Jacob writes a lot about theatre and stuff, so here it is.


BOOK REVIEW: 'On Broadway' illustrates SpotCo's portfolio

The work of SpotCo, one of the leading advertising agencies in the industry, has been beautifully documented in the new 224-page book On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution which is being released this April by Rizzoli Publications.

SpotCo founder, Drew Hodges, writes the book which covers the development processes of some of the agency’s most memorable and iconic campaigns and graphic design work.  A complete list of SpotCo’s campaigns featured in On Broadway is included below.

The work of a graphic designer and agency like SpotCo is crucial when promoting a production.  The task is to create a visually stimulating piece of artwork or organize a campaign that will market to potential audience members.  Sometimes that can be done with few words, sometimes with no words at all; just colors and an iconic image.

Some of the productions featured in the book are covered in several-paged spreads that go into more extensive detail about the artwork and campaign.  A few of these include RentAvenue QHamiltonGypsyGentleman’s Guide, and several others.  SpotCo has done tremendous work over the years and it is a thrill to be able to not only read about, but see the process behind key art, title treatments, campaign slogans, and the like.

As a young graphic designer, the process of finding a central image can sometimes be a struggling process.  It involves capturing the show’s theme and essence in something that can be very straightforward or abstract, maybe only in black and white, something with just a graphic or text, or involving a photo shoot with or without Photoshop manipulation.  There are dozens of directions to possibly go in, but when you find the concept that works and realize it for print, programs, and social media it’s very gratifying.

It’s encouraging to see several of SpotCo’s drafts and comps for their work in relation to the final product.  Several first-hand accounts from members of the SpotCo team, producers, and actors really help fill in the process when looking chronologically through the drafts.  Surely any of the drafts could have worked for the respective show, but maybe not for these particular on- and off-Broadway productions of said show.

This is an industry of artistic expression after all, and SpotCo's specific goals and particular visions for these campaigns are evident in the final products.  Until now, a lot of those preliminary drafts were just left in "the flat-file drawers”, to quote the book, the equivalent of the cutting room floor and are being seen for the first time in print.

The most impressive and candid of the spreads, in my opinion, covers the development of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder's key art and marketing campaign, along with a hilarious and appealing social media campaign.  The show, which eventually won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, had a long journey to Broadway; almost as long as its quote unquote "sophisticated" title.  Drew Hodges and producers Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, and John Johnson do not deny the difficulty of marketing a show like Gentleman's Guide especially having opened in the fall of 2013 and trudging through the winter and early spring of 2014.  They discuss how un-commercial the show was compared to others that opened that season (and eventually also nominated for Best Musical) and different marketing and graphics strategies to encourage ticket-buyers.

The "little show that could (and did)" did not have big musical sales or stars, but SpotCo decided to take advantage of the show's critical praise to use in their marketing at the end of the season as Tony nominations approached.  The show eventually received the most Tony nominations and won several including Musical, Book, and Director.  Showcased with nearly ten drafts that eventually resulted in the JibJabbed Jefferson Mays standing atop a top hat, crushing two characters - the final pre-Tonys artwork.  Spreads like these are great representations of the process SpotCo takes to sell art with art, no matter what obstacles.  It can be done.

SpotCo has several clients represented on Broadway this season including School of RockWaitress, and Shuffle Along, the latter whose artwork is my favorite so far this year, that are unfortunately not included in the book.  Nevertheless, the best of SpotCo's twenty years are represented in this book.

The book also includes beautiful illustrations on the inside covers by Maurice Vellekoop that were originally commissioned by Drew Hodges for the SpotCo offices on Seventh Avenue.  The commission was for a mural and is a pictorial history of the Broadway musical.  The inside front cover has the section of the mural featuring likenesses of Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Mae West, P. T. Barnum, the Lunts, the Barrymores, among others.  The inside back cover features the likes of Patti LuPone, Joel Grey, Liza Minelli, Zero Mostel, Ethel Merman, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Bernadette Peters, Anthony Rapp, and more.

One of the special bonus features at the very end of the book is given the title, “The Ones That Got Away,” and showcases several never-before-seen comps that were created by the SpotCo team for Wicked, the Broadway run of Matilda, unsurfaced Broadway productions of a Titanic revival and the Ray Charles musical Unchain My Heart, and two from the upcoming King Kong, one of which is particularly stunning and is surprising that it won’t be the show’s artwork.

On Broadway is a must-have for Broadway enthusiasts and people interested in or pursuing theatrical graphic design.  Much like the artwork they’ve created, the book is educational, inspiring, creative, and visually stunning.

More information on the book from the publisher can be found here.  The book will be released on April 26, 2016 and can be purchased online at Amazon or wherever books are sold.  A portion of proceeds from On Broadway will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

SpotCo campaigns featured in On Broadway:

  • Rent

  • Chicago

  • The Old Neighborhood

  • The Diary of Anne Frank

  • Freak

  • Sideman

  • Wit

  • I’m Still Here Damn It!

  • De La Guarda

  • The Donkey Show

  • The Blue Room

  • This Is Our Youth

  • Annie Get Your Gun

  • Closer

  • Kat and the Kings

  • The Vagina Monologues

  • Fully Committed

  • The Wild Party

  • True West

  • The Laramie Project

  • The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife

  • Seussical The Musical

  • Albee (a compilation of SpotCo’s work on Edward Albee plays)

  • Bat Boy

  • The Shape of Things

  • Noises Off

  • Elaine Stritch at Liberty

  • Sweet Smell of Success

  • The Tony Awards

  • Man of La Mancha

  • La Bohéme

  • Medea

  • Gypsy

  • Avenue Q

  • Wonderful Town

  • I Am My Own Wife

  • La Cage Aux Folles (2004)

  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

  • Doubt

  • Julius Caesar

  • The Pillowman

  • Glengarry Glen Ross

  • Sweet Charity

  • The Color Purple

  • The Drowsy Chaperone

  • Faith Healer

  • Butley

  • The Year of Magical Thinking

  • Young Frankenstein

  • August: Osage County

  • In The Heights

  • Shrek

  • West Side Story

  • 9 to 5

  • Hair

  • Reasons to Be Pretty

  • A Steady Rain

  • Finian’s Rainbow

  • Bye Bye Birdie

  • Ragtime

  • The Miracle Worker

  • La Cage Aux Folles (2010)

  • Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

  • The Scottsboro Boys

  • Priscilla Queen of the Desert

  • Anything Goes

  • Catch Me If You Can

  • The Mountaintop

  • Once

  • One Man, Two Guvnors

  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

  • Cinderella

  • Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  • Lucky Guy

  • Kinky Boots

  • Motown The Musical

  • Pippin

  • Richard III/Twelfe Night

  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

  • No Man’s Land/Waiting for Godot

  • Rocky

  • The Last Ship

  • The Elephant Man

  • Fun Home

  • Something Rotten!

  • Hamilton

Jacob Rivera-Sanchez