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Pantages tweaks recent box-office record for 'Book of Mormon'

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The Pantages Theatre has added an asterisk or two to its claim in October that "The Book of Mormon" had set a new record for the biggest single-week box-office take in Los Angeles theater history.

On further review, Pantages spokesman Wayne McWhorter said, the theater jumped the gun a bit on Oct. 23 when it sent out a news release saying that the musical comedy about Mormon missionaries in Africa had set a new record by raking in $2,246,093 during the week ending Oct. 21.

After The Times reported the claim, McWhorter said that "we got a polite call from 'Wicked,'" whose general manager's office reminded the Pantages that the musical about budding witches in Oz had pulled down $2,291,511.50 in the same house for the week ending Jan. 4, 2009. The proselytizing Mormons were still $45,418.50 short of the mark for a standard theatrical week of eight performances in seven days.

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But they persevered, and the public continued to fork over, until "The Book of Mormon" did, in fact, pass "Wicked" with weekly grosses of $2,346,513 and $2,470,678 in the final fortnight of a run that ended Nov. 25 -- a testament to what the combination of a hot show and "variable pricing" can do.

Under the "variable" or "dynamic" pricing system, the box office raises prices as demand intensifies, allowing producers and presenters to benefit at least to a degree from the same scarcity bonus previously enjoyed only by scalpers. It was first deployed in L.A. when "Wicked" opened at the 2,703-seat Pantages in 2007.

L.A. and the Pantages may have seen hotter shows than "Wicked" and "The Book of Mormon" in decades past, but the fixed pricing system that prevailed back then didn't allow for equally astronomical box office takes, even adjusting for inflation.

There's one final asterisk to note: "The Book of Mormon" failed to set a Los Angeles or Pantages record for the biggest one-week theater gross, if by a week you mean seven calendar days. McWhorter said that "Wicked" remains tops by that measure, having done $2.579 million in business for the week ending Jan. 4, 2009 -- a week when it added a ninth performance, as sometimes happens with hot shows during holiday season. Lacking the extra show, "The Book of Mormon" fell $109,000 short in its most lucrative week at the Pantages.

"Every few years, you wonder where the next blockbuster is going to come from," said McWhorter, who recently alerted The Times about the revised record for "The Book of Mormon." If and when that blockbuster arrives, the crown, whether you want to give it to "Mormon" or "Wicked," may not rest easy.

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