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Crawford's Return Juices Up 'Phantom' Sales


Michael Crawford's Dec. 31 return as "The Phantom of the Opera," announced last week, has goosed the show's box office, where sales had been lagging.

After the news hit the papers Friday morning, the box office grossed $467,265 in one day--and $1,545,038 by the end of Tuesday. On an average day, the gross is between $80,000 and $100,000, reported a spokeswoman. She added that it wasn't possible to separate, out of the latest figures, the sales for the Crawford performances from those for the remaining performances starring Robert Guillaume, who's in the show through Dec. 30. But the announcement of Crawford's return certainly made a big difference.

It occurred during the worst-selling week in the history of "The Phantom" in Los Angeles. The gross for last week's performances was $629,518. The weekly ceiling for the show ("if we were to get full price for every ticket," said the spokeswoman) is $730,000, and the show had been grossing an average of $700,000 until recently.

Tickets bought from the box office or the official telephone charge line cost $32.50-$50, but many tickets, especially for weekend orchestra seats, command higher prices at ticket agencies, which buy blocs of tickets. And these agencies took note of the news of Crawford's return.

One agency doubled its tariff from $125 for the remaining Guillaume performances to $250 for the Crawford shows--and jacked up the price of its remaining New Year's Eve tickets (which cost $75 at the box office but are sold out there) from $195 to $650 upon learning that Crawford will return at that performance. Fourteen New Year's Eve tickets were available at this agency as of Tuesday.

Another agency exercised more restraint, raising prices from $80-$175 to $100-$200.

Houston-based North American Ticket Outlet Inc. ran an ad Sunday, which had been prepared prior to the big Crawford announcement, noting rumors of his return and offering $99 weekend orchestra tickets to Crawford's shows if the buyer also purchased the same number of tickets to a Guillaume performance at the same price.

"All I'm doing is protesting scalping," said Cameron Frye, owner of North American, which he said he created specifically for the purpose of selling "Phantom" tickets.

Prior to entering the ticket business, Frye--who said he has seen "Phantom" 13 times--had been offering "Phantom" tickets to clients of his insurance and shipping businesses, buying them at $200 apiece from scalpers. "It became quite a burden," he said.

So he decided to employ classic scalper technique to bring down the resale price for the public, as well as his clients. He had his employees call the ticket charge line every 30 minutes to find out when new blocs of tickets were put on sale (usually months in advance of the performances)--and when he got a nibble, he immediately used a number of different credit cards to buy the maximum five tickets per card.

"I put $300,000 on the line" in his pursuit of "Phantom" tickets, he said. He reeled off the numbers of orchestra seats he had for Saturday nights in January, ranging from 212 to 297.

Frye contends, to quote from his ad, that "We are ticket brokers, not 'scalpers'." He claimed he's doing it all for "the ordinary person" and that he isn't making any money on it, after deducting phone bills, ad costs and other expenses.

He declared that if he ever sells "Phantom" tickets for more than $99, "they can come and shoot me."

Other ticket brokers have called him since his ad ran, trying to buy tickets from him for resale at higher prices, he said. Though they don't reveal their identity, he said he could detect them--because they "sound like New York used car salesmen."

Among those who plan to be in the audience on New Year's Eve to welcome Crawford back are Dean Willard and his daughter, Emily. It was Willard who paid the top bid of $27,500 for a pair of Crawford's house seats last April (the money went to charity) at what was billed as Crawford's final performance, as a present for his daughter.

"She's enthusiastic and we're all pleased," said Willard. He doesn't resent the fact that the performance last April wasn't so final after all, he added. In fact, he paid $1,100 for four Dec. 31 tickets.

His daughter, who has seen "Phantom" 38 times, agreed that the news of Crawford's return was "wonderful."

In other "Phantom" news, an Actors' Equity official confirmed that the union waived two rules to allow Crawford's return. One prohibits actors from being replaced by non-resident aliens (Crawford is British), and another requires a year to pass before a foreign star can return to a role.

The waiver was linked to an agreement by the "Phantom" producers to meet to explore ways to increase the employment of minority actors in "Phantom," said Equity business representative Ralph Braun. However, a spokeswoman for the "Phantom" producers denied the linkage. Such a meeting will take place, she said, but it's "part of an overall industry effort" to examine minority casting. "These are two separate issues."

Another Equity official noted that waiving the rules for Crawford protects other Equity jobs, because "Crawford's tremendous draw" helps extend the run of the show.

'VORTEX' CAST: Stephanie Beacham and Rupert Everett will star in Noel Coward's "The Vortex," at the Doolittle Theatre, Jan. 17-March 31.

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