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THEATER | Theater Notes

Santa Barbara CLO Faces the Music

January 16, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, the largest performing arts organization in Santa Barbara County, is in a financial crisis.

Last month, the group's board vowed to raise $1 million by this weekend, and to raise another $1.5 million by the end of 2000 in an effort to wipe out a $2.5-million debt that had accumulated over the organization's 15 years.

Speaking Tuesday, when about $625,000 had been donated or pledged, the company's co-founder, Paul Iannaccone, said that he was "cautiously optimistic." But he wasn't certain what would happen when the board meets Tuesday to determine whether the company has a future.

The group hasn't suffered from lack of audience as much as from inflated administration and insufficient fund-raising, Iannaccone said. Indeed, the productions drew nearly 150,000 people last season, with four-week runs of six shows that filled about 80% of the nearly 1,000-seat Granada Theatre.

As part of an attempt to reduce the $5-million budget by 20%, nine staffers recently left the payroll, including Iannaccone from his job as executive producer. A production of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" that would have cost $450,000 has been canceled, replaced on the February schedule by "Man of La Mancha," which costs only $278,000. Runs of shows are being cut back to three weeks instead of four.

Meanwhile, an emergency fund-raising campaign began in September. Iannaccone said it's difficult for a community as small as Santa Barbara to support an organization as big as the one he was running, though he also noted that at least one-third of the company's audience comes from Ventura County and between 5% and 10% from Los Angeles County.

Musicals are "perceived as having such a popular support base" that cultural donors often concentrate their efforts on artistic efforts that are seen as needier, he added.

Even as the group appeared to be in a do-or-die situation last week, interviews were going on for the post of managing director.

PLAY A PEASANT: How much would you pay to go on stage in "Les Miserables" at the Ahmanson Theatre? That's a prize in a silent auction to be held Monday as part of "Les Miscellaneous," a fund-raiser at the Ahmanson for the Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic of L.A.'s Gay and Lesbian Center.

The winner receives a music rehearsal, a staging rehearsal, a costume fitting and one night of appearances in six scenes, plus photos with the cast. The winner at a similar auction in New York paid $30,000 for the privilege.

You can contribute to the same cause by just attending the show, which promises to be not your father's "Les Miserables," what with Jason Alexander joining the cast in the role of Jean Valjean in the "Forbidden Broadway" parody of "Les Miz." The original English-language Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, also will perform. The selections will go far beyond "Les Miz"-related material, including something by Jason Robert Brown ("Parade"), something from a developing musical about Charles Chaplin, "Rhythm of Life" from "Sweet Charity" and many more.

The benefit is a production of the "Les Miz" cast, which already raised $225,000 for the same cause in four weeks of in-theater, post-performance appeals. Information: (323) 993-7629.

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