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Stage Watch

Norman Lear Funds 'Wooman' at Tiffany; Coronet Books 'Vampire Lesbians of Sodom'


Theater folk often complain about the habit Hollywood has of taking talent from the stage without putting anything back. But a couple of exceptions to the rule have cropped up recently.

Television producer Norman Lear's Act III Communications is completely financing the next L.A. Theatre Works production, the American premiere of "Wooman, Lovely Wooman, What a Sex You Are!" at the Tiffany Theater, opening Feb. 8.

Subtitled "a look at the women in Charles Dickens," "Wooman" (the title is a line from "Bleak House") is a two-actor show starring Miriam Margolyes as Miss Havisham, Mrs. Bumble and a number of other characters from the Dickens novels, with Ben Robertson playing the men's roles.

One of the women represented is Flora Finching from "Little Dorrit," which Margolyes also played in the recent film version. It was that performance that interested Lear in Margolyes--to the extent that he began developing a half-hour series for American commercial television for her. "She's the only British actress who can suddenly be as American as any American I know," said Lear.

Meanwhile, producer Arthur Cantor saw "Wooman" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and, learning of Lear's plans for her, enlisted Lear in an attempt to produce "Wooman" at Lincoln Center in New York. That project fell through, but it primed Lear to say yes when L.A. Theatre Works producer Susan Loewenberg approached him with a plan to produce "Wooman" at the Tiffany.

Lear agrees with the notion that Hollywood should pay something back to the theater, though such efforts "are never enough," he said, "considering how much we steal from them." Neither Lear nor Loewenberg would reveal how much "Wooman" will cost.

Meanwhile, TV producers Tom Patchett and Ken Kaufman recently announced a $100,000 investment in their own theater group, PKE Theatre, to be directed by Dan Lauria of "The Wonder Years" fame. PKE will open its first show, Martin Zurla's "Old Friends," at the Callboard Theater on March 1.

No date or theater has been set for future productions, but the second PKE project is expected to be "Self Defense," a lawyer drama by Joe Cacaci, artistic director of East Coast Arts Theatre in New Rochelle, N.Y. Joe Stern had scheduled this play for his Actors for Themselves group at the Matrix in 1988, but (to borrow a Hollywood phrase) "creative differences" between Stern and Cacaci sank those plans.

Mark Travis will direct the third PKE production (he directed "A Bronx Tale" for co-producer Lauria last year). Lauria, assisted by a committee of readers, will choose the fourth play. Lauria said he hopes that all of the plays will be convertible into TV or film properties for Patchett and Kaufman. But, he added: "Tom and Ken said that doesn't matter. They say, 'If we can get a writer or two (for television) out of this, we'll be more than happy.' "

AT THE CORONET: "Marry Me a Little" grossed only a little--$3,500--in its opening week and closed Sunday. Producer Edward H. Davis said $7,500 was the break-even point--and there was "no advance."

Next up at the mid-sized theater on La Cienega is Charles Busch's off-Broadway hit, "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," tentatively scheduled for March 6. Busch will re-create his role as a sacrificial virgin and will bring along some of the other members of the original cast. The campy comedy will be accompanied by the one-act "Sleeping Beauty or Coma."

Meanwhile, "The High Life," a gospel musical that played the Coronet last month, has moved to the Inner City Cultural Center. . . . And another gospel musical, "Black Folk in Song" at the Westwood, will close Saturday. This week's performances, through Friday, were canceled because of a death in the family of co-star David Whitfield.

AT LAS PALMAS: The 376-seat Las Palmas Theater in Hollywood will be largely removed from the theatrical arena, at least temporarily, as Nick Edenetti plans to book '50s pop music acts there, in addition to his own Sinatra show, which has been playing there since last month. Edenetti is renting the theater on a week-to-week basis, said the theater's owner Paolo Greco, but he can stay for three years as long as he pays the rent.

AT THE PANTAGES: Great American Children's Theatre opens "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" next Thursday, playing through Feb. 2, Mondays through Fridays at 9:45 and 11:45 a.m., Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. (signed for hearing impaired). The Wisconsin-based group then moves to San Diego's Symphony Hall, Feb. 7-9, for 6 performances. The intended audience is kindergarteners through seventh-graders.

BIG BUCKS: Variety compiled a list of the 10 top-grossing stage productions in Los Angeles in the '80s. Together they grossed $178,548,262--two-thirds of it at the Shubert Theatre in Century City. The list:

1--"Cats" (Shubert), $39.3 million.

2--"Les Miserables" (Shubert), $31.9 million.

3--"The Phantom of the Opera" (Ahmanson), $22.5 million and still counting.

4--"42nd Street" (Shubert), $19.8 million.

5--"Evita" (Shubert), $17.8 million.

6--"Dreamgirls" (Shubert), $13.7 million.

7--"La Cage aux Folles" (Pantages), $13.5 million.

8--"Sophisticated Ladies" (Shubert), $9.3 million.

9--"My Fair Lady" (Pantages), $5.3 million.

10--"The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" (Doolittle), $5.2 million.

"Evita" had the longest big-theater run of the decade, with 104 weeks. Its top ticket price was only $25, compared with $50 for "Phantom."

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