"You have to take risks, but you have to take calculated risks," Armstrong said. "It was quite a risky proposition, but we felt pretty confident in taking it."

Playing Seattle also helped "Hairspray" develop artistically. The producers could work through the production before it got to New York.

"Once you're in New York, there's a different kind of pressure, a different kind of scrutiny, such that you're not able to work on it fully," Armstrong said. "With the New York audience, and the New York press -- it's not healthy for the creative process."

Lion was more diplomatic. "You want to be able to do your work quietly without ... generating opinions before you're ready for that judgment to occur."

Ticket sales swell

Back in New York, the Seattle run was creating excitement. Preview performances of "Hairspray" began at the Neil Simon Theater on July 18. By opening night, Aug. 15, advance ticket sales had swollen to $9 million, from $2 million. Rave reviews brought $2 million in sales on opening day, with advanced sales rising to $17 million by October.

Despite reaching this milestone, no time was left for rest, Lion said.

"Never," she said. "You have a pause on opening night, hope that the audience received it well and that it's going to run.

"It's a living thing," she added. "It's not a repeated experience -- frozen in time, like a movie. There are a lot of issues -- marketing issues, [performance] rights issues -- that come up all the time."

For the week ending June 8, "Hairspray" grossed $981,570 according to the League of American Theaters and Producers, which co-sponsors the Vogel's CTI project with the Theater Development Fund.

The musical's receipts that week -- the most recent available -- were based on the Neil Simon Theater (with more than 1,400 seats) being sold beyond capacity, which includes standing room slots. In fact, the Nederlander Organization, which owns the theater on West 52nd Street, squeezed in 100 more seats for the production.

'A good little kick'

Financing a Broadway musical generally works like this: A musical has an initial capitalization of, say, $10 million. It grosses $1 million a week in ticket sales.

In such a production, it is not uncommon for its weekly operating expenses -- theater costs, salaries, marketing -- to cost $500,000 to $700,000. These come after deductions are made for credit-card sales and union commissions.

The balance, called weekly operating profit, then is split between two groups: the investors and a "pool" consisting of a musical's key creative team -- the producer, writer, director, choreographer and designers. The split, generally, is 60 percent to 40 percent.

The investors' share is paid in equal percentage amounts until the initial $10 million is "recouped." After that, the operating profit is shared by the musical's investors and its producers.

"Hairspray" is financed this way, Lion said, only the investors get 62.5 percent of the operating profit, while the creative pool takes the rest.

In addition, investors continue to profit from licensing agreements for national and international tours, for school and community theater productions, as well as from sales of T-shirts and other merchandise.

"It's not enough to get rich on," Ben Mordecai, a Broadway producer and associate dean of the Yale School of Drama, said of the income from memorabilia sales. "But it's a good little kick."

Celebration at Tonys