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Guests Didn't Flock to L.A. 'Wedding'

March 18, 2001|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

The honeymoon is over for Tony and Tina, as well as for the latest attempt to turn the Henry Fonda Theatre into a successful venue for commercial theater.

Since the Hollywood space returned to commercial theater productions in 1999 after three years of dormancy, three shows tried to establish long runs--and flopped. The first was "Late Nite Catechism," which folded after two months and then moved to a still-continuing run at the smaller Coronet Theatre. It was followed by "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," which had an even shorter run than "Catechism" and lost $600,000. Today, "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" closes, after little more than three months.

"Tony n' Tina's" lost about $170,000, said co-producer Howard Perloff. Attendance was a total of about 400 for last weekend's three performances, compared with about 900 on a normal weekend earlier in the run. Those early figures were bolstered by the 6,000 Broadway/LA subscribers who saw the show as part of their season package. They had all seen the show by the end of February, and soon thereafter single-ticket sales "dropped off a cliff," Perloff said.

"L.A. is a very tough town," he said. He also produces the show in Philadelphia, where it has been running for seven years, and San Francisco, where it's still playing after three years. Those venues are smaller, with capacities of about 150 compared with 265 at the Fonda. Still, Perloff had hoped for a long run here too, he said; the company had radically reconfigured the Fonda, building a deck over most of the seating area.

Perloff wasn't blaming the size of the venue or anything else about the Fonda in particular, reserving most of his ire for the city.

The "Wedding" had run earlier in L.A., for eight months in 1989, but Perloff said it also had earlier runs in Philadelphia and San Francisco before its current marathons in those cities. The difference, he speculated, is that L.A. theatergoers may place "a greater premium on looking for something new and completely different."

Also, he questioned whether recent rains and stock market reverses could have made potential customers think twice about spending $75 a ticket for a "Wedding." The production began offering some $65 tickets a few weeks ago, which brought the price into the same range as the tickets in San Francisco (prices in Philadelphia are slightly cheaper, $55 and $65).

A more familiar suspect for the show's closing, L.A.'s sprawling geography, was cited by Martin Wiviott, who manages the Fonda for the Nederlander Organization. In San Francisco, he said, "Wedding" is within walking distance of tourists' hotels. By contrast, he said, single-ticket buyers in L.A. "are not in a hotel down the street. They have to drive, and they have to plan their trips several weeks in advance. There is very little impulse buying."

The theater's recent track record won't deter Wiviott from making other plans for the space, he said.

*

WADSWORTH NOTES: Farther west, how fared Brentwood's Wadsworth Theater in its debut as a commercial theater venue?

Martin Markinson, who is in the second year of his five-year lease on the theater, brought his production of "The Gathering" there for a four-week Broadway tryout that ended March 1. Although he won't release figures on how the show did, he said business was slow at first but began to build by the third week. On average, about half the 1,400 seats were filled midweek and about three-fourths on weekends, he said.

Like Perloff, he criticized L.A.'s status as a theater town--"people are preoccupied by other things," he said. "Word of mouth is very slow."

However, "something coming with some hype from New York would do well" at the Wadsworth, and he thinks the Reprise! production of "Hair" in June will sell well.

Reprise! scheduled "Hair" at the Wadsworth instead of its usual, smaller home at UCLA's Freud Playhouse because the company expects the show will attract greater business beyond Reprise! subscribers, said Reprise! producing artistic director Marcia Seligson. The company ventured from the Freud on a previous occasion, with a 1999 production of "Sweeney Todd" at the Ahmanson Theatre.

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