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It's a Booming Biz in the Land of 'Les Miz'; Lemmon, Pinter May Come to Ahmanson

July 21, 1988|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

It's one of life's sweetest ironies that a show called "Les Miserables" should have such a perversely downbeat title. Wherever it's been, including Century City's Shubert Theatre where it took up residence in June, "Les Miz" has raked in the gold.

According to associate general manager Allan Williams with whom we checked Tuesday, "Les Miz" "opened in Century City with an advance (ticket sale) of close to $9 million. It's grossing now," he said, "between $565,000 and $578,000 weekly (out of a maximum of $578,000). The advance is holding steady at about $8.2 million."

All of which points to a run that should extend well beyond its official closing date of Dec. 31.

"In an ideal world, we'd like to play it two years--longer if the business warrants it," Williams said. What does the show need to earn in order to stay open?

"The (weekly) break-even point is approximately $400,000, but it can vary depending on how much advertising we do. That figure is with a high advertising budget."

And what about the ancillary merchandising--all those sweat shirts, T-shirts, albums, CDs, books, buttons, mugs and matches for sale in the theater lobby?

"I don't really have figures on that yet because it's handled by another company, and we just share in it," Williams said. "The bookkeeping takes a little longer."

He did say, however, that comparable sales of Mizmorabilia in New York had totaled $35,000 for May and June.

On other fronts, the company has scheduled one of its traditional Actors Fund benefits Aug. 22 (normally the company's night off), with proceeds from ticket sales at regular prices going to help those in need in the entertainment industry. Said Williams, summing up:

"Things are beautiful."

So there's no business like "Miz" business--unless it's called "The Phantom of the Opera," another Cameron Mackintosh wonderwork coming to the Ahmanson next May.

THE RUMOR MILL: Jack Lemmon and playwright-actor Harold Pinter, who will appear together in London's West End early next year in Donald Freed's "Veteran's Day," may come to the Doolittle Theatre with it as part of the Ahmanson's 1989-90 season.

Duncan Weldon is producing and Ahmanson artistic co-director Robert Fryer has confirmed that "Duncan and I have talked about it. I asked him to please try to make it happen." Dates in Washington and New York are also possible. A film is expected to follow.

Speaking of films, Freed's "The White Crow," a confrontation between the condemned Adolf Eichmann and one of his Israeli jailers (a woman) that originated at the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre in 1984, will become a movie with Robert Duvall and Glenn Close. Filming should begin in February under Irvin Kershner's direction.

GROUSING DEPT: Playwright John Steppling and Padua Hills artistic director Roxanne Rogers have written to complain that the play "Kingfish," by Marlane Meyer, opening at the Los Angeles Theatre Center Sept. 9, was first developed not at the Theatre Center (as stated in center literature) but in Steppling's playwriting workshop and later as part of the Padua Hills Playwrights' Workshop, where it was staged in 1986.

Steppling makes similar claims for Meyer's "Etta Jenks," done at LATC in January. Small matters, he concedes, raised "primarily to correct distortions in advertising."

Rogers also questioned the advertising of "Kingfish" as a "world premiere."

"I am discouraged to find such a big fish as LATC so ungenerous," she wrote, "particularly when (they) have been so generous to me and to Padua (Hills) in so many other areas."

Center artistic producing director Bill Bushnell does not disagree, but claims a lot more development occurred after the plays came to his theater. Meyer, who should know best, did not return our calls.

PIECES AND BITS: Singer-songwriter Carole King will give up singing for acting when she opens Aug. 5 in a Burbage Theatre revival of "Getting Out," Marsha Norman's stark look at a young woman's life after prison. King, who'll play Ruby, an ex-con who befriends the protagonist, plans a visit next Thursday to the California Institute for Women at Frontera as preparation for the role. Joel Asher directs. . . .

"Mail," the musical that Pasadena adored and New York disdained, isn't mailing itself anywhere. At least not now. "It's not a very good climate out there for raising money," said producer Suzie Dietz, who should know. "Born Yesterday," another Pasadena Playhouse production with strong potential for a move, closed unmoved last Sunday. Reason: not enough bucks. . . .

SHIFTS: Speaking of the Pasadena Playhouse, its former artistic co-director Stephen Rothman has formed a production company with Brad Lemack called Ebbets Field Enterprises to develop stage and television projects, the first of which will be a black version of Frank Gilroy's "The Subject Was Roses" with Isabel Sanford.

Rothman seems to be making a habit of ethnic productions of this play: He staged a Hispanic version of it at the playhouse in 1983.

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