When the Kodak Theatre, the splashy Hollywood home of the Academy Awards show, opened in November 2001, many musical theater fans wondered if it might fill the gap left by the plan to demolish the Shubert Theatre in Century City -- which had been a longtime home for extended runs of musicals.
A month later, however, the Kodak lost its one musical theater booking, "The Full Monty," which had been scheduled for April and May 2002. The "Monty" tour was reorganized by new producers, who took the show to the Ahmanson Theatre instead of the Kodak.
Since then, musicals have been largely absent in the Kodak's quarters in the Hollywood & Highland complex. But now a musical series is on the Kodak schedule, produced by an unlikely partnership of companies from San Bernardino and South Korea.
The series will finally bring the "The Full Monty" tour to the Kodak in October, followed by the tour of Cameron Mackintosh's production of "Oliver!" in December, "Direct From Vegas -- the Rat Pack" in January and a new production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in April.
The partners behind the series are Sunwoo Entertainment -- a South Korean firm best known for its "Rugrats" and "Wild Thornberrys" animation -- and Theatrical Arts International, which stages musicals at the California Theatre in San Bernardino and Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, as well as several tours each year that have traveled to more than 160 cities.
Sunwoo is providing about $4 million to pay for the series, while Theatrical Arts does the actual work. Each production will play eight performances, concentrated in only five or six days each.
Theatrical Arts President Joseph Henson said that the Shubert was failing, in its final years, because it couldn't sustain the longer runs that were once its bread and butter. "Condense that audience into a one-week period, and you'd do phenomenally," he said, citing the Kodak's one-week run of "Grease," with Frankie Avalon, last January -- its sole musical theater booking so far. "Grease" grossed more than $1 million, according to Kodak officials.
The Kodak, with 3,400 seats, is much bigger than the Shubert, which had 1,800 until it went up to 2,100 for "Sunset Boulevard." So the Kodak's gross potential is higher per week.
Some musical theater aficionados have muttered that the Kodak is too big to provide a satisfying experience from its more distant rows, but Henson pointed to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, where some musicals have been very successful although it has only about 400 fewer seats than the Kodak. But last September, "Full Monty" played for two weeks at the performing arts center, attracting 60% of capacity the first week and 37% the second.
Henson said that early questions about the Kodak's acoustics have been resolved -- he had no problem hearing anything in "Grease," he said. And his company has plenty of experience producing in large venues.
A Theatrical Arts partner, Robert Abramoff, provided the link to Sunwoo. He's also an entertainment attorney and Sunwoo is one of his clients. The company is "always looking to diversify," he said. "They wanted to be involved in something profitable and high-profile" and felt the Kodak series qualified.
Jae Y. Moh, president of Burbank-based Sunwoo USA, has seen only one of the four musicals that will be presented at the Kodak -- he took in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in London -- so he's relying on Theatrical Arts for the programming decisions. Although Sunwoo has produced Korean-language musicals in South Korea, "it's a very small part of our business," he said, citing a lack of theatrical venues there.
6,000 subscribers sought
That's hardly the case in Los Angeles. Martin Wiviott, who runs the Broadway/L.A. musicals series headquartered at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, wished his new rival well but noted that "when there's a subscription theater on every corner, you need more marketing than you do in a smaller city."
Henson, however, said that beyond advertising, his company is sending brochures to "demographically selected names" and following up with telemarketing. He's aiming for at least 6,000 subscribers.
Earlier this year, Theatrical Arts had advertised a brief July run of a musical revue, "Moulin Rouge" (not related to the movie musical), at the Kodak. That effort was abandoned, however, because of concern that the effort to obtain rights to use the Moulin Rouge setting and title might entail enormous legal costs, especially in the wake of reports that "Moulin Rouge" movie director Baz Luhrmann is considering staging his own live version of the movie in a Las Vegas casino.
Nonetheless, Theatrical Arts will bring Vegas to the Kodak in the revue "Direct From Vegas -- the Rat Pack," which simulates a show at the Sahara Hotel in the early '60s. It's the only show in the series that hasn't played in Los Angeles in one form or another.