Should Ben Brantley Review Broadway Commercials?


Have you seen the new PSA for New York City tourism? It opens with the sun rising over the Empire State Building, cuts to the warm awakening of Central Park’s treetops, and is followed by the mellow waters of the East River. Come visit New York. There’s plenty of pretty Kodak moments…oh, wait, this isn’t an “I <3 NYC” ad? This is a commercial for the Broadway revival of “Annie”? Did I miss the shot of the title character, or perhaps the ragtag bunch of orphans doing a kick line?

Broadway is a stage medium. There are times when a production ends up on television, such as a special PBS broadcast or a random MTV airing, but the art was never crafted for that unique translation. Highly skilled producers and artists tirelessly work to make camera angles and close-ups accentuate the theatricality. What about television commercials meant to promote a Broadway show? They deserve the same level of scrutiny a PBS special receives from the Broadway community.

“Annie’s” latest commercial is seemingly meant to drive audiences to the Palace Theatre in Times Square. I had to watch the spot back after it ran across the television, in order to figure out what was being promoted. Beyond what could pass as stock footage of New York City, there was nothing visually relevant in the commercial.

There are some extremely creative Broadway marketing minds, fully aware of their show’s demographic. “Rock of Ages,” a musical geared towards teens of the ‘80s now living average lives, yet still harboring a dream of becoming a rock star, baited audiences in with a series of commercials in 2010 featuring bus commuters breaking into song while idling through Manhattan.

“Xanadu,” the rainbow unicorn of a musical fluffing up Broadway in 2007 realized its audience, many still singing Olivia Newton-John songs in the shower, splashed purple clouds and glitter on the television screen. The title song and zany cast also played featured roles in the spot. It spoke directly to its core audience.

Then there was “Annie.” A musical meant to “charm everyone’s hearts” has failed to include a single image geared towards its primary demographic—children. There is a reason “Annie” has been deemed a classical musical charming audiences for 35 years. It is built around an endearing story, colorful and plucky characters and heartwarming songs. It’s a shame that children exposed to this particular commercial wouldn’t be able to pick up on any of those award-winning particulars.

I’m fairly certain this revival will have no problem selling tickets. Tourists are suckers for familiar titles. That doesn’t mean a commercial should ignore a product’s greatest, let alone any of its assets. Perhaps Ben Brantley should start reviewing 30-second spots between reruns of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”