Every time I pass by The King and I merchandise booth in the upper part of the Vivian Beaumont lobby, I think: I’d really like a pair of those pajamas. Unfortunately, the silken pajamas in question, which come in luscious red and shiny navy, are only available in children’s sizes. I mentioned this recently to Matt Murphy, the owner and operator of www.broadwaystore.com and of Marquee Merchandise, which supplies show-related items to Lincoln Center Theater.
“When we discussed what merchandise to sell for The King and I,” Murphy said, “the idea of pajamas for adults came up. I guess we didn’t think that many adults wear pajamas anymore. But some kids still do, and there are a lot of cute kids in The King and I, so we decided to make the pajamas for children.”
Murphy and his team typically begin discussing merchandise ideas for a given show with LCT staff three or four months before previews begin. “We go back and forth,” he said, “trying to figure out what is appropriate, what will sell, and what we should take a chance on.” One of the chancier items for The King and I is a wooden hand fan featuring the production’s logo and poster artwork.
“We weren’t completely sure about how the fan would sell,” Murphy said. “But it’s turned out to be our most popular unique item. People are attracted to something different.”
Asked to name the most unusual item his company has done for Lincoln Center Theater, Murphy answered that there were several. But when pressed he chose a cooking spoon from the 2013 production of Macbeth. “It was a wooden spatula spoon,” Murphy said. “It looked somewhat medieval. It had the Macbeth logo and the phrase, ‘Double, double, toil and trouble…’” Murphy added that the item “flew off the shelves.” Why? “It was kitschy in just the right way. It was functional. It was a conversation piece.”
Novelty items may stir the pot, but they aren’t the essence of the sales soup. The King and I fan may do just fine, but Murphy said that the souvenir program and the show’s CD are the most popular merchandise. “The program sells well because the production is so gorgeous and only lush photos can really give you an idea of that.” He added: “And the CD is a huge seller because people want to be able to hear those Tony-winning voices, like Kelli O’Hara’s, when they go home.”
Murphy’s staff at the merchandise booth – which was beautifully redesigned just prior to The King and I – keep their ears cocked for customer preferences. “People kept asking for youth sizes for the show’s poster tee-shirt,” Murphy said. “So now we have them available.”
But back to those pajamas. When they were in the early-idea stage, he mentioned them to his wife, Julie Murphy, who has a company, Moonberry Kids, and a website, www.shopmoonberrykids.com. “My wife used to be in the fashion biz, so I thought she would be good to sound out about this. She had been shopping quite a bit on Alibaba” – the giant Chinese e-commerce company. “She found the right pajamas on that site. So we got them there and sent them to our embroiderer, who sewed the show’s logo on to them. They turned out really well.”
Murphy said there has not been enough customer demand to warrant offering the pajamas in adult sizes. Which isn’t to say that a few such items haven’t been procured.
“We had some done as opening-night gifts for a few people” – Lincoln Center Theater employees and Bartlett Sher, the production’s director. Murphy revealed that one senior LCT staff member – discretion demands that I not disclose the name – has reportedly worn them around the office. After hours, I’m hoping.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.