Hippodrome's `Phantom' run to end 2 weeks early

Exchange or refund possible for tickets

August 27, 2004|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,SUN ARTS WRITER

The Phantom of the Opera is disappearing about two weeks ahead of schedule.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster musical will leave the Hippodrome Theatre Sept. 19, instead of on the previously announced closing date of Oct. 3, according to Marks Chowning, executive director of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, where the theater is located.

That shaves the run from eight weeks to about six.

"Of course we're disappointed," Chowning says. "We'd love for them to play for another two weeks."

It's not unusual for a show's run to be lengthened or reduced - or in this case, both. On July, 1, it was announced that the show would be extended from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3 because of strong advance ticket sales. On Wednesday, it was announced that the extra weeks would be canceled because the producers decided to give the company a two-week vacation.

Asked to explain the sudden change of plan, a spokeswoman for the tour was noncommittal.

"The original production had been booked for six weeks," says Jenny Bates, assistant press representative for the tour. "While sales continue to be strong, the producers decided that the best course of action would be to play the originally scheduled six weeks so that we have a strong and successful engagement."

Asked if there was concern about lower-than-expected ticket sales, Bates responded, "I really couldn't say."

Granted, eight weeks is a long time for any musical to hunker down in a city - particularly one like Phantom. Although this is the first time the extravaganza with its famous crashing chandelier has visited Charm City, Phantom originally debuted in London in 1986 and has played venues in nearby New York, Philadelphia and Washington many times since then.

In contrast, The Producers was at the Hippodrome for four weeks, Les Miserables for two weeks and Mamma Mia! for three weeks.

What's more, a film version of Phantom is scheduled to open around Christmas, although it is said to differ from the musical in key ways.

Did it all add up to Phantom overkill?

"I don't think so," Chowning says, pointing out that Phantom has been selling 80 percent to 85 percent of the available seats for each performance, comparable to The Producers (82 percent overall) or Mamma Mia! (85 percent.) "I think the show would have continued to do great business."

Nor does he anticipate that the cancellation will prevent the center from achieving its goal of drawing 400,000 people by its 1st anniversary in February 2005.

"We anticipate having a busy fall and an equally busy spring," he says.

Chowning says he might try to book another show into the Hippodrome during the newly vacant weeks, "but frankly, our staff could use a break, too."

About 6,000 theatergoers have already bought advance tickets for shows between Sept. 21 and Oct. 3, the two weeks that were just scrapped. Those ticketholders should contact the venue or service where they made the purchase. Tickets will be exchanged for a performance earlier in the run, Chowning says. Performance times are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.

If an exchange is impossible, refunds may be obtained. Tickets range from $20 to $77.50.

"This was the tour's decision," Chowning says. "It wasn't our call. We're not at all excited about displeasing patrons who wanted to see the show and may not be able to come during the three and a half weeks left. We'll try to accommodate everyone as best we can."

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