The on-again, off-again deal to drop Broadway-style musicals at the Harlequin Dinner Playhouse is on again. The 450-seat dinner theater in Santa Ana will change formats to revues and celebrity acts after its current production, "Annie Get Your Gun," closes Sunday.
Barbara Hampton, who owns the Harlequin with her husband, Al, said Friday that they are signing a long-term contract with the Young Americans Song and Dance Company, a troupe that performs and waits tables.
"I'm very sad we have to close down the dinner theater, but people want top-notch names," Hampton said. "We did very well, but dinner theater is gone."
Ron Friedman, the New York consultant who negotiated the contract for Young Americans, said the Harlequin "is going to a celebrity showroom-type format" and that the first full revue ("Jubilee") will open Aug. 12.
"More than likely, celebrities will be performing three or four nights a week," Friedman said. "The Young Americans will be their opening act. When celebrities are not there, they will be doing a full revue."
He said the Hamptons will handle the celebrity bookings and that the Young Americans performers will be Harlequin employees.
The song-and-dance troupe was founded in 1978 as an outgrowth of the Young Americans, a 25-year-old nonprofit organization that operates a dinner theater of its own in Huntington Beach. The Young Americans also staff a dinner theater in Harbor Springs, Mich. The performers are young show-business hopefuls ages 17 to 25.
Friedman said the troupe that will be installed at the Harlequin would be older, more experienced players who have graduated from the Young Americans and have worked as opening acts for such stars as Johnny Mathis and Liberace. He described "Jubilee" as a revue with song-and-dance numbers "ranging from the Beach Boys to 'Ol' Man River.' "
The format change represents the latest in a series of efforts to revive flagging business at the 12-year-old Harlequin, which has suffered a decline, as has the dinner-theater industry as a whole.
Shortly after confirming Thursday that a contract with Young Americans was "99.9% sure" and that the theater would be changing formats, a Harlequin spokesman told The Times that the deal was off and gave no reason for the turnabout. The spokesman also said the Hamptons were unavailable for comment.
Barbara Hampton said Friday that she regretted that "false information" was given out without her knowledge.
BOFFO: Saddleback College's Summer Stock '89 has broken all box office records so far this season--its 12th--with its first two shows, "Tomfoolery" and "George M." So says spokeswoman Susan Lemkin, who notes that "audiences are bigger than ever."
"We've taken in more money at this point than we ever have," Lemkin said this week. She said that "Tomfoolery," which closes Sunday, has been playing to full houses since it opened. Ditto for "George M," which closed last Sunday after a three-week run.
The two shows have pulled $70,000 to date--no small achievement. "Tomfoolery" is playing in a cabaret with only 80 seats, but it has been doing seven shows a week since July 1. "George M," with the same number of weekly performances, filled the 400-seat McKinney Theatre on Saddleback's Mission Viejo campus.
The final show of the season--"Little Shop of Horrors," which opened yesterday at the McKinney--probably won't do that kind of business. "For some reason, our third show never does as well as the first two," Lemkin said. "Ticket sales have not been extraordinary."
BELIEVE IT OR NOT: What does the next generation want? According to Vital Statistics supplied by U.S. News and World Report, it wants "live theater performances" more than any other service or product.
Yes, over the next 15 years demand for live theater will be up 98%. That's way ahead of everything else on the list, including discount brokers (up 72%), vitamins (up 10%), psychiatric care (up 8%) and health clubs (down 13%).
Who comes up with such predictions? "Two major marketing groups asked a few thousand people about 100 different products," said Joannie M. Schrof, a researcher for the magazine. "Then they computerized the demographics."
FAVE RAVE: Theatergoers at the Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse have voted "Wait Until Dark" their favorite production of the year. Frederick Knott's thriller about a blind woman caught in a deadly conflict between a vicious drug dealer and two petty thieves was directed by Jim Ryan and starred Millicent Collinsworth.
The vote came as something of a surprise, if only because scenes from another playhouse offering, William Gibson's "Monday After the Miracle" took third prize this year in a national competition sponsored by the American Assn. of Community Theaters. That show, a sequel to "The Miracle Worker"--about Helen Keller and her devoted teacher, Annie Sullivan--is to represent the United States at an international drama festival in Barcelona, Spain, in September.