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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

Disney's Hometown Home Run

September 08, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

This time they swear they're not kidding. After months of "final weeks" notices, "Beauty and the Beast" is definitely closing at the Shubert Theatre on Sept. 29.

Fans of Disney musicals are already wondering when the next one is likely to play an L.A. stage.

Disney recently announced that its refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre in New York will open with a five-day concert presentation of the Alan Menken/Tim Rice "King David" in May, before moving toward a possible "theatricalization" of the piece. Work also continues on Disney's musical theater adaptations of "The Lion King" and "Aida."

But whatever the next full-fledged Disney show is, it's likely to open at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, not here in the area most associated with Disney. In fact, the Burbank location of Disney's headquarters is among the reasons why we're not likely to see Disney shows first.

"Our philosophy is not to try out shows in L.A.," said Robert McTyre, "Beauty" producer and senior vice president of Walt Disney Theatrical Productions. "Because it's our hometown, we want to make sure they're in the best possible condition before they play here. And L.A. is such a big market, it's not a place to work out the kinks."

"Beauty" made a profit in every week of its 17-month run, which will gross at least $56 million, McTyre said. It set L.A.'s single-day sales record, grossing $929,919 on Dec. 4, 1994, before it opened. It became the longest-running show at the Shubert since "Cats."

Still, "we started dipping during the summer," McTyre said. That prompted those "final weeks" ads, which temporarily created a surge in business. But the slump returned. Ticket prices for all seats except those in the first 15 orchestra rows and the first three mezzanine rows were halved for an "end of summer" sale that ends today. And with school resuming, immediate prospects didn't look particularly promising. "We wanted to leave when we were still successful," McTyre said. "I'm excited that we ran so long."

*

OVATION SEASON: With the end of August, another year of eligibility for the annual Ovation Awards has closed. During the past year, 255 shows registered for the awards--up from 189 in 1994-95.

The year that just ended was the third for the Ovations as a peer-judged theater competition. This year's nominees will be announced on Oct. 1 in a ceremony at Planet Hollywood in Beverly Hills, while the awards themselves will be presented in a lavish ceremony on Nov. 18 at a site soon to be announced.

Meanwhile, eligibility for the fourth round of competitive Ovations began last Sunday.

For the coming year, there has been one potentially important change in the Ovations' incredibly intricate rules. Last year, at least 75% of the eligible shows that any voter saw had to be in the sub-100-seat theaters--or else that voter could not participate in the final ballot. The rationale for this rule was to make sure that the smaller shows weren't drowned out by the bigger ones.

It may have backfired, however. Some voters "were holding back from seeing some of the big shows because they needed to see X number of small shows," said William Freimuth, executive director of Theatre L.A., the organization that sponsors the Ovations.

So with the coming year, the 75% rule has been abolished. Now, each voter must see at least 20 sub-100-seat shows throughout the year in order to maintain voting rights on the final ballot. For a voter who sees only the minimum 25 shows of all sizes, that translates to an even more rigorous 80% in smaller theaters. But those voters who see far more than 25 shows will no longer have to worry about seeing three-fourths of them in smaller theaters.*

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