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Is Michael Pasadena’s Prince?

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<i> Don Shirley is a Times staff writer. </i>

There was a touch of irony in the news last week that Musical Theatre Works of New York is responsible for suggesting the Pasadena Playhouse as the site of the world premiere of “Sisterella,” the new musical that pop singer Michael Jackson plans to executive produce.

While the fact that this is Jackson’s first foray into musical theater would naturally bring high expectations, the last show from Musical Theatre Works artistic director Anthony Stimac that was produced by the playhouse’s management team was “Fashion,” a musical that closed Theatre Corp. of America’s aborted series at the Alex Theatre in Glendale last summer.

“Fashion” was a critical and box-office disaster. The Theatre Corp., which at the time operated both the playhouse and the Alex, soon thereafter withdrew from the Alex and earlier this year filed for bankruptcy protection. But Lars Hansen, who was formerly Theatre Corp.’s chief operating officer, is still picking the plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.

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So, if “Sisterella” is a hit, the relationship that produced “Fashion” may pay off after all.

“Sisterella,” scheduled for March 17-April 21 following a November workshop at Musical Theatre Works, sets the Cinderella story in turn-of-the-century New York, where a $900-million heiress is committed to an asylum by her stepmother.

Grammy winner Larry Hart wrote the book, music and lyrics. According to his bio, his primary previous credit in musical theater was as writer and co-producer (with Pierre Cossette) of “Larr! Bear,” a musical that played in Las Vegas in 1990-91 featuring such luminaries as Hart, Ozzy Osbourne and Andrea McArdle as teddy bears.

Stimac said “a big search” will be conducted for the actress who will play the leading role. Lisa-Marie Presley, anyone?

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PASSPORT 2000: Would you pay $100 upfront in order to be eligible to buy half-price tickets to Center Theatre Group shows--at the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre?

CTG’s new Passport 2000 will entitle bearers to buy pairs of tickets at 50% off to any or all of the shows at the two theaters during the 1995-96 season.

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“We’re trying to find a program that will address the needs of people who can’t make the commitments to subscriptions” at either of the two theaters, said Nausica Stergiou, CTG’s associate director of audience development.

For bargain seekers who don’t want to buy whole subscriptions (they cost from $97.50 for lesser seats at five Taper previews to $215 for good seats on four Saturday nights at the Ahmanson) the passports “are a good deal and become better, the more you use them,” Stergiou said.

For people who aren’t able to plan their schedules, passports could provide flexibility. Holders can buy tickets at any time after single-ticket sales begin (until a show sells out). They can wait for the critics’ verdicts before deciding whether to buy. By contrast, subscribers book specific seats at specific performances, months in advance. Subscribers can exchange tickets, Stergiou noted, but “a lot of people don’t want to go through that.”

Passport holders’ seats likely won’t be as good as subscribers’ seats, Stergiou said. “Subscribers get the first crack.”

The $100 passport membership will pay for itself if you buy two (non-subscription) tickets to just two Ahmanson shows, which normally cost $60-$65 per ticket. At the Taper, where tickets cost $32.50-$35.50 each, you and a guest would have to see three shows to justify the $100 fee. Or a mixture of three Taper and Ahmanson shows would also do the job.

If you were to see every show at both theaters at discounts off top price, you’d save $462, Stergiou calculates. Of course, the people who see every show are likely to subscribe, she acknowledged. But she said CTG officials hope the passports will encourage more consistent attendance among the current dabblers.

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CTG also hopes that people will enjoy crossing between the two theaters. Right now, there is an overlap of only 2,955 subscribers at both theaters, which recently have been edging closer to each other on the administrative level.

Brochures soliciting membership in Passport 2000 were sent to 40,000 names taken from users of CTG’s “Public Rush” discounts ($10 tickets, 10 minutes before curtain time) from the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art and from several smaller theaters. CTG subscribers weren’t included.

A maximum of 2,000 passports will be issued this first season (hence the name Passport 2000). Each charter passport holder also gets two free tickets to the current Taper production of “Hysteria,” as well as the chance to buy half-price tickets to the Ahmanson’s “bonus” offering of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” plus the regular Ahmanson and Taper shows.

Although the letter accompanying the brochure said passports aren’t available to the general public, in fact anyone can receive an invitation to buy a passport by calling (213) 972-0700 (noon-8 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays), Stergiou said.*

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