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Great White Way -- in full color

Times Staff Writer

Whether soon-to-be Broadway blockbuster or flop-in-the-making, ticket sales depend on getting the word out. One way to do that is by creating visual images that define a show.

Think of those instantly recognizable “Cats” eyes, “Les Miz’s” woeful little Cosette or the stern visage of “The Lion King.”

Beyond those cannily marketed logos, though, are other images from countless shows, old and new, memorable and long forgotten.

In his big, glossy new book, “A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork,” veteran theatrical producer, manager and theater historian Steven Suskin has collected more than eight decades of show art. It reveals as much about American culture as it does about the history of American theater.

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A 1925 ad for “The Garrick Gaieties,” for example, introduces “breezy new songwriters Rodgers & Hart.” The ho-hum art for “Away We Go!” gives way to a colorful revised version, with the show’s new title -- “Oklahoma!” Poor ticket sales led to the dumping of “The Rainmaker’s” cartoony line art in favor of a photo of stars Geraldine Page and Darren McGavin in a steamy clinch. “I wanted to surprise people,” Suskin said. “I could have used the popular record covers. But I want people to get a new feeling about something they think they know. The whole idea is you can pick the book up and just have fun.”

Excerpts:

The Rainmaker, 1954 Cort Theatre, 125 performances, post-Broadway tour (Washington).

“Facing poor business, the producers shifted the emphasis by capitalizing on Geraldine Page ... with this tempestuous photo ad.”

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Fiddler on the Roof, 1964 Imperial Theatre, 3,242 performances.

“Tom Morrow’s artwork was quickly changed to put top-billed Zero Mostel on the roof, but he was gone within a year -- because of uncontrollable scenery-chewing -- and the dancing girl regained her position.”

A Raisin in the Sun, 1959 Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 530 performances, pre-Broadway tryout (Philadelphia).

“The striking portrait of star Sidney Poitier can be viewed, literally, as a raisin in the sun.”

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