Priscilla, Queen of the Altar: a Musical Found a New Way to Market Itself That Includes On-Stage Weddings

One groom calls his ceremony ‘one of the best 10 minutes of my life’

They had discussed marriage half-seriously for years, but didn’t like their options. “At the time I thought, I don’t want to fly to Ames, Iowa, just to get married and then fly back to Houston,” said Mr. Lewis. Getting married in New York was more attractive, and they began planning a trip soon after June 24. When two dozen friends decided to tag along, Mr. Lewis hunted for a way to spruce up a city hall ceremony.

Enter Priscilla.

The play was the centerpiece of a night on the town that included bumping into Carol Burnett at dinner—she graciously blessed the union—and singing Funny Girl’s “My Man” at Village show-tunes bar Marie’s Crisis. Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Lewis had seen Priscilla twice—in London and at the New York opening—and were happy to go back for thirds.

“When I talked to them about the tickets, they were so supportive and so helpful,” Mr. Lewis said. “Far beyond just the normal, ‘Oh, boy, here’s the chance to sell 25 tickets.’ They sounded genuinely happy and honored that we’d chosen to do this.”

Because Mr. Kennedy’s illness requires him to walk with a cane, dancing on stage was out. Instead, actor Tony Sheldon made an announcement at the end of the performance, commemorating “the uniting of two families.” Mr. Sheldon, who last week appeared in the show for the 1,500th time, said that the on-stage events don’t bother him, so long as they happen after the curtain falls.

“I’m not in favor of mucking around with the performance,” he said. A decade ago he would have opposed any such marketing gimmick, but rising ticket prices have changed the way audiences interact with Broadway.

“People don’t just come to see a show,” he said. “They want a presold title, a name that they know, a TV star that they’ve heard of. So if you don’t come up with something like this, you’re gonna get left behind. Sure, it’s a marketing tool. But it’s as much a marketing tool as having Harry Potter in How to Succeed.”

For people like Chris Lewis and Yuri Rodriguez, this marketing gimmick has produced memories that will endure for decades. Before he proposed to his boyfriend on stage, Mr. Rodriguez spent two and a half hours in a cold sweat. It was worth it.

“That phrase ‘Go big or go home’ is kind of the only way to live in my eyes,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be in any way forgettable. When we’re 75 years old and married and starting to lose our memories, I wanted it to still be vivid. It was one of the best 10 minutes of my life.”

editorial@observer.com

Priscilla, Queen of the Altar: a Musical Found a New Way to Market Itself That Includes On-Stage Weddings