shows opened.

That’s because each one made their Broadway debut with these musicals.

3 hits.  3 Broadway debuts of a book writer, a composer and a lyricist.

use new writers.  New voices.  They invest in people that have stories
that they feel must be told.  The writers’ passion for their
projects goes right on the page and then bleeds right onto the stage.
You can feel it.

3.  What’s That Director’s Name?

You know what I’m gonna say don’t you.  But you can’t believe it either.

Yet, it’s true.

3 hits.  3 brand spanking new Broadway directors all making their Broadway debuts . . . just like the writers!

$10 million dollar musicals on the shoulders of Broadway Babies.

This is an unbelievable trend.  Hal Prince once told me that if I wanted a musical to happen, all that I needed to do was to hire a name director, and the money would come, and the show would happen.  He was right.

But Kevin and Jeffrey are demonstrating that if you want a HIT new musical, a name is the last thing you might want.

They even proved their own theory with their one flop.  That one was directed by a veteran.

4.  No Stars

See this previous entry.

5.  No Spectacle

No chandeliers, no helicopters and no flying monkeys, dragons, green girls, etc.

6.  No Stars + No Spectacle < $15 Million Dollars

All of their shows are economical.  They don’t try to produce the biggest musicals ever.  Just the best that have budgets that can be recouped in a realistic time frame.

There’s a lot to learn from studying the swing of these heavy hitters and future hall of famers, just like there’s a lot to learn from all of the major leaguers.  My advice to you is to watch them all and learn.  Study the game tapes.  Pick up some tips on what to do with your elbow.  No two swings are alike, but there are powerful fundamentals that you’ve gotta get under your belt.

Then step up to the plate, because the only way to see if you’ve got game is to take a swing at a couple of pitches.

(Side note:  Kevin produced another show in the last ten years without Jeffrey . . . The Drowsy Chaperone.  Another recouped hit where all of these rules applied. (Except the NYC subculture thing))

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.