'Avenue Q' Upset Could Change Tony Politicking

Could the unexpected Tony Awards (search) victory of "Avenue Q," (search) which actively if playfully wooed voters, mean more creative politicking for Broadway's highest honors next year?

The youthful little musical featuring puppets and X-rated humor upset "Wicked," (search) a lavish tale of "The Wizard of Oz" witches, at Sunday's Radio City Music Hall ceremony. The show took not only the best musical prize but also won Tonys for best book and score.

That glad-handing has always been there, says Jeffrey Seller, one of the ecstatic producers of "Avenue Q," which throughout the season has skillfully managed to keep its frisky face in front of the public.

"You try to make the public and the Tony voters aware of your show — that's commonsense," Barry Weissler, producer of "Chicago" and "Wonderful Town," said Monday. "You want them to think of you as they are putting their ballots together so you will do certain advertising — you'll send CDs out, you'll send the show book out. It's not politicking, it's marketing."

It's just never been so overt.

"People have been campaigning to win the Tony for years — all we did was turn it upside down and make fun of it," Seller said. "We took the taboo of `you can't say that you are campaigning' out of the box and said, `Oh, let's just do it.'"

"Avenue Q," a tuneful tale of youthful New Yorkers, mounted a cheeky, satiric effort for the best-musical prize. It draped its theater in red, white and blue bunting, handed out buttons that proclaimed, "Don't suck. Vote Q" — a play on one of the show's popular tunes, "It Sucks to Be Me."

And it even sent up its own persistent Tony Award campaign in humorous newspaper ads.

"We did something that was in the spirit of `Avenue Q' and we did that because, ultimately, our real goal was to raise the visibility of the show — to sell more tickets regardless of winning or losing Tonys," Seller said.

The Tony effort began when Seller and his co-producers, Robyn Goodman and Kevin McCollum, asked the show's advertising agency, Spotco, to come up with a campaign. This being a political year, politics and a political theme came to mind, said Drew Hodges, Spotco's creative director.

"We thought there was humor in the fact that we'll just openly campaign and not act like we were too shy to seem like we wanted this award," Hodges said Monday. "`Avenue Q' is contemporary — very much about life now — and we wanted the campaign to feel like that. That's where the politics came from."

The goal of the campaign, according to Hodges, was to get people thinking "Avenue Q" was a viable choice for a best-musical Tony, "a true, full-fledged musical with great structure and a great score and great performances. Just because a chandelier doesn't swing down, doesn't make it any less a musical."

And it succeeded.

"The 'Avenue Q' campaign was bright, colorful and humorous," Weissler said. "And it certainly had some effect. Hey, it won."