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'Phantom of Opera' to Materialize at Ahmanson Next May

June 09, 1988|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Hold on to your chandeliers.

It's official: The highly touted, seven-times-Tony-decorated "The Phantom of the Opera" will be haunting the Ahmanson Theatre starting May 31, 1989. No need to fly to New York to see this show. Previews will begin May 18.

"Phantom" producer Cameron Mackintosh confirmed the news Wednesday from London, saying, "We'll run the show as long as the Los Angeles public wants it there."

Indeed, the "Phantom" will materialize as the last show of the 1988-89 Ahmanson season so it can be booked for an open-ended run.

As it's expected to spill into the next year and beyond, it means the 1989-90 Ahmanson season will change venue. Interim artistic director Marshall W. Mason is already working on moving the customary four shows into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (a musical) and the Doolittle Theatre (three plays).

The Los Angeles "Phantom" will be a totally new production (as were Mackintosh's "Cats" and his "Les Miserables"). It will be directed by Harold Prince (who just won the latest of his double-digit Tonys for this show). Casting comes later.

Big budget for the ultra-expensive show will be "between $7 and $8 million," Mackintosh said, estimating weekly operating costs "in the region of $450,000."

The theater, however, could hardly be better suited to the show. Considering the mystery of the piece and famous dropping chandelier, the very features usually cited as problems at the Ahmanson become advantages: Cavernous space, high ceiling and high balconies. "Balcony seats," Mackintosh said, "become very attractive."

Meanwhile, the rest of the 1988-89 season is still up in the air. "We're in negotiations for about five things," Mason said, adding that he's still "hoping for (Alan Ayckbourn's) 'A Small Family Business' and Stephen Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music.' "

But count on "Phantom" to work more magic than meets the eye. It should spell a new era of financial security for the theater that may enable its leadership and its board, at last, to tackle the long-term problems that beset the Ahmanson.

Many people connected with the theater have believed for a long time that it would benefit from redesign. This may afford an opportunity to make it more hospitable.

EKLEKTIKH CHEKHOV: It had to happen. Eimuntas Nekrosius, the acclaimed Lithuanian director who sent shock waves through the American theatrical community with his stunning productions of "Uncle Vanya" and "Pirosmani, Pirosmani" (recently on display at Houston's Alley Theatre and Chicago's International Festival), is coming to Los Angeles.

He'll stage an English-speaking "Ivanoff" at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, with American actors, summer or fall of 1990.

"I went to Chicago because Nekrosius was the one director whose work I wanted to see when I went to the Soviet Union last month," Bushnell said. "I couldn't, of course, because he was here."

It will also mark the first time the taciturn Nekrosius, who speaks no English, will work on an American timetable.

"We're bringing him in this summer, while (Norwegian director Stein Winge) is doing 'The Inspector General' for us," Bushnell said.

"Nekrosius is used to months of rehearsal. I thought it would be valuable for him to see how we work in a five-week rehearsal period. It's a matter of scheduling. The hours are ultimately almost the same. Where they work three to four hours a day (in Lithuania), we work seven to eight."

Why Chekhov's "Ivanoff"?

"Nekrosius chose it, and that was fine with me."

For a number of reasons.

Aside from this "Ivanoff," it so happens that Charles Marowitz will stage a Michael Frayn translation of "The Seagull" as part of the 1988-89 fall lineup (see related story on page 9); that Jose Luis Valenzuela (who runs LATC's Latino Theatre Lab) has an idea for a Mexican Revolution "Uncle Vanya" to be staged in 1990, and that director Tony Richardson ("Antony and Cleopatra") is contemplating doing a "Cherry Orchard."

"There it all was," Bushnell said, "staring me in the face, starting with 'The Three Sisters' (staged by Winge in 1985), which caused such controversy. It made perfect sense just to proceed. With the exception of the one-acts, we will have done all the major Chekhovs by the end of 1990. Why quibble?

"Diane (White, who'll produce) will be going to Vilnius in the fall," he continued. "They're going to haul out the whole repertoire (of the State Theater of Lithuania, where Nekrosius works)--do the whole thing for her in a week. They said, 'Tell us when you're coming. We'll do it.' We could never do such a thing here," he said.

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