"Tamara," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Forever Plaid"--L.A.'s long-running shows have been dropping right and left in recent months. The latest of this pack, "Forever Plaid," closed last Sunday after grossing $5,284,753 in its 82-week run at the Canon (and that was on top of an earlier six-week run at Pasadena Playhouse).
Are there any long-distance runners left in the field?
There are, but you may not have heard of them, despite their longevity. None of L.A.'s current three longest-running shows has much advertising budget, and all are in small, often overlooked theaters that operate on Actors' Equity's 99-Seat Theater Plan.
In first place now, dating from Oct. 17, 1989, is "Zombie Attack," at the Cast Theatre in Hollywood. There have been 332 performances of the Justin Tanner/Andy Daley late-night spoof of yuppies and horror films. Some "Zombie" fans have seen it 10 times. It may not sound like much by "Phantom" fanatic standards--after all, these particular zombies don't sing "The Music of the Night"--but it does indicate the show has acquired a certain cult status.
"It's a creature unto itself," said Daley. Not surprisingly, it's an especially hot item during Halloween season. Although the regular schedule has been reduced to one "Zombie" a week, there will be 10:30 p.m. and midnight performances on Oct. 30 and a 9:30 show on Oct. 31. Two of the actors who play Zombies were married on an earlier Halloween and then showed up on their first anniversary to play their roles in wedding attire.
The second longest-running show is "Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes," a revue of novelty tunes from earlier decades of American pop music. It opened on Aug. 9, 1992 at Center Stage in Woodland Hills and moved to the West End Playhouse in Van Nuys last May.
There have been 152 performances. One of the original cast members, Lloyd Pedersen, was scheduled to return to the show this weekend. An offshoot of the company did a brief run of the show in the country music town of Branson, Mo., earlier this year.
Finally, don't forget "Grandma Sylvia's Funeral," which celebrates its first birthday next Sunday at the Hudson Backstage Theater in Hollywood. This one, an interactive look at a Jewish funeral in the tradition of "Tony and Tina's Wedding," does only one regular performance a week--on Sunday afternoon, so the total of performances isn't very high yet--48.
But nearly 5,000 people have seen it, and nearly 20,000 bagels have been served at Grandma Sylvia's rites. You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate it, contends co-creator Glenn Wein. At one performance, nearly the entire house was bought out for a Korean-American girl's 16th birthday party, so most of the audience members that day were Korean-American teen-agers. "It was like something out of a Mel Brooks movie," said Wein.
If a show on Actors' Equity's 99-Seat Theater Plan is presented more than 80 times, it must be promoted to an Equity letter of agreement, which means higher wages for the actors and greater costs for the producers. This forms a natural cap on the length of many L.A. runs; few 99-Seat producers are willing to make that leap. But producer Martha Mayakis said she hopes to do so with her "Psycho Beach Party" at St. Genesius Theater, a spoof in the "Zombie Attack" genre. Because it performs five times a week, "Psycho" already has passed "Grandma Sylvia's" in number of performances--51. But its 10-week run isn't nearly as long as "Sylvia's" year.