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Now that's rich

Admission to many L.A. stage shows now tops $100. Get used to it.

December 02, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES must be a heck of a theater town, after all. How many burgs beyond Broadway have five shows running that charge $100 or more for the top ticket?

"The Lion King," "The Light in the Piazza," "Sister Act," Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking" and "Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants" -- three musicals, a celebrity monologue and a magic show -- are reaping triple digits for the best seats, although the $100 face price kicks in only for certain performances of "Piazza" and "Sister Act," and applies to just 14 seats nightly for "Wishful Drinking." And opening soon is "Jackie Mason in the Ultimate Jew," commanding up to $103 in a four-night stand at the Wadsworth.

For classical music lovers, the $100 orchestra seat has been standard since 2003, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic moved into Walt Disney Concert Hall. And the century mark is so last century for Los Angeles Opera's high-end patrons, who first saw $100 tickets in 1992 and today pay as much as $220 for a grand circle seat. The Music Center's dance series hit triple digits last year with the Kirov Ballet; next year, the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre will top out at $115.

The $100-and-up concert ticket has been part of business as usual on the Southern California pop music scene since 1994, when the Eagles, Barbra Streisand and Rod Stewart first broke the barrier. In fact, it's not unusual to see face-value prices of $400 or more for arena shows.

But in theater, the $100 top ticket remains the exception rather than the expectation, although price-creep is undeniable for hot attractions.

"We always try to hold the line, but life goes on, and every year there seems to be a slight increase," said Ken Werther, a spokesman for Center Theatre Group. "It's the cost of doing business."

CTG is charging $100 a pop for a Saturday night seat in the first 15 rows for "The Light in the Piazza" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Factor in a 10% handling fee for purchases by phone or Internet (there's no charge if you buy at the box office), and seats cost $110 on Saturday nights and $104 for Friday nights and weekend matinees. On other nights, the price range is $30 to $85, before handling costs. Tickets for the upcoming "Edward Scissorhands" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" top out at $90 and $80, respectively.

At the Pasadena Playhouse, two rows of "premiere" seating for "Sister Act" -- 54 seats in all, blessed with extra legroom -- are priced at $100 for weekend matinees, the playhouse's most in-demand performances. Handling fees boost those seats to $211.50 a pair, while also raising the next pricing level to the cusp of three digits for matinees -- 14 rows accounting for more than half the venue's 672 seats cost $101 for a single ticket and $199.50 for a pair. For evening shows, the face price drops to $90 for premiere seats, $75 or $83 for others.

"We're not finding a whole lot of price resistance," said managing director Brian Colburn.

Although "Sister Act," a new and unproven show, costs $75 and up, tickets for the playhouse's previous offering, a star-driven revival of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Fences," cost no more than $60. With Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett playing the leads, the relatively bargain-priced "Fences" broke box office records, selling out every show and grossing more than $1 million.

"Sister Act," with no name actors but more lavish staging, is the most costly production the Pasadena Playhouse has done, and the theater's leaders priced it accordingly. "We haven't had a lot of empty seats," Colburn said. Still, enough unsold tickets remain for the playhouse to offer the deepest discount of all: It's giving away "Sister Act" as a bonus for new subscribers to the six-play 2007 season that begins in January.

When "Sister Act" makes its next stop in Atlanta, theatergoers will pay no more than $65.

"We're talking two different markets," said Robert Saxon, spokesman for the Alliance Theatre Company. "Our price is fixed at what our market will pay."

For Ricky Jay's card-magic show, $115 buys unusual intimacy: front-of-the-house seats for his Geffen Playhouse run in the company's new Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, which seats 96. The fact that it's "a major, major show," with so few seats to generate income made the $75-$115 price range an economic necessity, said Gilbert Cates, the Geffen's producing director.

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