‘Frost/Nixon’: The tricky business of marketing the play vs. the film

Frost/Nixon
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The touring stage version of “Frost/Nixon” has Alan Cox, left, playing David Frost and Stacy Keach as Richard Nixon.

What’s a political junkie to do? The film version of “Frost/Nixon” is out this month, and the touring play is coming to the State Theatre in Minneapolis from Jan. 6 to 11.

The movie stars Frank Langella, who won a Tony for his stage portrayal of former President Richard Nixon and who likely will be an Oscar nominee. The touring play stars Stacy Keach, whom some may recall as TV’s Detective Mike Hammer. Yet Keach also has a distinguished stage career.

Both versions tell the story of how British TV talk-show host David Frost managed to get Nixon to apologize for the actions that forced his resignation in 1974. The play saw its debut in England before moving to Broadway. Then came the film (see trailer here) based on the play. And playwright Peter Morgan wrote the screenplay.

So, play vs. film? Here’s a chance for political junkies to tap their inner art aficionados – or art aficionados to tap their inner politicos. Whatever. See both.

“It’s a great opportunity to look at two mediums and compare them,” suggests Tom Hoch, president/CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, who booked “Frost/Nixon” for the State long before it was known that the film would come out at the same time.

Special weeknight pricing
With the Hennepin Theatre Trust offering some seats as low as $16.50 on weeknights in a special promotion, you might very well be able to afford both. And it’s not a bad deal considering that some movie theaters in the area are charging $10 a ticket these days. Hoch says the offer isn’t tied to the film’s arrival, however.

“It’s not a function of the movie being out,” he says, explaining that productions are booked a year to 18 months ahead of their run. “We know that dramatic productions can be more challenging in finding a market. We know that when we book them … but we feel they’re important for the community to see.”

Competing film and stage productions aren’t new territory for the Hennepin Theatre Trust, Hoch says. The nonprofit trust has dealt with dueling versions of “Sweeney Todd,” “Mamma Mia” and “Titanic.”

For “Frost/Nixon,” marketers are targeting the political junkies and history buffs in town, including direct contact with the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Overall, advance sales are good, Hoch says. 

The audience: political junkies
“You have to have some level of awareness about politics and Richard Nixon … to know why this [play] is a big deal,” he says. “Some people never get enough politics, and that’s our audience.”

So, besides the actors, what’s the difference between the play and the film?

“It might be the same story, but it’s not told the same way,” says Hoch, who is “anxious” himself to see the film and compare treatments. “It’s a different experience for the patron. … The camera plays a large role in the telling of the story. It zooms in on the actor, where on stage it’s the actor having to draw you in.”

Meanwhile, marketers have their work cut out for them in differentiating between the two. “Our focus is on being very clear this is a stage production,” he said.

“Frost/Nixon.” Jan. 6-11. State Theatre, Minneapolis. 612-673-0404. Online. Tickets: $61-$21.
To take advantage of that $16.50 offer, go to the site and type the password DAVID to access the discount. Fees may apply.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Laura Weber on 12/19/2008 - 08:28 pm.

    For what it’s worth, my New York friend Michael, who is a theatre, film, AND political maven says the play is far superior to the movie. His advice to me: see the play first, then rent the movie (assuming it’s gone from the theater by the time the touring show hits town).

  2. Submitted by Casey Selix on 12/20/2008 - 08:54 am.

    Good advice. I’ve been wondering about the best sequence, which prompted the original questions leading to this story. You’re right: Art aficionado and politico aren’t mutually exclusive. My plan: See the play first here, then the movie. I’d like to know the original intent of the playwright and how that translates to the screen. Of course, the playwright in this case has a lot of control over both mediums.

    Anybody else out there with thoughts?

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