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'Nicholas' Was a Joy, but Losses Could Top $700,000; 'La Cage' Switching From Wilshire to Pantages Theatre

August 21, 1986|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

A world without "Nicholas Nickleby" is a poorer world--in more ways than one.

"We knew it was a calculated risk, that we were most likely going to lose money," Ahmanson Artistic Director Robert Fryer said of the show's recent Los Angeles run. "We put a ceiling on our losses of $300,000. The board of directors (of Center Theatre Group) voted to absorb $150,000. Douglas Cramer (a board member) who is Aaron Spelling's partner asked Spelling for $100,000. Robert Ahmanson put up the final $50,000."

The Shuberts and their associates absorbed remaining losses that could total more than $400,000, according to Brent Peek, the show's general manager.

"The weakest nights were Wednesdays and Fridays when only half the show played," Fryer said. "Thursdays were a bit slow, but we usually did well on weekends." He could not venture a guess as to why the show fared so poorly at the box office.

"We offered group discounts and some were not even taken up, but I'm glad we did it. The press was wonderful and we've never had so many letters from the public."

Marty Delman of West Los Angeles, however, thinks she knows at least one reason the show did not take off. She wrote to say that when she tried to secure good seats for the Aug. 8 performance through a Westwood ticket agency, they had the 12 front rows for sale at $175--or $75 more per ticket than the box-office price.

"How did they get a mortal lock on the top seats?" she asked.

"Out here there's no law against diggers (individuals who buy tickets at the box office for resale to an agency)," Fryer said. "In New York they go to jail."

"Nicholas Nickleby" opens at Broadway's Broadhurst on Sunday with engagements in other cities still a possibility.

MERRY-GO-ROUND:"La Cage aux Folles," which had been set to come to the Wilshire Theatre for a return engagement this fall will now be surfacing instead at the Pantages Sept. 23 through Oct. 5.

According to the Nederlander Organization's Stan Seiden, the set for the show (which features Peter Marshall and Keene Curtis) wouldn't fit on the Wilshire stage.

Meanwhile, on the Pantages subscription, "The Magic of David Copperfield" which was due in November has been moved to June, 1987. "Copperfield had television commitments that made it necessary to postpone," Seiden said.

And the beat goes on. . . .

MORE MUSIC THEATER: Local light opera competition will soon be coming from yet another source.

The recently formed nonprofit California Music Theatre, which will operate out of the 2,965-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium, has announced its first season.

Included in the four-show line-up for 1987 are Frank Loesser's "The Most Happy Fella," featuring Pasadenan John Raitt (Feb. 19-March 1); Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam," with JoAnne Worley (May 7-17); Sigmund Romberg's "Desert Song" (Oct. 8-18, 1987) and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's "She Loves Me" (Dec. 10-20, 1987). (Bock and Harnick also wrote "Fiddler on the Roof.")

"It was very important to us to create an immediate image this first season that would say we are not going to do the same old war horses done everywhere else by everyone else," said artistic director Gary Davis. "Any given week I imagine you could find a 'My Fair Lady,' an 'Oklahoma!' or a 'Hello, Dolly!' if you really wanted to. I understand why. They have box-office appeal and they're safer.

"Ultimately, we hope to help create new shows. But first we need to establish a track record and a following. The Pasadena Civic is big, but it's warm. There's a lot of wood and good acoustics and it has a balcony that comes down much farther than most."

FESTIVAL LATINO: Latino theater has been much in the limelight this summer. It was a focus of the Theatre Communications Group conference in Northampton (Mass.) in June and again of South Coast Repertory's Hispanic Playwrights Project in July.

Now our own Bilingual Foundation of the Arts has participated in a massive international Festival Latino currently under way at New York's Public Theatre. The Bilingual's offering last Saturday: Lorca's "La Zapatera Prodigiosa," a production seen locally in March.

The sequel to South Coast Rep's Hispanic Project, incidentally, is the staging of two of the project's three featured plays as part of SCR's regular season--and a commission to the third playwright, Eduardo Machado, for a new play.

Lisa Loomer's "Birds" will be done on the Second Stage beginning Nov. 7; Arthur Giron's "Charley Bacon and His Family" will take over the Mainstage beginning April 7. South Coast artistic co-director Martin Benson will be staging in both cases.

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