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‘Phantom’ Scares Up Record Advance Sales

Eight million dollars and counting.

That’s how much has already been committed for tickets to the Los Angeles production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which won’t open at the Ahmanson Theater until May 31, following almost two weeks of previews.

The $8,035,000 figure includes $7,419,000 in paid-for tickets and $616,000 in group reservations not yet paid, according to the production’s general manager Alan Wasser. It already exceeds the $8,018,000 in advance sales that “Les Miserables” tallied by its opening date last year. And “Les Miz” reportedly set the previous record for advance ticket purchases in Los Angeles.

The figures for the Los Angeles “Phantom” also far exceed the corresponding figures for the “Phantom” that opened on Broadway last year. Four months and one week prior to the opening of the New York “Phantom,” only $2,963,000 worth of tickets had been sold.

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However, New York tickets at that time were available only through mail order or group sales, not over the phone as they have been in Los Angeles. And the New York production lacked a built-in subscription base, which the Los Angeles production has at the Ahmanson Theatre. By opening night for the Broadway “Phantom,” advance sales had reached $19 million.

“Phantom” tickets went on sale here Oct. 30, and the orchestra is already sold out through Sept. 10. Tickets aren’t available for performances beyond Sept. 10, though an extension is surely in the works.

A large chunk of the sales went to the 72,500 Ahmanson subscribers, each of whom was given the option of buying four additional “Phantom” tickets. Approximately 35% of them took advantage of that offer and bought at least one more ticket.

The general public has been able to buy tickets via charge cards or mail order by calling the 800 number listed in the ads. But the only remaining seats are in the parquet (mezzanine) and balcony.

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Through official channels, that is. Other ways to buy orchestra tickets are being advertised.

For example, the Arizona-based Jack’s Ticket Agency, which is advertising orchestra seats at the Los Angeles “Phantom,” offers prices ranging from $150 to $300, for “almost any performance between May 28 and Sept. 7.”

Orchestra seats that were purchased through the “Phantom’s” official 800 line cost $50.

“We deeply hate scalping,” said Wasser. “We’ve done everything we can to eliminate it,” but he added that there isn’t much that can be done about it in California--in comparison with New York, where anti-scalping laws are more restrictive.

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The producers limit the number of tickets that can be bought at the box office (which hasn’t yet opened here) and refer telephone requests for more than 20 tickets to group sales, where personnel attempt to weed out the professional brokers. But most brokers probably wouldn’t make single requests for more than 20 tickets. A caller to Jack’s Ticket Agency was told the agency had no more than eight tickets for any single performance.

The Los Angeles “Phantom” has a budget of $8.5 million, said Wasser. This is more than the “slightly under $8 million” that was spent to mount the show on Broadway in 1987, he added, attributing the increased costs to the travel expenses of the London- and New York-based personnel, as well as inflation. He also noted that each “Phantom” production is custom-made. “We don’t produce in volume,” he said. “We build the chandeliers one at a time.”

TAPER NEWS: A new play, Bill Cain’s “Stand-Up Tragedy,” will replace an old one, Corneille’s “L’Illusion Comique,” in the March 17-April 9 slot at the Taper, Too, the Mark Taper Forum’s second stage, located at the John Anson Ford Cultural Center.

Cain’s play is set in a Catholic high school for boys on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It’s the story of a young teacher’s attempt to rescue an abused boy from his family, gangs and drugs, told “through rap music and highly stylized staging,” according to a Taper statement.

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Ron Link, who used the British equivalent of rap music in his highly stylized staging of “Bouncers,” will direct.

Cain’s play was developed in last fall’s Taper Lab ’88 New Work Festival, where “we got so excited about it, I knew we had to find a place for it,” said Taper, Too producer Madeline Puzo. “We decided to postpone ‘L’Illusion Comique,’ a classic we can do another time.”

Meanwhile, the Taper has hired a new casting director, Stanley Soble, from New York, where he worked for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival from 1980 to 1984 and as an independent since then.

Notwithstanding his years in New York, Soble has worked twice in Los Angeles (including the Ahmanson production of “The Pirates of Penzance”), and “I’m making myself available to as many Los Angeles actors as I can see. I’m going to as many Waiver shows as I can. I have no preconceptions.” Soble finds the talent pool here “enormous. But the problem is wooing them into the theater. In New York, they don’t have as much temptation from movies and television.”

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WEST END RUN: “Operating an Equity Waiver theater was like making love to the partner of your choice--who had a heart condition,” observed Michael Bell. “You never knew when the foreplay would turn into something like the Heimlich maneuver.”

With those words, Bell announced that he and partner Victoria Carroll will no longer run the West End Playhouse in Van Nuys. Producer Ed Gaynes is taking over the lease at the 83-seat theater.

Despite the critical success of the recent “Ladies of the Camellias,” “we could not get the audiences we deserved,” said Bell. “Every inch was hell.

“And trying to get (the Mark Taper Forum’s) Gordon Davidson down to see (‘Ladies’) was like trying to raise Mao Zedong from the dead,” he quipped.

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Bell estimated that he and Carroll lost more than $5,000 on “Ladies.” Furthermore, their landlord was doubling their rent--from $1,200 to $2,400 a month.

Gaynes, the new leaseholder, is not ready to announce any programming at the West End. But he is co-producing the transfer of “Monsoon Christmas,” a Waiver hit at Hollywood’s Lex Theatre, to the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks, opening Jan. 20.

AWARDS: The Pasadena Playhouse will host the 12th annual Drama-Logue awards at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Admission is free, and the public is invited. “Les Miserables” Producer Cameron Macintosh will be honored with the trade journal’s Publisher/Critics Award.


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