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Other 'Phantom' No Phantasm

November 1st 1989 | Page 1
Written for Variety magazine by Richard Hummler

'Original' adaption beats Lloyd Webber smash to the road, recoups in 8 weeks

New York - That other adaptation of "The Phantom Of The Opera," the one not written by Andrew Lloyd Webber but which triggered his version, is mopping up on the road.

The show being billed by its producers as "the original London stage musical," adapated by director Ken Hill from the Gaston Leroux novel, last week recouped its $1-million cost - just eight weeks into the tour. That's a phenomenally rapid payback for a touring musical, and means the show has been netting an average of $125,000 a week. With a tour booked solidly into the middle of next June and further dates into 1991, the show looks like a huge coin-spinner.

That can't be happy news to Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and the rest of the London-Broadway "Phantom" team, which has not yet sent out a touring unit aside from the open-ended edition at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. The Ken Hill version, which uses public domain opera music and spoofs the beauty-and-the-beast romantic plot, has stolen a box office march on the bigger hit based on the same material.

The like-titled Hill show lacks the scenic spectacle and Lloyd Webber score, and its first-out-of-the-box success probably won't blunt the box office for the later Lloyd Webber tour. But the L-W team - and the road presenters who have shunned booking the upstart "Phantom" lest they offend Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber - must be wondering if it will.

The Lloyd Webber-Mackintosh group is preparing to open a third U.S. company next June at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, but hasn't begun to book additional road time yet.

Since it opened at Washington's Warner Theater in September, and through the week ending Oct. 22, the Hill version has grossed $3,488,452, for a weekly average of $436,000.

"And that's on single ticket sales, with no subscriptions," says Allen Spivak, co-producer of the tour. Spivak and partner Larry Magid, Philadelphia-based concert promoters, invested in the show's U.S. premiere last season at San Francisco's Theater-on-the-Square, and made a deal with the theater's producer, Jonathan Reinis.

Operating under Equity's bus-and-truck contract, with a complement of six union musicians, the Hill "Phantom" has very low basic weekly expenses of $140,000. The producers have begun to act as their own promoters, or as co-presenters with local rock concert promoters, since most mainstream legit presenters have shunned the production.

Phantom 'Phantom' mops up in Boston - Globe obsessed

How much of the show's socko box office comes from customers who confuse it with the Lloyd Webber smash is unquantifiable. Some of it has to be for that reason, and the production has been taking a thrashing in the Boston Globe on that score. Globe critic Kevin Kelly and other staffers have written 11 pieces charging the producers with misrepresentation in advertising a January week at Wang Center.

The producers counter that every ad carries a disclaimer saying "this is not the Andrew Lloyd Webber production" (albeit in smaller type than "original London stage musical," which is factually true but could be misleading). The Boston week, meanwhile, has an advance sale of $571,645.

"Every ticket salesperson has been instructed to clearly state that this is not the Lloyd Webber show. This show wouldn't be successful without Andrew Lloyd Webber, but he didn't come up with the idea. Ken Hill did," said Reinis.

"There's a 'Phantomania' out there and we're part of it," said Spivak. "There's a Coors beer commercial with the Phantom, the tv miniseries" (written by Arthur Kopit, directed by Tony Richardson, later this season on NBC), "and a movie" (opening Nov. 3 as the first release of Menahem Golan's 21st Century Releasing (Co.).

Booked solid

Spivak says the show is booked solid through the middle of next June, then will lay off for the summer and resume in the fall, with possible bookings in Japan. Current plans are to tour the U.S. until April of 1991. And if business should maintain the smash level of the first eight weeks, or even if it slips considerably, by that time the "other" "Phantom" will have earned several million dollars in profit.