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Cybertainment

Mixed Reviews for Theater-Related Web Sites

September 22, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES THEATER WRITER

Theaters are very public places. They don't appear to have much in common with the private, customized worlds created on the Web.

When you leave your home cocoon and enter a theater, carefully turning off your electronic devices, you join a group of warm bodies within one room. It's actual, not virtual. Unless you're really rude, you're a captive--at least until intermission; you can't log off if you get bored.

Dorothy, you're not on AOL anymore.

Yet judging from the proliferating theater-related Web sites out there, more and more people enjoy both the theater and the Web. Maybe the theater appeals to some inhabitants of cyberspace precisely because it's such a departure from their regular routines--more so than, say, moving to the next room to watch TV.

Theater is an extremely local art. Although mega-musicals tour worldwide, most theatrical productions exist only in one time and place. So let's look first at the local theater-related Web sites.

The primary Web source of information about Los Angeles theater is http://www.theatrela.org, the official site of the producers' organization Theatre LA. Don't expect candid reviews of shows; Theatre LA doesn't want to risk offending any of its members. However, the site offers same-day half-price ticket sales to participating shows, as well as listings and information about its Ovation Awards.

It also provides links to 88 sites maintained by individual theaters or producing organizations that belong to Theatre LA. Not that all of these are rigorously up-to-date--A Noise Within's site, for example, was still boasting this week that the company was moving to the Luckman Fine Arts Complex. In fact, the company performed there for a year, tangled with the Luckman management and moved out, suing the Luckman as it left.

If you want online reviews of local shows, the most comprehensive coverage is on the sites maintained by the printed newspapers and magazines that run such reviews. But one L.A.-based, online-only site, http://www.showmag.com, reviews one or two local productions per week.

One of the national Web sites mentioned below, http://www.curtainup.com, carried fresh reviews of four Southland shows this week, but they were displayed less conspicuously than reviews of other local shows that had already closed. An attempt by http://www.TheaterMania.com to provide extensive review coverage of the local scene, launched with much fanfare earlier this year, has collapsed, with no local online reviews this week. However, TheaterMania editor Michael Portantiere said that the site would run occasional L.A. reviews as well as feature stories.

One San Diego-based Web site that's going national, http://seatadvisor.com, offers not only ticket sales but also photos of views from particular seats and photos of the seats themselves, accompanied by one- to five-star ratings of the seats. This site appears to work best with an Internet Explorer browser. Using Netscape, I couldn't get the seating charts to appear.

The most prominent national theater sites, in alphabetical order, are:

* http://www.aislesay.com. Primarily reviews, from a number of cities--though not, at the moment, from L.A.

* http://www.americantheaterweb.com. Listings and links, categorized by theaters and shows, nationwide. The L.A. listings were skimpy and out-of-date when checked this week, but the site promised a major update soon.

* http://www.broadway.com. A heavily promoted branch of Hollywood.com. The site offers news stories, quite comprehensive listings (97 shows listed under Los Angeles this week, not to mention such other local sites as Burbank) and reviews. Using Netscape, my clicks repeatedly yielded the humiliating message "BAD REQUEST." However, with Internet Explorer, everything worked well.

* http://www.curtainup.com. With listings, features, reviews and plenty of links, this one is quite up-to-date.

* http://www.playbill.com. The most established theater news site, offering hundreds of articles, though they sometimes read more like press releases. Thirty-two fresh new stories were posted on Wednesday alone. Also offers listings, chat, seating charts and ticket sales.

* http://www.talkinbroadway.com. Features, reviews, interviews, souvenirs and links.

* http://www.tcg.org. The official site for Theatre Communications Group, the primary umbrella organization for nonprofit theaters nationwide, with recent articles from the group's American Theatre magazine.

* http://www/theatre.com. The usual features, plus a variety of local news stories/press releases as well as a few more enterprising national stories. Related to http://www.on-broadway.com/links, also known as Jogle's Favorite Theatre Related Sources, which has lots of links to other, more obscure theater sites.

* http://www.theatredb.com. The Internet Theatre Database is an attempt to duplicate the success of the similarly named movie database, although its historical archives are not nearly as complete.

* http://www.tonys.org. The official Tony Awards site.

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