November 30, 2006 4:46 PM | By Adam Roberts | 11 Comments

Playbillgate

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My cell phone rang yesterday and it was my friend Mark, theater critic and music blogger. "Adam!" said Mark, eagerly. "You blew the lid off a Playbill scandal!"

It took a moment to understand what Mark was referencing and then I recalled that I posted a post on All That Chat, the theater message board yesterday. (Yes, I'm a theater dork, I read theater message boards. Sue me!) I posted the post to help answer a question that's bugged from the moment my enthusiasm for food caught up to my enthusiasm for theater. Are the restaurant plugs that you see at the back of a Playbill real or made up?

You see, for those of you who haven't had the good fortune to see a Broadway show yet, at the back of the Playbill that you get at each performance there's almost always a page where two Broadway actors reveal what is supposed to be their favorite New York restaurant. I have a Playbill from Spamalot with me on my desk right now and on pg. 42 the top of the page says, "Celebrity Choice" and there are two theater celebs: Adriane Lenox from "Doubt" (which is no longer playing; it's an old Playbill) and Alan Tudyk from "Spamalot."

Adriane, it says, chooses Monte's on MacDougal Street between W. 3rd & Bleecker. "For 22 years, Giovanni Masconi has been running a little piece of heaven on Greenwich Village's MacDougal Street," says the text beneath Adriane's picture. Did Adriane really say that? "A little piece of heaven?" And what's Monte's? Has anyone ever heard of it?

Alan chooses "Marseille" (a restaurant that I have heard of) and the text says, "A year ago, shortly after Andy D'Amico had come aboard as executive chef at Marseille restaurant, he and general manager Robert Guarino took a trip to Marseille...." The text sounds like standard promotional material, not a genuine account by an enthusiastic restaurant fan.

So I posed the question on All That Chat. "How does this work?" I asked. "Do these actors get paid to shill for a restaurant? Or do these actors really genuinely recommend these restaurants?"

The responses came in pretty quickly. RelaxnNYC writes, "A good friend of mine was featured in the 'actor's' pick column. He told me that Playbill approached him, gave him the name of the restaurant, and gave him a free meal in exchange for the publicity. He didn't have anything to do with what was written in the column."

BroadwayFan says, "I believe that all the restaurants that are "recommended" by theatre celebs purchase advertisements in Playbill. In exchange for advertising in Playbill, they get the "celebrity recommendation feature" once or twice a year. If a restaurant doesn't pay to advertise, they don't get the featured in the celeb column."

TheGuy tells a funny tale. He writes: "Thirty years ago I was working on the New York Shakespeare Festival at Lincoln Center's production of THREEPENNY OPERA when Ellen Greene opened the Playbill and found out that she had 'recommended' a steak house. She went to the press agent to complain and was told 'don't worry, you get a free meal' but that would not assuage Ellen, who was a vegetarian. She asked for a retraction but none was forthcoming."

Finally, JBFB tells a similarly funny story about Kelli O'Hara, star of "Light in the Piazza." "I took my girlfriend ( a huge o'hara/piazza fan) to the see the light in the piazza for her birthday. i surprised her by taking her to a really nice restaurant (we went to "kelli's pick" in the playbill) and i showed her kelli's playbill column after we ordered an expensive dinner to explain why we were there. she went nuts, and loved it, and i told her we were meeting kelli backstage after dinner and the show. so talking to miss o'hara afterwards, i told her we went to her restaurant, and she said...oh, was it good? i've never been there....i get a free meal though...i've GOT to go! too funny."

So there you have it. Next time you hold a Playbill, put it down or you may be infected by its LIES.

11 Comments

I always wondered about those "recommendations"...they looked too cutesy and phoney-sounding to be real...almost like those quips from critics that shows and movies would put in their ads...the publicists would self select a few choice words that made the reviews sound golden, and then you'd read the entire review, and find that the review was not great at all!

Heh, my aunts used to always take me to Monte's after going to shows when I was a kid!

Being a huge Broadway fan myself, I had often wondered about those little restaurant plugs, too. I'm not surprised to read that they're not real.

Way to go Bernstein.

I would file this under "no duh!" Is this news to anyone?

I agree with Nelson. This is pretty common knowledge.

My best gay boy-friend's neighbor is a top exec at playbill. I'll be seeing them this week in Florida, I'll ask him and see what he says.

you might call it "pay-to-Playbill"

Oh that's too funny! A few years back I opened up my PlayBill and saw a classmate (who'd been in a few shows that I'd seen, too) recommending some place that I hated. I was kind of like, ah.. interesting.. I thought he had better taste than that. Hahahaha. That explains a lot!

PS What's your fave show, or do you have one?

It was wonderful to newly stumble upon your website and find a fellow epicural* thespian with a similar late-blooming taste for olives and demonstrated caution when it comes to bleu cheese.
wow.
I'm been a food blog-voyeur for the last year, and hope to visit yours more often. I haven't seen any good ones in DC where I'm currently based that aren't just a litany of restaurant reviews. Any opinions or recommendations?
*the word doesn't exist but sounds great...and rhymes with mercurial...

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