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Another ‘Phantom’ Will Drop In

Another Phantom is lurking in the wings.

This one is Ken Hill’s musical comedy, “The Phantom of the Opera,” which helped inspire the Andrew Lloyd Webber version. It will play the 2,198-seat Wiltern Theatre Nov. 20-Dec. 3, as part of a national tour that will also play a previously announced engagement in San Diego Dec. 18-Jan. 1.

Hill’s “Phantom” was first staged in Newcastle, England, in 1976, then in London in 1984, two years before Lloyd Webber’s. A St. Louis company introduced Hill’s show to America in 1986.

Last September, Jonathan Reinis opened Hill’s version at his 700-seat Theatre on the Square in San Francisco. It ran for more than nine months, grossing $3.4 million and attracting 200,000 customers, said Reinis.

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The national tour will be directed by author-lyricist Hill himself and employ the designers of the London production. Impresario James A. Doolittle is co-producing at the Wiltern.

“Ours is a sidesplitting comedy as opposed to a romantic melodrama,” said Reinis. “It’s not a complete send-up, but it’s very funny. People can enjoy both ‘Phantoms’ for different reasons.” The music for Hill’s “Phantom” is taken from operas “that would have been at the Paris Opera when the story takes place.” Hill wrote new lyrics.

The touring production will be mounted for $750,000, in contrast with the $8.5 million spent on Lloyd Webber’s version at the Ahmanson. “We are not selling our set,” said Reinis. “The comedy and poignancy spring from the characterizations.”

Reinis is undaunted by the lack of a recent track record for commercial theatrical productions at the Wiltern. “The theater is a character in this play,” he said, “and the Wiltern is perfect for the role.”

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Ticket sales at the 2,200-seat Symphony Hall in San Diego already have yielded a gross of $350,000, reported Reinis, but tickets won’t be available in Los Angeles until next month or September. The producer cited “a more delicate marketing situation in Los Angeles” because of the formidable presence of the other “Phantom.”

A spokesman for that other “Phantom” commented: “The shows are not at all similar, and they can co-exist in the same city.”

MORE MUSICALS: Rudolf Nureyev will star in “The King and I” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Dec. 5-10, and at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood Dec. 26-Jan. 7, according to tentative plans outlined by producer Manny Kladitis.

The show is scheduled to open in Toronto in September. Nureyev has never sung in public before, but Kladitis noted that the role of the King doesn’t require much singing.

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Orange County Performing Arts Center officials declined to comment on “The King.” But it already has been offered as a bonus attraction to Los Angeles Civic Light Opera subscribers. So has the Debbie Reynolds production of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

“Molly Brown,” an enormous hit for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera in May, is tentatively slated to play the Pantages Sept. 12-Oct. 8, after a San Diego Civic Theatre run Aug. 22-27. Although the show was launched as a co-production with the LBCLO and a Houston theater, its tour is a project of Reynolds’ Hamlett Productions. Harve Presnell, who appeared with Reynolds in the 1964 film version, is her co-star on stage too.

When “Molly Brown” played Long Beach, it was billed as “the only Southern California appearance” for the show. “At that point, none of the contracts had been signed for the tour,” said LBCLO’s Pegge Logefeil. This will mark the first time a show has moved from LBCLO to Los Angeles.

But it won’t be the last. Another show already seen in Long Beach, “Peter Pan” starring Cathy Rigby, has been announced as the third entry in the subscription season of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera at the Pantages, scheduled for May 22-June 24, 1990. Actually, it’s not the same production that played Long Beach in 1986. This one is produced by Rigby and her husband, Tom McCoy, and will open in Boston in December. Local productions of “Peter Pan” with Rigby also have played Knott’s Berry Farm and San Diego Civic Theatre.

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“Peter Pan” joins “Starlight Express” (opening Feb. 24) and Shirley MacLaine (April 17-May 20) to make up the LACLO season.

Another musical, the national touring version of “Anything Goes” with Mitzi Gaynor, previously announced for Orange County Sept. 12-17, has added the San Diego Civic to its list of venues. It will play there Sept. 18-24.

SOUTH COAST REPERTORY will launch its 1989-90 season with the Southern California premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s “A Chorus of Disapproval.” The Mainstage production of the British backstage comedy about a maladroit provincial troupe will run Sept. 8-Oct. 15 under David Emmes’ direction.

The Southern California premiere of Australian playwright David Williamson’s “Emerald City” also will occur at South Coast this season. The two titles join a list of five previously announced plays. Three have yet to be announced.

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Following the Ayckbourn play, the rest of the Costa Mesa theater’s Mainstage subscription season will unfold as follows:

Hugh Whitemore’s “Breaking the Code” (Oct. 26-Nov. 30); Howard Korder’s “Search and Destroy” (Jan. 12-Feb. 18); Paul Marcus’ staging of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (March 2-April 8); Richard Hellesen’s “Once in Arden” (April 20-May 27), and a sixth offering to be announced (June 8-July 15).

On the Second Stage, the season will open with Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” (Sept. 22-Oct. 22), followed by Sharman MacDonald’s “When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout” (Nov. 10-Dec. 10); a new play to be announced (Jan. 26-Feb. 25); “Emerald City” (March 16-April 15), and a final play to be announced (May 4-June 3).

The 10th annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” adapted from the Charles Dickens story, will run Dec. 5-24 on the Mainstage as a nonsubscription offering.

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South Coast also has announced that staged readings of three plays will highlight its fourth annual Hispanic Playwrights Project (Aug. 11 and 12): Edit Villarreal’s “My Visits With MGM (My Grandmother Marta),” Cherrie Moraga’s “A Shadow of a Man” and Octavio Solis’ “Man of the Flesh.”

SAN BERNARDINO Civic Light Opera has announced a new nonmusical series of comedy revivals, to be staged at the California Theatre of Performing Arts from July through March. The schedule: “Social Security” with Bernie Kopell and Deborah Raffin (tonight through July 23), “Same Time, Next Year” with Mariette Hartley and Earl Holliman (Aug. 17-27), a production starring Barbara Rush and Carole Cook in January (title to be announced in September), and the distaff “Odd Couple” with Lee Meriwether in March. This will be in addition to the usual musical offerings.

A MEMORY OF OLIVIER: Local theatrical impresario James A. Doolittle said Tuesday that he offered the late Laurence Olivier $25,000 to perform one week of Shakespeare at the Greek Theatre in the late ‘50s--but Olivier turned it down in order to perform at the annual festival in Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-on-Avon, where he was making a mere 80 (approximately $200) a week. “He said mine was a very good offer, but he couldn’t do it, because Stratford was where his heart was,” said Doolittle.

Times staff writer Jan Herman also contributed to this column.

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