NEW YORK — Can a cherubic 10-year-old pitchman with the unlikely name of Cubby Bernstein help remake the way Tony Award nominees sell themselves to voters — and to paying theatergoers as well?
As Broadway counts down to Sunday's 2008 Tony Awards, honoring the best of the Broadway season, the Internet, primarily through YouTube, has become a way to win friends and perhaps influence voters. And Cubby, on his Web site www.cubbybernstein.com, has been in there, aggressively selling his "client," the nominated musical Xanadu.
Admittedly a long shot for the top prize of best musical, Xanadu is a good-natured spoof of the 1980 Olivia Newton-John disco movie. It has scored points with the Broadway community with its mock videos. In a series of short episodes, Cubby is seen flacking Xanadu as real-life Tony winners — including Nathan Lane, Duncan Sheik and John Lloyd Young — extol his virtues as "a Tony campaign manager."
Already one of the episodes — featuring the show's buff star Cheyenne Jackson shirtless — has had more than a half-million hits on YouTube. Another has Cubby selling cupcakes in front of the theater (with the proceeds going to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS). A third has Patti LuPone as Madame Rose, the ultimate stage mother, wanting to hire Cubby to work his magic for her two daughters, Baby June and Louise.
"Cubby's secret is that he has a youthful production team willing to breathe new life into producing and to take advantage of the Internet, something we older producers never had or would have probably never thought of," says Martin Richards, producer of the Academy Award-winning film version of Chicago.
In truth, Cubby is as real as toilet-paper legend Mr. Whipple, Madge the manicurist (of liquid dishwashing detergent fame) or coffee spokeswoman Mrs. Olson. But that doesn't stop Douglas Carter Beane, Tony nominee for the book of Xanadu, from talking about the lad as if he were not young actor Adam Riegler, but a real person. Riegler is a child stage veteran who will be on Broadway this fall, playing Young Shrek in Shrek the Musical.
"Cubby's short and there's a lot of rage … but he gets what he wants," Beane says. "He's a fighter, and for a little man, he's got a big Rolodex. People owe him, and he's not above calling that in."
Besides Xanadu, the best-musical nominees are Cry-Baby, In the Heights and Passing Strange.