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Theater : ‘Phantom’ Still Raising the Rafters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Midsummer reality check: County theatergoers have money to burn when it comes to “The Phantom of the Opera.” Last week, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical extravaganza grossed slightly more than $1 million in Costa Mesa.

Does this come as a surprise? Not really. But it’s not business as usual, either.

The show, which runs through Sept. 3 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, is also averaging about $100,000 a day in box-office walk-ups and phone sales. That is roughly four times the amount any Broadway show has done on any given day since the center opened eight years ago.

“We’re getting close to sold out for the entire run,” a center spokesman said earlier this week.

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Meanwhile, a small but steady stream of “Phantom” fans has been showing up nightly at the center’s stage door. That, too, is not unexpected.

Most fans want to meet Grant Norman or at least get his autograph, preferably on an 8-by-10 glossy. He plays the man in the mask, which makes him the star of the show, if you don’t count the chandelier.

Fans did come up with one minor surprise, though, given the center’s tight stage-door security. Somebody entered Norman’s dressing room and made off with his bathrobe. “It has his name and the show’s logo printed on the back,” the spokesman said.

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AND NOW THIS: In case you haven’t noticed, the “Phantom” marketing machine is always ready to serve. Restaurants near the center are offering diners pre-show musical warm-ups (“Phantom” songs performed cabaret-style by local opera singers), raffles for free tickets and bus shuttles. One hotel sold 700 weekend packages for “Phantom"-goers to stay the night after the show and soak up the glamour of beautiful downtown Costa Mesa.

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GREASE UP: Remember that pale imitation of a Broadway musical called “Grease” that graced the center’s stage for a week in March? Well, that piece of nothing, which did booming business, of course, is doing even better in New York this summer. The price of the top “Grease” ticket on Broadway just went through the roof. It’s $67.50. And some of you thought the “Phantom” top ticket ($61.25) was highway robbery?

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CATCHING A STREETCAR: Across the street from the center at South Coast Repertory, rehearsals began earlier this week for “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The revival of the Tennessee Williams classic will launch the 1994-95 season Sept. 2 on the SCR Mainstage, on the heels of the “Phantom” closing.

Funny how popular “Streetcar” suddenly is. It’s always being revived somewhere, but theaters everywhere seem to have gotten the same idea at once.

“There’s a rash of ‘Streetcars’ this season,” said Jim O’Quinn, editor of American Theatre, the trade magazine. Four productions at regional theaters around the country, including SCR’s, will open in September alone.

It’s still too early to tell how playgoers are responding to SCR’s subscription drive, said SCR spokeswoman Madeline Porter. But it looks promising--at least as good as last season, anyway.

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As for last season’s offerings, the two most popular shows turned out to be “a bit of a surprise,” Porter said. The top grosser on the Mainstage was Brian Friel’s “Dancing at Lughnasa” and, on the Second Stage, Athol Fugard’s “Playland.”

In fact, “Lughnasa” turned out to be “one of the biggies of recent years,” she added. “It’s right up there with ‘The Crucible’ and ‘Shadowlands.’ ” All four shows were directed by SCR co-founder Martin Benson.

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BARD BIZ: Shakespeare Orange County, the county’s only classical troupe, is doing well this summer on several fronts. The company matched its subscription goal, signing up 842 season ticket-holders, and exceeded its fund-raising projection of $30,000 by more than 50%. It brought in $46,000 in contributions.

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Walk-up business for “Twelfth Night,” which closes this weekend at the Waltmar Theatre in Orange, also has held up. “We’ve had very good word-of-mouth on the show,” SOC artistic director Thomas F. Bradac said.

“Hamlet” did better two seasons ago (it’s SOC’s top grosser), as did “Much Ado About Nothing” last season.

Next up is “King Lear,” with Alan Mandell in the starring role. It opens Aug. 12. If he lives up to expectations and the production matches him, SOC could have a new box-office champ.


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