I'm no fan of David Bryan and Joe DiPietro's pleasant if forgettable lite-rock musical Memphis, but I certainly felt the audience I saw it with was totally into it, and its excellent cast at least partly explains why it's become the sleeper hit of the season. This story on the Root, about how Broadway can reach black audiences, helps explain the rest of it:
The producers of Memphis started asking theatergoers to come on down years before the musical even made it to Broadway. Three years ago, Frost and her producing partners started the trek to Broadway with a three-week run in Seattle. They reached out to influential church and civic leaders, inviting them to see Memphis, give their feedback and, if they would, spread the word. "We started it early, and we have been consistent about it," Frost says.The musical's history actually stretches back to its debut at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. and TheatreWorks in Mountain View, Calif. nearly seven years ago. But the point is taken: This model, of touring and revving up audiences around the country before coming to Broadway sounds like smart marketing, period, race and age diversity aside.
As the musical made its way to Broadway, some of those Seattle leaders contacted their friends and colleagues in New York to, again, spread the word. The summer before the show opened, they sent teams to street fairs to pass out fliers and talk up the upcoming production. They also pushed group ticket sales. Frost and her partners had been involved in non-commercial theater for years, so, she says, "Audience education and development is sort of in our DNA." With seed money from producers and investors, they launched a program, Inspire Change, to encourage young people to come to the show. The money covers tickets and transportation, but also sponsors cast members' visits to schools before the students come to the show; post-performance, they participate in "talk-backs" with the cast. They have produced study guides and encouraged eager theatergoers to talk about their experiences via Facebook. In March alone, she says, Memphis had more than 7,000 young people in its audiences.
UDPATE: The Times is on the case, too, with even more details.