Producers' Decision That Avenue Q Will Play Vegas But Won't Tour Creates Firestorm of Controversy
On Sunday, June 6, Avenue Q won the Tony Award for Best Musical in what was considered a major upset over the Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman show Wicked. The victory was largely credited to an innovative campaign in which the show's producers encouraged road presenters and other Tony voters to "vote their heart," indicating that the musical would tour. So it evidently came as a big, unpleasant surprise to many people when it was announced yesterday that the show would play an exclusive engagement in a new, $40 million Las Vegas theater rather than touring the country. (Approximately 15% percent of Tony voters are road presenters.)
Articles that appeared today in The New York Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere covered the flaring controversy. Kevin McCollum, one of Avenue Q's producers, told the Times, "I'd be disappointed, too. At the same time, I have to create an equation where the financial model is met." He added, "We thought we were going [on tour]. Look, I've been involved in a half-dozen deals in Las Vegas that didn't work out. It was not a slam dunk."
In May, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Robyn Goodman, and the rest of the show's producing team threw a party at John's Pizza during which, according to Michael Riedel of The New York Post, a national tour of the show was discussed. Riedel quotes Brad Broecker, a Louisville booker of touring shows, as saying: "I feel all of us got snookered. I was assured many times that there was going to be a tour and then told, 'Thank you very much for your support.'"
According to Riedel, Kevin McCollum described the Las Vegas deal as "a long shot" and said that his talks with Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn to present the show there "could have fallen apart at any time." He said, that, as the lead producer of Avenue Q, his job was "to make sure that all the options were open for the show."
Meanwhile, opinions of the deal raged on the online theater discussion forum "All That Chat." One poster wrote: "If you are touting your show as the little guy who needs help toppling the $14 million green giant and all the while you are planning on taking the little guy to a new $40 million home and giving the shaft to the voters you are targeting, you are a stinker in my book. Smart, maybe but definitely 'without a heart.'" Another wondered, "Are we now voting for Tonys because of touring potential? If so, the Tonys should no longer exist. The Tony award is supposed to be given for excellence in theater -- NOT for excellence in theater and touring potential."