Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Foxwoods and Broadway

I was surprised yesterday to find out that Broadway's Hilton Theatre is now the Foxwoods Theatre, after Live Nation sold the naming rights to the Connecticut casino in a multiyear deal.

I'm sure Live Nation could use the money. The Hilton has been dark for more than a year in preparation for the much-delayed Spider-Man musical.

And it gives Foxwoods a major presence in Times Square, as well as a connection to the musical that marketing officer Robert Victoria calls "the most anticipated Broadway production of all time." Yes, of all time.

(As an aside, I highly recommend the book Without Reservation, by Jeff Benedict, about the Mashantucket Pequot tribe that built Foxwoods.)

Personally, I'd love it if theatres were named for people who have some connection with Broadway. But beyond that, I have a bigger concern - Does this mean the casino is dipping its toe further into the musical stream?

A full-length production of Hairspray played Foxwoods in December. As the Hartford Courant's Frank Rizzo reported, it was the first time a Connecticut casino had presented a traditional Broadway musical.

He questioned the impact on venues like New Haven's Shubert or Hartford's Bushnell if Foxwoods competes for musical theatre patrons. (Not to mention the impact on restaurants and other businesses that help keep urban downtown areas vibrant.)

At the time Bruce Flax, director of marketing for MGM/Foxwoods, said that Hairspray would be a test case and if successful, could pave the way for other Broadway-type productions."It's a big commitment for us," he said.

There's no indication the naming deal is anything more than that. But it makes me nervous. Look at where bands and musicians go now.

Over the next month Counting Crows, Stevie Nicks, Donna Summer and John Fogerty will perform at the 4,000-seat MGM Grand at Foxwoods. There was a time when they would have made tour stops in cities like Boston, Providence or Hartford.

Foxwoods is in the middle of nowhere - 2 1/2 hours from Boston, an hour from Providence or Hartford. You can take an infrequent bus or drive. It's not an easy place to reach compared with any of those cities.

I'd hate to see touring productions of Broadway shows migrate there, too.


Bob said...

First off, I'm loving the clean new blog template.

Second: casinos owning legitimate Broadway theaters just makes me all queasy.

Esther said...

Thanks, I'm glad you like the new template! I haven't gotten a lot of feedback on it yet.

Even though it's just the naming rights, not ownership, I bet everyone who sees the big "Foxwoods Theatre" sign will assume the casino owns it. And yeah, for some reason that makes me queasy, too.