MUSICAL'S INFOMERCIAL MAY BE JUST THE TICKET

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NEW YORK-It opens at a bustling bordello, stars a host of scantily clad dancers and features its own toll-free phone number, 1-800-BROTHEL.

No, this is not some lascivious late-night public access show on Manhattan Cable. Rather, it's Broadway's latest attempt at hawking theater tickets.

Ripping a page from diet guru Susan Powter, producer Stevie Phillips has devised an infomercial to lure patrons to her lavish, $7 million Broadway musical, "The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public."

The effort marks a first for the Great White Way and a first, too, for Ms. Phillips' partner in the venture, Future Thunder Productions, a small but thriving company fast becoming one of the most successful producers of direct response TV.

Led by TV-host-turned-pitchman-entrepreneur Jim Caldwell, Future Thunder has made millions pitching products-from fishing lures to auto engine lubricants.

But with the "Whorehouse" infomercial, airing on local TV stations, the team behind it has a far more complex task: selling a glamorous, expensive commodity that everyone can live without.

"It's an experiment," admitted Ms. Phillips, who's being bankrolled by Universal Pictures, the original producer of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." "We really don't know if it will work."

Indeed, infomercials are risky business. They're expensive to create and air. Direct response companies must shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce the shows and buy time on TV outlets before one dollar comes in. That such ventures rarely succeed only heightens the risk.

But Future Thunder is one of the success stories. The 5-year-old company was established in Clinton, N.Y., after Mr. Caldwell hosted several infomercials in between eclectic broadcasting jobs, which have included stints on "Tic Tac Dough" and "PM Magazine."

Soon after, the company hit it big with the Flying Lure, a $39.99 set of lure baits that have reeled in more than $65 million in sales, a big slice of the nation's fishing business and plenty of unsuspecting bass.

"It's a real opportunity to see if this format can work with an unconventional product," Mr. Caldwell said of the 30-minute "Whorehouse" feature.

The result is a production that combines hoochie coochie and hucksterism. It offers snippets of dancers strutting in glittering, skimpy outfits. There are interviews with choreographer Tommy Tune, costume designer Bob Mackie and writer Larry L. King. There are cast members belting out three of the show's 11 tunes.

Along the way, an 800-number is flashed onto the screen five times, imploring viewers to grab the deal-good seats at a 25% discount, or $48.75 for an orchestra seat.

In between, Mr. Caldwell, as host, sells comfort and fear at the same time. He boasts of the spanking new seats that have been installed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for the show and warns that buying tickets through brokers often means paying big bucks.

Still, Mr. Caldwell has his doubts, especially from a financial standpoint. Although he won't divulge figures, the infomercial reportedly cost $300,000 to produce and each TV station could charge at least $7,000 for the time.

Whatever happens, Mr. Caldwell intends to keep on pitching, because he knows people will often part with their dollars even if they don't need the product.

His proof? He once sold a green, medicinal-tasting health drink made entirely from one ingredient: an aloe vera plant.

Mr. Mirabella is a reporter at Crain's New York Business.

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