AP Drama Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Most theater producers with a new work heading for Broadway first secure a theater and gather a cast before trying to fire up an audience. By that measure, the man behind "Allegiance" is doing it backward.
Lorenzo Thione, a tech entrepreneur who has produced such shows as "Catch Me If You Can" and "Elling," is offering fans of the George Takei-led musical the unprecedented chance to really show their allegiance by spending a few dollars now to reserve a seat for a show has yet to nail down a Broadway home.
"I sat down and said, 'Well, we can't really sell tickets. What can we do that's as close to that as we possibly can?'" Thione said. "That's how this idea came about."
Fans who spend $5 for the Allegiance Priority Access Pass are entitled to buy two tickets to any performance before they go on sale to anyone else. Those who do will also get a free download of the cast album when it's recorded.
The offer -- a reward program common to other industries but unheard of on Broadway -- gives fans some insider perks but also gives Thione a way to measure interest in the musical about Japanese-Americans during World War II. If the show fails to make it to Broadway, the $5 won't be refunded, but the ticket offer will be extended to any tour or commercial production of the show outside New York.
The offer, announced on the musical's website last week, is not really about the money generated. (In fact, Thione changed the price from $3.99 to $5 at the last minute.) More important than the revenue is proof of interest, which he can then show to wary theater owners.
"What we wanted to have was a real indication of who would be buying tickets on Broadway," said Thione, who co-founded the startups Powerset and Artify.it. "I had one too many conversations, 'Is there really an audience?' Would they ask if I had $10 million in advance sales? No."
"Allegiance," based on "Star Trek" star Takei's childhood memories, is a multigenerational tale that's framed by a Japanese-American war veteran looking back on his family's time in a Wyoming internment camp.
It features music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Thione, with direction by Stafford Arima. It had a sold-out premiere in 2012 at the Old Globe in San Diego, starring Takei, Lea Salonga and Telly Leung.
A Broadway berth has so far eluded the team, partly due to the complicated logistics of traditional theater booking and partly because the subject is a dark and mostly unknown chapter of American history.
But Thione points to shows with tough background stories such as "Les Miserables" or "The Sound of Music": "The truth is that when you look at the most successful worldwide musicals of all time, they're not about easy subjects."
What "Allegiance" has going for it is a bottom-up, grass roots feel that Thione has stoked. His marketing and management company The Social Edge has leveraged Takei's huge social media presence and keeps updating fans with news, music and details. Producers have released a mini-CD of the music and there's also a program for hardcore fans to get rewards for spreading the word.
Currently, the "Allegiance" Facebook page has 457,000 likes, which compares very well against the monster hit "The Book of Mormon," with 539,000 likes. And Googling "new Broadway musical" brings up the "Allegiance" page in the top group of results. All this for a show that doesn't really exist.
Thione, a man fascinated by the convergence of art and technology, is betting that he can translate likes into ticket holders. "I think if we get 10,000, it will be a great success. If we get 100,000 it's an enormous success," he said. "We'll see what it is."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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