IF/THEN, Broadway’s latest new musical, is currently enjoying a run starring none other than Idina Menzel at the Richard Rodgers theatre. However, the show didn’t just open up in NYC! It followed a formula we call an “Out-of-Town tryout”. In case this is a new term for you, I’ll explain. Broadway shows, in their most simple form, are formatted and designed, then hold audition calls, tap in performers to form a cast, rehearse and open on broadway. Note that I said “most simple form”! Their development and road to broadway is quite extensive, so we’ll break it down.
Past the artistic phase of development, shows can “workshops “. This is a rough run of whatever show material they have so far in front of potential investors, producers and clients. These workshops are essential to a shows success (tapping in money sources and industry interest), but do not always happen. One good example is if a show has been in development for a long time and throughout that period a lead producer or investor has independently put together other producers or investors.
This is where “Out-of-Town tryouts” come in — now that shows have money, they can either debut on Broadway or they can have a – you guessed it – Out of Town tryout! This entails the full production of the show having a month or couple month run of the show in a town other than NYC, such as Boston, Chicago, Seattle or Toronto. It’s treated as the actual show – inviting press to review the show and including every element that is planned to be used in the New York production. You might wonder why some shows and not all have the luxury of a tryout.
It boils down to only a few things – cost, efficiency and time. Tryouts are incredibly expensive. It’s almost like mounting the show twice! Imagine, for a show like Mary Poppins – setting up Mary’s fly rig and the huge house as a permanent (non-touring version) set up for only two months, only to break it down and move it across the US in perfect condition. Costly, and not worth it. And think about efficiency – Mary Poppins is a known name. Yes, the story’s content is bound to read different onstage, but we don’t need a tryout to gauge whether or not audiences will like the story.
The producers – Disney – know that. It would be inefficient to try out Poppins. However, Disney only does tryouts when the really might be needed, and in Poppin’s case it wasn’t. Lastly, think of TIME! Disney has many projects going on at once – tryouts add several months onto the production schedule and delay everything behind and infront of it. With many successful theme parks, Broadway and national tours, everything is in the works which means the chopping room floor is full! Disney can’t risk a broadway bomb, so out of town tryouts tell them if it’s worth the time to mount on Broadway too.
We’ve talked a lot about why tryouts might not happen. But why would they happen? Well, a multitude of reasons. Sometimes when familiar work without a soundtrack is produced into a musical (like Legally Blonde or Shrek), producers will want to ensure the show’s intent, message and meaning reaches it’s audience in a way that will make the show profitable and successful, which as a tryout!
Out-of-town tryouts can, when done well, successfully measure that in a way that is less expensive than just opening on Broadway. Don’t forget – you can’t open on Broadway twice. Which is precisely is why some shows tryout, and then change things that didn’t read before the show reaches New York. Tryouts are predominantly used to help change, adapt and test the production. A luxury, yes. Necessary, no… But one thing’s for sure… They’re wonderful to watch.