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Search For Musicals On

March 14, 1986|HERMAN WONG and RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writers

With the opening of the Orange County Performing Arts Center six months away, the Center is widening its search for musical shows for the inaugural season.

The Center has already announced the signing of such touring attractions as the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony for the season that opens Sept. 29 at the 3,000-seat multipurpose theater in Costa Mesa.

But musicals are to be a pivotal part of the Center's 1986-87 schedule, and only one musical has been officially set--a presentation of "West Side Story" in early 1987 by Orange County's Opera Pacific.

To remedy that situation, Center officials say they are continuing talks with the nation's two biggest theatrical producer-operators, the Nederlander Organization and the Shubert Organization.

And, according to Thomas Kendrick, Center executive director, the Center is also negotiating with the Pace Theatrical Group for a possible 1986-87 subscription series of four to six musical shows, beginning this fall.

The Pace-presented shows, which might include pop headliners, could also be booked the same season in Los Angeles, said Miles Wilkin, president of the New York-based Pace group.

"This (Orange County) is a whole new market that has opened up," Wilkin said. "But we're talking two markets. There's no reason why our shows can't successfully play both Orange County and Los Angeles."

Founded in 1983, the Pace Theatrical Group has been involved with numerous touring shows throughout the country. In Los Angeles, Pace co-produced the musicals "My One and Only" at the Ahmanson Theatre and "The Tap Dance Kid" at the Pantages Theatre last year, and the comedy "Legends" now at the Ahmanson.

Pace has established musical subscription programs in 15 cities in other states--including Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Seattle--but none as yet in California, Wilkin said. Performers that Pace has presented in headliner concerts have included Liza Minnelli and Johnny Mathis.

According to Kendrick, a key advantage of the Pace proposal is that Pace is offering to present musicals for one-week runs. He said this possibility would give the Center greater flexibility in a 1986-87 schedule already being filled with "fixed-date" orchestral, opera, dance and choral appearances.

Unlike the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles--whose long-running musicals have included "A Chorus Line," "Evita" and the current "Cats"--extended musical engagements are less likely at multipurpose arts complexes such as the Orange County Center, Kendrick said.

But he said it is conceivable that some of the Pace presentations might also run longer, especially in the summer. (The already scheduled Opera Pacific's "West Side Story" will run 17 days, beginning Feb. 20.)

Negotiations with Pace are still at the "very preliminary stage," Kendrick said. Neither he nor Wilkin would disclose names of musicals or headliners that Pace might present next season. (Wilkin has already announced that Pace is considering 1986-87 tours of two new Broadway shows, "Song and Dance" and "Singin' in the Rain," but that the cities for this tour have not been decided.)

Wilkin said he expected no "head-on competition" between Pace shows and Orange County's two outdoor concert sites: the 15,500-seat Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and Nederlander's 18,765-seat Pacific Amphitheatre.

"They (two amphitheaters) seek far bigger turnouts, have an emphasis on rock and a different kind of appeal," Wilkin said. "There is room for all of us, especially in such a growing, potent (Orange County) market."

Nederlander, which runs the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, attempted to launch a summer musical series in 1984 at its Pacific Amphitheatre. But two of the announced shows ("Oklahoma!" and "Annie") were canceled, and the third ("Camelot" with Richard Harris) had a sparse turnout.

The Pacific has also presented concerts by Frank Sinatra, Minnelli and Mathis--the kind of middle-of-the-road headliners that the Pace group says it would seek to present at the Orange County Center.

Stan Seiden, president of Nederlander's West Coast operations, said this of the Pace proposal: "Well, you can't stop progress. I guess there's room for everybody. It will split the market, I suppose.

"An act that will play to 3,000 people won't be booked into 19,000-seat. It's like putting a peanut on a watermelon. Lionel Richie is not going to go into a 3,000-seat theater. Every act will seek it's own level.

"There will be a certain amount of overlap," Seiden added. "It just shows that Orange County is growing and that there are people who believe it can support three theaters. I hope they are right."

Of Nederlander's interest in possible shows at the Orange County Center, Seiden said: "I would say that is certainly within the realm of possibility. Anything is possible. If we had something of the right size, we might do something in a 3,000-seat theater."

In addition to possible musical ties with Nederlander, Shubert or Pace, Kendrick said he is also talking with independent producers. Another possibility, he said, is a joint venture with other major complexes, such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

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