The Circle of Hype
The Lion King opens this week at the newly refurbished Pantages Theater, and many in our local theater world are hoping, as a result, to see an improvement in public perceptions of Los Angeles as a theater town. The Shubert Theater and the Los Angeles Theater Center were expected to have similar transformative effects when they arrived on the scene, and for very different reasons and very different eras each offered a sobering lesson in keeping expectations realistic. Still, if money brings hope, there are reasons today for optimism. Largely based on an anticipated 100,000 additional visitors per month drawn to Hollywood because of The Lion King, the Shubert Organization has announced a season of Broadway musicals at the Henry Fonda Theater (two blocks from the Pantages), which hasnt functioned as a legitimate theater for the better part of five years. Also, The Lion King arrives amid the kind of financial investment in the area that was once intended for but never materialized on Spring Street downtown, when LATC opened its doors in 1985. Now, its all about Hollywood: TrizecHahn Corp.s $385 million Hollywood and Highland project, Pacific Theaters $90 million entertainment and retail complex next to the Cinerama Dome, to say nothing of construction already under way for developer Tom Gilmores renovation of three retail outlets near Hollywood and Vine, and the upgrading of buildings along Hollywood Boulevard. Add in the Nederlander Producing Company of America Inc.s $10 million make-over of the Pantages, and you have a conservative estimate of more than $500 million being sprinkled over Tinseltown and thats not including the cost of the new subway station at the theaters doorstep, or The Lion Kings undisclosed production budget (estimates range from $10 million to $15 million). Posing the question of what The Lion King can do for Hollywood in general, and for local theater in particular, the Weekly spoke to several leaders in L.A.s stage community. Here are some excerpts: Lars Hansen, president of Theater League Alliance of Southern California: I think that Disney Theatricals being headquartered in Los Angeles, that The Lion King is financed by a company with three shows on Broadway whose corporate seeds are in Los Angeles, is significant. That can only be good for us. Maybe the next show will open here. The Lion King already has more of an advance than it had in New York. Theres the mall â analogy that if the anchor stores do well, the smaller stores do well. One hit feeds another. A searchlight the size of The Lion King waving into the air is going to be good for everybody. Frédèrique Michel, artistic direc tor of Santa Monicas City Garage: Our theater is right next to the Third Street Promenade, and those people never come to our theater. Our audiences are loyal to us, but they come from other places. When we first opened here, the mall had funky independent bookstores and was a pleasant place, and wed get a few patrons from there. Now its all franchised, greedy and aggressive. The Lion King itself is a cartoon for kids who dont want to grow up. It has nothing to do with the human interactions of adults. I think its ridiculous, the attention the press is giving this thing, as though its the greatest event in the history of theater. The show and the redevelopment are all part of the greed and the way were losing ourselves to it. Barbara Beckley, producing director of Burbanks Colony Theater Company: Ill be fascinated to see if theres a spillover effect [to the smaller theaters]. I dont know if there will be a direct, measurable jump in our box office, but The Lion King is certainly good for raising the level of awareness about L.A. theater in general. Eventually, the audiences will find their way to us. Crossover? Maybe. Bart DeLorenzo, artistic director of Westlakes Evidence Room: Im of the wait-and-see school. Of all the Broadway successes, this is the one that heartens me the most. The liberating energy of the piece could have an impact, but particularly on projects that are of the same ilk. Its said that if you go to one theater, youll want to go to other theaters, but I dont really think thats true. My belief is that if you create a scene, then people come to be a part of that scene, and anything that contributes to the scene is good for everyone. I see The Lion King as contributing to the scene rather than having an immediate benefit. Ron Sossi, artistic director of West Los Angeles Odyssey Theater Ensemble: I think that The Lion King will do a lot to revitalize Hollywood and its commercial sector, but that has nothing to do with L.A. theater. Just as the Ahmanson has nothing to do with us. Theres absolutely no crossover. I think its great if it creates a kind of Broadway situation in Hollywood. But when youre talking about that kind of theater spectacle, youre talking about the tourist trade in terms of people who go to the theater once a year it has nothing to do with building a theater audience in L.A. Gordon Davidson, artistic direc tor/producer, Ahmanson Theater and Mark Taper Forum: Id hate to see any single show held up as a beacon for transforming the city. Theres a particular magic in The Lion King. Theyre playing in a large house. They can appeal to a foreign-speaking audience, tap into the tourist trade, something weve never been able to do here. But the dilemma of L.A. is that it wants to be, and should be, a significant theater town and cultural mecca, and every time something happens that gives a hint that it is or isnt happening, its held up as a standard. I also know that a lot of this [hype] is written in the sand. It comes and goes, and our expectations shouldnt be based on that. Martha Demson, artistic director of Hollywoods Open Fist Theater: I want to support [Lion King director] Julie Taymor, because she came from roots of experimental theater very much like our own. Also, The Lion King is billed as much for children as for adults, and I think that weve lost a couple of generations of theatergoers my own [Gen-X] generation doesnt have an appetite for theater. We know that most audiences who go regularly to the theater had their first theater experience as children. If The Lion King can play some kind of role in nurturing that audience, it certainly isnt going to hurt.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.