Broadway producing is a cutthroat business, but this trickery takes the cake.
The new musical Gettin’ the Band Back Together opened this week to overwhelmingly negative reviews. Observer’s David Cote called it “Broadway Nickelback,” and Jesse Green of The New York Times said the lyrics resembled “random phrases sent through several passes of Google Translate.”
While the show has a fairly simple plot (a high school garage band reunites 20 years after its split), it’s capitalized at an absurdly high $12.5 million. It’s also coming off a public relations disaster in which every available seat in the house was listed for $16.95.
So lead producer and co-author Ken Davenport has resorted to desperate measures.
The show’s post-opening night marketing material claims The New York Times called it “a feel-good, genuinely funny musical.” But Green didn’t write anything of the sort—the word “funny” doesn’t even appear in his story.
That blurb was actually from a 2013 review of the show’s New Jersey premiere. Critic Anita Gates used the phrases “feel-good” and “genuinely funny” in two separate sections of her piece, but the Broadway producers combined them.
Adrian Bryan-Brown, a press representative for Gettin’ the Band Back Together, defended the use of the old quote.
“An earlier production of Gettin’ The Band Back Together was produced by the same creative team several years ago and reviewed by The New York Times,” he said. “There is a quote from that review that has been used continuously since then, in the same way that most shows reviewed out of town or in London continue using earlier quotes in their New York marketing.”
That’s technically true, though in almost every case, the marketing is updated once the show opens on Broadway.
But the deception didn’t end there. Davenport owns a website called Did He Like It, which aggregates theater reviews from major outlets—the “he” in the name refers to Times critic Ben Brantley.
Gettin’ the Band Back Together and its negative reviews are conspicuously absent from the site, however.
Another questionable tactic was a BroadwayWorld poll which asked whether the reviews of Gettin’ the Band Back Together were “fair” or “unfair.” Needless to say, that’s not a traditional practice.
If Davenport was looking for sympathy, he didn’t get it. Eighty-one percent of respondents said the negative reviews were fair and raked the show over the coals in the comments.
Davenport may have gone overboard, but Broadway producers have played tricks like this long before social media could shame them about it.
For example, after the 2007 revival of Grease opened to tepid notices, producers took out a full-page ad which repeated the phrase “You’re the one that I want” 13 times. Each endorsement was credited to a different news outlet.
The problem is, not one of the publications listed actually used that phrase in their reviews. So the ad was pulled from circulation after just one day.
That same year, producers of the musical The Pirate Queen manufactured a positive quote for the poster by cobbling together disparate phrases from Brantley’s (negative) review of the show and combining them with the show’s plot summary.
The most infamous example of this type of deceptive marketing comes from the world of film, however.
In 2000, executives at Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures invented a film critic named David Manning who allegedly worked for the Connecticut weekly newspaper The Ridgefield Press. “Manning” gave glowing notices to Columbia’s cinematic turkeys like Hollow Man and The Animal.
While the newspaper exists, the reviews were complete fabrications. Manning’s blurbs were printed on marketing materials despite never actually appearing in print.
In fact, as part of a class action lawsuit, Sony refunded $5 to each moviegoer who saw a Columbia film based on Manning’s reviews between August 2000 and October 2001. The total settlement was over $1.5 million.
Will disgruntled theatergoers give Davenport and Gettin’ the Band Back Together the same treatment? Only time will tell.