EXCLUSIVE: Here’s a first look at the compelling TV spot created for The Visit, one of the more daring musicals slated for Broadway’s spring season. It’s eye-catching as much for what you see and hear — an almost totally digitally generated procession of ice-cool human statuary — and hear — somber music in the background — as for what you don’t see and hear: No exclamation-point-huzzahs, even though the show won several fine reviews following its premiere last summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and certainly no tap-dancing, hip-thrusting chorines.
In the show, Chita Rivera plays a billionairess who returns to the impoverished town she left in shame as a teenager, with a grotesque offer that her former neighbors prove unable to resist. Based on the 1956 play by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, the musical with a book by Terrence McNally and co-starring Roger Rees, features one of the last scores created by the celebrated masters-of-darkness team of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret) before Ebb’s death in 2004.
The spot is the work of Serino Coyne, one of Broadway’s best-known ad agencies, working with lead producer Tom Kirdahy.
“Tom said, ‘Don’t be afraid of doing something interesting, unique, cognizant of not selling it traditionally.’ He really challenged us,” Vinny Sainato, Serino’s executive creative director, told Deadline. “We fell in love with the idea of statues tapping into memories of a romance, the love, and the end, which is the end of romance.” For that, he turned to CGI producers who could create the environment that would lead into the final image, of a resplendent, bejeweled Rivera that was shot for both the spot (and the show’s poster), by celebrated lensman Frank Ockenfels. “We wanted intriguing and mysterious — and elegant,” said Sainato. “This really is breaking new ground — I can’t remember another Broadway commercial like it.”
That’s not to say the use of computer-generated images is new to the business. CGI has enhanced Broadway ads for some two decades; more recently as the process has gotten less expensive as the technology improved.
“Doing a commercial for a Broadway show is always a puzzle that has to be solved,” says Tom Greenwald, Sainato’s counterpart at Serino’s chief rival, the agency SpotCo. “If you just shoot something onstage, it can look flat on TV. And plenty of times there’s no show to show; it hasn’t opened yet and the option of shooting on stage is off the table. So you have to show a product without showing the product.” SpotCo created a similarly ambiguous spot for The River, the Hugh Jackman-starring conundrum of a play that recently concluded its limited run at Circle in The Square.
Expect a transition to more tradition commercials after The Visit opens (it begins previews March 26 at the Lyceum Theatre and officially bows April 23). “It’s really just a teaser,” Sanaito says, adding that no focus groups were invited to comment on the spot’s effectiveness. “The test of its effectiveness will be when we put it up.”