How appropriate that a rather science fictional technology used to monitor the second-by-second responses of live theater audiences is being pioneered in a Broadway-bound play based on Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time.
Seven minutes into his new musical, “Somewhere in Time,” the Broadway producer Ken Davenport leapt off his stool at the back of the theater the other night, and began pointing. Not at the stage, but at a nearby laptop that showed — in a fever-chart line — the reactions of 60 audience members as they turned hand-held dials among three choices: “Love this part,” “Neutral about this part” and “Hate this part.”
The dials seemed to pinpoint a problem with the song “Tick Tick Tick”: the fever line slid as the main character, Richard, lamenting the rush of life, was interrupted by dry dialogue from his brother.
While other marketing tools like surveys and focus groups are already in common use, some moguls resist anything that might overtake the weight given their own opinions, rooted in instinct and experience.
“Did Michelangelo ask dial testers, ‘Do you like this part of David’s leg?’ ” said Emanuel Azenberg, a Tony Award winner and a producer for 45 years. “Did Beethoven ask, ‘Was the second movement too dull?’ This is scary. Do we want to test-market Broadway until it becomes a theme park?”
[Thanks to James H Burns and Bjo Trimble for the story.]