Scratching the Surface


The advertisement for “Cats” declares that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical is “Now and Forever!” At the Orange County Performing Arts Center, truth in advertising apparently is taken literally.

Center officials announced Wednesday that “Cats” will meow there this summer for eight nonsubscription performances (Aug. 18-23), making it the show’s fifth appearance in 10 years at the Costa Mesa roadhouse for touring musicals.

Officials also announced five titles of the six subscription shows for the center’s 1998-99 Broadway Series. “Victor/Victoria,” starring Toni Tennille, will lead off (Sept. 15-20), followed eight months later by “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk” (May 11-16, 1999), then, in swifter succession, “Riverdance” (June 3-9, 1999), “Sunset Boulevard” starring Petula Clark (July 20-25, 1999) and “Miss Saigon” (Sept. 7-12, 1999).


The sixth show, not yet announced or scheduled, may fill a slot in that eight-month gap. “We hope so,” a spokesman said.

Although center programmers wax enthusiastic about the upcoming series, they are nonetheless faced with several less-than-appetizing factors.

“Victor/Victoria” needed a “name” star, specifically Julie Andrews, to overcome mixed reviews on Broadway. It became a 1995 smash hit largely because Andrews was making her musical-theater comeback in it. She hadn’t appeared in a Broadway musical in New York since “Camelot” nearly 35 years earlier.

Moreover, attendance got a boost after a Tony Award brouhaha in which she declined a best actress nomination because the show had been passed over for best musical by the nominating committee. When she left the title role and was replaced briefly by Liza Minnelli and then by Raquel Welch, the show didn’t do nearly as well.

Similarly, “Sunset Boulevard” needed Glenn Close to sustain it. When Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige took over her role on Broadway, attendance declined and the show fell far short of box-office expectations.

In fact, “Sunset Boulevard” did so poorly on the road last season that its tour was canceled before it got to the Performing Arts Center, which had booked it for last summer. It was replaced with a much better musical, Harold Prince’s reconceived hit revival of “Showboat,” only to see attendance dwindle when its five-week run proved too long for the market (and its 1 1/2-hour first act proved too long for many theatergoers).


Center officials have said they are not concerned about the strength of the market, however, in terms of the usual one-week runs for Broadway bookings. Season ticket-holders have tended to fill at least 60% of the seats over eight performances.

Presumably, the market for “Noise/Funk,” an excellent 1995 dance musical without name stars, will not be hurt by its seven-week engagement at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, which ended last Sunday.

“Riverdance,” at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles through May 17 (its second run there), has been a smash hit everywhere. No amount of exposure, including on television, seems to overexpose it. The same is true of “Miss Saigon,” the 1989 hit that played at the Ahmanson for eight months in 1995 and is still running on Broadway.

Subscriptions for the Broadway Series range from $175.75 to $345. Information: (714) 556-2787.

In a separate announcement, the center said it will present a concert-style version of “Wonderful Town,” the 1955 musical by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, July 30-Aug. 2. It will star Lucie Arnaz.