By Stuart Elliott

An ambitious, two-part campaign to promote the national tour of the Broadway musical "Movin' Out" that gets under way this week is hoping to get theatergoers in almost two dozen markets into a New York state of mind. Those who know their shows recognize the reference to Billy Joel, who supplied the more than two dozen songs that are used to tell the story of "Movin' Out," centered on the lives of five friends through the 1960's and 1970's. The musical, which won two Tony Awards after opening on Broadway in 2002, is taking its act on the road beginning tonight in Detroit under the aegis of Visa U.S.A., the presenting sponsor of the national tour. Visa is spending an estimated $5 million on a national television commercial by BBDO Worldwide in New York, part of the Omnicom Group, that promotes the tour as well as the Visa sponsorship. There is also a microsite on the Visa Web site (visa.com/movinout) that describes its support, along with a sweepstakes offering prizes like a trip to New York to attend the 2005 Tony Awards.

The Visa effort is being complemented by advertising in the local markets to stimulate ticket sales by Serino Coyne in New York, another Omnicom agency, which includes television and radio commercials, print advertisements, direct marketing and e-mail messages. Serino Coyne is agency of record for "Movin' Out," creating the colorful, exuberant campaign, centered on a sign styled after an interstate-highway marker, that helped sell the show to Broadway theatergoers.

The campaign for the national tour is indicative of the growing interest in entertainment marketing by giant advertisers like Visa, which ally themselves with theater, music and movies as part of efforts to capture the attention of consumers.

Visa has been a Broadway baby for years, sponsoring the national tour of "A Chorus Line" in 1992, which was also promoted in a commercial by BBDO New York; supporting the American Theater Wing, which presents the annual Antoinette Perry Awards known as the Tonys; and serving as the presenting sponsor since 1999 of what are called Live Broadway's Open House Tours, which offer peeks backstage to theater buffs. For "Movin' Out," Visa was a sponsor of the previews in Chicago even before the show opened on Broadway, where it continues to play even as the national tour starts.

"It's an extension of our 'only Visa' platform," says George Perry, director of event and sponsorship marketing at Visa U.S.A. in Foster City, Calif., "that Visa is the only card accepted at the Tonys, at the Olympics, at the Visa Triple Crown races."

Indeed, the campaign notes that Visa is the only credit card accepted for the sale of single tickets for performances of "Movin' Out" during the national tour, which after Detroit is scheduled to move on to places like Buffalo; Hartford, Conn.; Boston; Appleton, Wis.; Denver; Seattle; Tempe, Ariz.; and Los Angeles.

"We felt the national tour would extend our sponsorship and provide a platform for the members and merchants to get behind," Mr. Perry says, members being Visa-speak for cardholders.

"One of the appeals of the show, we felt, is its appeal to a broad audience," he adds, "not only to general theatergoers but to fans of Billy Joel and all the dance aficionados, the Twyla Tharp fans." Ms. Tharp choreographed and directed "Movin' Out" and won one of the show's two Tonys, for choreography; Mr. Joel won the other, for orchestrations.

"We wanted to show these incredible dancers in our commercial," says Peter Smith, a senior vice president and creative director at BBDO New York, "but the challenge was that everyone's seen the commercials for Broadway shows" that offer straightforward snippets of scenes from performances, interspersed with excerpts of critical plaudits.

"We had a germ of an idea, the notion that 'Movin' Out' is moving out," Mr. Smith says, "so we wanted to show the dancers and show a moving truck taking the show on the road, in a literal way," leavened with what he calls "the Visa tradition of using wit to sell."

The result is a humorous commercial that moves out front and center from the pack of traditional show-selling spots. As two workers in a moving truck are listening to the song "Movin' Out," one gripes that the music is too loud. The other worker opens the door to the back of the truck to reveal more than a half-dozen cast members, in costume, performing the number live.

"Sometimes, being literal works," Mr. Smith says.

Visa makes a perfect sponsor partner for "Movin' Out," says Tom Callahan, associate creative director at Serino Coyne, because "Billy's music represents the everyman and Visa represents the everyman card."

"We went after Visa for that reason," he adds, "and Visa came on board almost immediately."

The TV and radio commercials for the local markets created by Serino Coyne, based on the spots the agency produced for the show's Broadway run, use Mr. Joel's songs like "Movin' Out," "Uptown Girl" and "River of Dreams" and also mention the Visa connection.

In one commercial, the announcer proclaims that the show offers "Broadway's coolest music" and "Broadway's hottest dancing." In another, the announcer declares "Movin' Out" is "the show that turns the songs you'll always remember into the Broadway musical you'll never forget."

The television commercial is filled with dance scenes, Mr. Callahan says, because "Twyla's choreography is dancing you have to see." "It's a very tough show to describe because there's no classic book," Mr. Callahan says, referring to the musical's lack of dialog and story-telling through the music and dance numbers. "We had to educate the audience a little bit."

"We tried to do it in print, in paragraphs of copy, but the music and visuals do the job," he adds. "A free sample really works for this show."

For BBDO New York, the "Movin' Out" Visa spot is the second recent agency creation featuring trucks and music, coming after a commercial showing a truck carrying Pepsi Vanilla using a rap tune to outduel a truck carrying Vanilla Coke that plays a song from the 70's.

Hmmmmmmm. Perhaps BBDO New York can create a commercial for a show saluting the music of the Grateful Dead, to be titled - you guessed it - "Truckin'."