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Long Beach Civic Light Opera Hears the Music, Calls It Quits

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach Civic Light Opera, a 47-year-old institution that grew from modest community roots into the most prominent musical theater company in Southern California, is going out of business.

With the decline of Los Angeles Civic Light Opera as a producing organization in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Long Beach company had generated the area’s most high-profile revivals of musical classics and had also ventured occasionally into new or unfamiliar musicals and non-musical plays. Among its stars in recent years were Carol Burnett, Dixie Carter, Nell Carter, Tyne Daly, Charles Durning, Bebe Neuwirth, Sandy Duncan, Leslie Uggams and Lee Meriwether.

Leaders of the Long Beach company, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since October, had hoped to bounce back next year through a series of star-studded fund-raising concerts this year. But by Tuesday only 507 tickets had been sold to the first set of four benefit concerts, scheduled for May 3-5 in the 3,117-seat Terrace Theatre, while the goal had been to sell at least 8,000 tickets. The company’s board met Tuesday evening and decided to fold.

The company owes approximately $1.4 million to its 17,800 subscribers for the current season, in which only one of four scheduled shows was presented, as well as $300,000 to creditors and $70,000 to employees. Assets are estimated at around $70,000. The group will “conduct an orderly liquidation of its assets under Chapter 11,” according to a statement released Wednesday.

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Some observers criticized administrative overspending for the company’s problems, while nearly all observers cited increased competition within the local market.

Competition from within the organization’s home base at Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center was cited as a problem by company officials Wednesday. They said the booking of “Andrew Lloyd Webber--Music of the Night” at the center’s Terrace Theatre for a May 7-12 run--immediately following the dates of the first benefit concerts--confused ticket buyers and dramatically reduced ticket sales for the concerts. Both events would have been concert-style compilations of Broadway hits, though “Music of the Night” focuses on a star composer while the LBCLO concerts were focusing on star performers.

Company officials also noted that Spectacor Management Group, which manages the convention center, is negotiating with other producers about bringing a separate musical series into the Terrace Theatre.

David Gordon, the center’s general manager, confirmed that he is conducting talks with Mark Edelman’s Theater League--which already brings musicals to Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and the Alex Theatre in Glendale--and Edelman’s partner, Space Agency, who teamed to bring the national tour of “Les Miserables” to the Terrace Theatre last December, where it became the center’s largest-grossing musical. LBCLO’s cancellation of three shows this year released 87 performance dates and “we’re obligated to try and book those dates,” Gordon said.

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However, he said his company had done “everything we could” to support LBCLO--participating in a city-devised plan to defer rent and contribute $1 from each parking fee, as well as making a $25,000 contribution to the organization. “It was in our interest to keep them running, and we’re sad to see them fall,” Gordon said.

For LBCLO executive committee member Robert Schumacher, “the sad part is that Long Beach won’t get the community contributions” made by LBCLO in programs for students and seniors.


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