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New Production Company Will Run City-Owned Theater : Arts: Former gymnast Cathy Rigby and husband, Tom McCoy, will stage four shows in an effort to boost ticket sales. The former operator, which had turned a profit during all but one year since 1976, is surprised.

January 02, 1994|JOHN POPE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA MIRADA — A new production company will take charge of professional shows in the city-owned theater this fall in hopes of reversing a seven-year decline in season ticket sales.

Fullerton-based McCoy Rigby Entertainment will replace Rogers Productions of Beverly Hills, which has produced Broadway plays and musicals in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts since it opened in 1976.

McCoy Rigby will stage four shows during the 1994-95 season at a cost of about $1.1 million. The company is owned by actress and former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby and her husband, Tom McCoy.

The City Council voted to switch production companies two weeks ago even though Rogers Productions turned a profit during all but one of its 17 seasons. The city splits any profits made by the shows with the producers and absorbs any losses.

City officials said they were concerned that Rogers was turning a profit mainly by raising ticket prices and cutting production costs, while producing shows that were becoming less interesting and original.

"It was getting to be too much of the same old, same old," said theater director Jeff Brown. "You can only cut the budget so much. You can only raise ticket prices so much. At some point you have to get the bodies back in the seats."

Season ticket sales have fallen from a high of about 17,500 in 1985-86 to about 9,000 in 1992-93. Sales for this season are more than 1,000 tickets below last year's.

The new company promises a greater variety of family-oriented productions and better promotion. It plans mailing campaigns and a local cable television show that will feature interviews with the theater's directors and stars as well as rehearsal footage, McCoy said.

He hopes to entice patronage from more La Mirada residents, who now represent only 11% of ticket buyers, he said.

McCoy said he also plans to move away from the theater's usual adult-oriented, Neil Simon-type plays to reach a "family" audience. This year's schedule includes the West Coast premiere of a new stage adaptation of the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical revue "A Grand Night for Singing" and the classic "The Wizard of Oz."

McCoy and Rigby, residents of nearby La Habra Heights, formed their company in 1986 and have produced several touring shows, a live stadium concert and a film documentary. One production, "Peter Pan," has toured nationally and earned a Tony nomination for best revival. Rigby, who starred in the production, earned a best-actress nomination.

This will be the company's first series, McCoy said.

Scott Rogers, co-owner of Rogers Productions, said his relationship with the city has been a good one. It will conclude with the season-ending musical "Five Guys Named Moe."

The McCoy Rigby bid was higher than the Rogers bid of $864,000, Brown said. He acknowledged that the city will assume more financial risk in hopes of reaping an even greater gain in ticket revenue.

He said the McCoy Rigby shows will have bigger casts and bring in outside directors, choreographers and set designers. "Not so much more lavish, but a higher-quality and different look than the last series," he said.

McCoy Rigby hopes to take its more successful productions on national road tours as a way to generate profit for the theater, McCoy said.

The city had split profits with Rogers Productions. In only one year, 1991-1992, were profits less than $160,000. The series lost $100,000 that season, due to a variety of circumstances, including the opening of the largest and costliest show on the first night of the Los Angeles riots.

Rogers said his proposal for next season would have arranged for the company to rent the theater and assume all profits and losses.

Rogers said he was surprised: "What we were proposing was much safer for the city. They would have been out of show business."

Besides any money the city loses on the theater series, it spends $500,000 a year to subsidize the theater, which is also rented out to community groups, local theater associations and orchestras.

Times Staff Writer Howard Blume contributed to this story.

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