Tulsa audiences weren’t going to be able to “Let It Go” until 2021, but then something funky happened when the stage version of “Frozen” made plans to hit the road.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Kristin Dotson, CEO of Celebrity Attractions. “I just know that, when the show’s producers were planning out the tour dates, something funky happened between Minneapolis and Dallas. And we got the first call about it, if we could move things around to bring ‘Frozen’ to Tulsa a year or so early.”
“Frozen” will be in Tulsa for a two-week engagement, June 3-14, 2020, one of the main productions that make up Celebrity Attractions’ 2019-20 Tulsa season, along with “Come From Away,” “Anastasia” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Bringing the best of Broadway to Tulsa has been the mission of Celebrity Attractions since Larry Payton founded the company in 1983. Over the years, Payton grew the company from a part-time enterprise into one of the country’s pre-eminent presenters of Broadway musicals.
That is a legacy Dotson has endeavored to continue, most notably by bringing to Tulsa the biggest show to hit Broadway in decades: “Hamilton.”
Dotson has been with the company since 1994, when she answered a want ad in the Tulsa World from a “local entertainment company.” Since then, she has held just about every possible position within the organization, from pasting together advertisements for print to serving as the company’s marketing and public relations director.
Two years after Payton’s death in 2013, Dotson became the company’s vice president and was put in charge of booking shows for the various series Celebrity Attractions presents (in addition to Tulsa, Celebrity Attractions also presents shows in Little Rock, Arkansas; Springfield, Missouri.; Abilene, Texas; and Amarillo, Texas).
“I remember at the time talking with a friend of mine and saying, ‘What do I know about booking shows?’ ” Dotson said.
It was a worry that proved unfounded, as Dotson helped bring to Tulsa such acclaimed shows as “Jersey Boys,” “Kinky Boots,” “Mamma Mia!,” “An American in Paris,” “Finding Neverland,” “The Play that Goes Wrong” and “Something Rotten!,” as well as “Hamilton,” which filled the Tulsa PAC for three weeks in the summer.
“Hamilton” was one of the most eagerly anticipated shows ever to come to Tulsa, beginning when Celebrity Attractions announced the show would be part of its 2019-20 season two years in advance.
“Working with the ‘Hamilton’ production was a whole different process than usual,” Dotson said. “When the tour started, the plan was for the production to sit for two weeks at each stop. But then everyone started wanting to book more dates, so we had to work with the Tulsa PAC staff to find a three-week span of time for the show.”
The “Hamilton” producers also had very strict rules about other aspects of the production, from not allowing tickets for the show to be included when season tickets were mailed out, and requiring that season ticket sales be limited.
The producers also wanted to control the marketing of the show.
“When we bring in a show like ‘Wicked,’ we paint the town green to let people know it’s coming,” Dotson said. “The ‘Hamilton’ people had their own strategy about how to market a show, but we managed to make them realize that some of the things they wanted wouldn’t work in our market. For one thing, their strategy of limiting the marketing led to the assumption that our run of ‘Hamilton’ was sold out from the start, which wasn’t the case at all.
“Our team here was able to convince the ‘Hamilton’ people to pivot a bit, and trust us to market the show the way we knew would work for Tulsa,” she said. “This team has never worked harder than they did for ‘Hamilton.’ ”
The hard work paid off for Celebrity Attractions; season ticket sales for the 2018-19 season featuring “Hamilton” topped out at more than 14,000, which was an increase of about 30% over the previous year.
And while some markets in which “Hamilton” played would inflate ticket prices because of the demand for the show, Dotson said Celebrity Attractions was determined to keep the Tulsa performances of “Hamilton” as affordable as possible.
“I know some markets in the Midwest were charging $600 to $700 for single ‘Hamilton’ tickets,” Dotson said. “But it was Larry’s business model from the beginning to keep the shows we present as affordable as possible, so that more people would be able to see it.”
But the biggest challenge having “Hamilton” in Tulsa has presented Dotson is figuring out how to keep people who may have come to a Broadway show for the first time coming back for more.
“I know that a lot of people came through the Tulsa PAC doors for the first time in their lives because of ‘Hamilton,’ ” she said. “Some nights I would stand at the back of the hall, and you could just feel the energy from the audience as they watched this show. Our hope is that they were bitten by the Broadway bug, and that means that we need to program shows that appeal both to our long-term subscribers and people who are really discovering live theater for the first time.”
The number of touring productions continues to grow, to the point, Dotson said, that she’s being asked to commit to presenting some shows that have yet to open on Broadway.
“Right now there are so many more shows available than we have slots in our season,” she said. “And I’m always having people come up and say, ‘Oh, I loved this-or-that show, why don’t you bring it back?’ I have to tell them we can’t because there hasn’t been a touring production of that show for a decade or more.”
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