Kodak Theatre Premiering to Sour Notes

By DEBORAH BELGUM
Staff Reporter

Picture this: The brand new, $94 million Kodak Theatre, site of the upcoming Academy Awards and tucked inside the glitzy Hollywood & Highland complex, could sit empty much of the year, shunned by music acts and Broadway musicals for its size and poor sound quality.

Opening reviews have been less than stellar, and there are few major productions, concerts or long-running events scheduled for the 3,500-seat theater after the March 24 Oscar extravaganza. A lack of revenues from the theater could raise even more questions about the financial viability of the entire complex, which was developed by TrizecHahn Corp.

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which operates the Kodak for TrizecHahn, pooh-poohs the negative notices. "We think this building is great, and so do the artists," said Ed Murphy, the theater's managing director.

John Meglen, co-chief executive of Concerts West, one of the largest producers and promoters of live music events and a wholly owned subsidiary of The Anschutz Corp., proclaims that the "place is tremendous."

Even so, the venue has been passed over by producers of the Broadway hit "The Producers," a loss compounded by the fact that the show has not identified another location for its as-yet unscheduled L.A. run.

The "The Full Monty," another Broadway musical originally scheduled to appear at the new Hollywood facility, has been moved to the older, smaller Ahmanson Theatre, which seats 1,600 to 2,000.

The show's producers noted that "The Full Monty" needed a longer run than was possible at the Kodak eight-weeks vs. four but there were other factors as well.

The show's producers have had success with previous runs at the Ahmanson, with a subscription audience of 35,000. With "The Full Monty" garnering lackluster box office receipts during its Chicago run, they do not want to take any chances with the Kodak, which has yet to develop a subscription audience.

Insiders say part of the problem may be that the Kodak hasn't decided what it wants to be a concert venue, a theater venue or a studio-type venue where more attention is paid to broadcast needs.

"It's a tricky thing to open a new theater and give it character," said Gordon Davidson, the artistic director of the Center Theatre Group, which encompasses the Ahmanson Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum. "We know they are trying hard. But the problem for a big theater is there are only certain events that are suitable for it. It is going not going to be easy for them."

Size matters

Size could be a factor: Most theaters running Broadway shows are a third the size of the Kodak.

But there also is the nagging sound system problem, which came to light with the Nov. 9 opening performance by English tenor Russell Watson. The reviews for "The Voice," as he is known, were less than kind to the sound system.

"Ear-splitting amplification and crude electronic echo made (Watson's) singing the acoustical equivalent of a pole-vaulter using a power lift to clear the bar," wrote Mark Swed, music critic for the Los Angeles Times.

Brenda Tinnen, senior vice president of facilities for the Anschutz Entertainment Group, says that aside from Swed, "everyone else has raved about the sound system."

Not quite. The concerts by singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge, who had a two-day concert run at the Kodak in December, also was plagued by acoustical problems.

Etheridge's sound manager, Steve Folsom, said he was warned by the theater's own technicians that it would be a challenge. "They were apologizing and preparing me for what was going to happen next," Folsom said.

"The place sounded so much better empty when we were checking the sound in the afternoon," he recalled. "When it filled up with people, all the life got sucked up."

While sound was a problem with the American Ballet Theatre's performance in December of "The Nutcracker Suite," the troupe gave the theater high marks for its design.

Kevin McKenzie, the ABT's artistic director, said the ballet company was thrilled to be performing in a venue that looks like an "old-world opera house" with mid-century d & #233;cor. "The stage is well equipped in size for dancing," he said. "But the sound is not what it could be acoustically."

The ballet company, he said, plans another "Nutcracker" engagement at the Kodak in December.

Oscar preparations

Sound is less of a concern for the next major event planned at the Kodak Theatre: the 74th annual Academy Awards.

The theater's designers installed the most sophisticated equipment available so that the event can be broadcast to millions of viewers around the world.

Nevertheless, Academy's organizers, who will take over the Kodak Theatre a full month before the awards presentation, are aware of the early problems.

"There seems to be mounting evidence that they have not gotten the sound system figured out well," said Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. "We will be bringing in the best sound people in the world. Yet our show isn't about the 3,000 people who are sitting in the theater, but the several millions getting it transmitted to them electronically."

Following the Academy Awards, the Kodak Theatre has a number of corporate meetings scheduled, held in conjunction with several conventions taking place at the new Renaissance Hotel, also part of the Hollywood & Highland complex.

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