In talking to Matt Murphy, whose company - Matt Murphy Productions - oversees the merchandise for "War Horse" - I was reminded again of one of the overwhelming truisms of this show: "War Horse" is a play that thinks it's a musical.
"That's so true," said Murphy when I spoke with him the other day. "Typically, you sell a lot more merchandise for musicals than for plays. However, the merchandise sales for 'War Horse' have exceeded those of even some musicals. The sales are similar in quantity to 'South Pacific,' which was a huge success at Lincoln Center Theater."
To what does Murphy attribute the merchandising bonanza of "War Horse"? "Because the show is so spectacular, audience members want to take a piece of it home with them. A lot of people are very moved by the ending. They come out of the show crying, and are wiping their tears as they ask, 'What size does that shirt come in?'"
According to Murphy, who started his merchandising company with the off-Broadway hit "Altar Boys," for which he was one of the producers," a common audience comment to the sales staff at the merchandising booth in the Vivian Beaumont is, "Oh my God: this show is so amazing. How do they do it?"
That comment gives the salespeople the opening to reply, "If you'd like to know the answer, we have some great merchandise that gives you the behind-the-scenes story." Murphy is referring to the DVD called "Making War Horse" and the beautiful volume "Handspring Puppet Company," about the artists who developed the show's puppets. (This merchandise, and much else, is available at www.lct.org/shop)
Murphy, who has handled the merchandise on such recent Broadway productions as "In the Heights," "A Little Night Music," and "Memphis" (he's also a producer of that last show), says that people buy merchandise to continue their experience of a production, or to spark their memories about it.
"A trigger for those memories is a show's art work," Murphy said. "Generally, we do not put a show's poster art right on a tee shirt. You usually do the logo. But for 'War Horse' we do have items with the poster art." As for other artwork, he mentioned that the souvenir tote bag is popular in part because its art work is subtle. "It doesn't scream at you. You have to get close to it to really appreciate its beauty."
As I concluded my conversation with Murphy, he mentioned another item. "The fleece vest we sell is unique. We don't usually do fleece vests. We do it in the case of 'War Horse' because it's outdoorsy and rugged and fits the tone of the show." Is Murphy missing other opportunities for rugged apparel merchandise? "It would be great to have a tweed jacket. But our merchandising booth at the Beaumont is four feet wide and only a few feet deep. There's only so much we can carry."
I'm amazed at how much merchandise Murphy and his team are able to stock at their relatively modest-sized store. "We strive to be resourceful," he answered, before asking me if I would mention his website,www.broadwaystore.com. (Happily.)
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.