Los Angeles' live theater market, be it historical venues or newly constructed state-of-the-art halls, has never been more lively.
"I think we're beginning to see another round of investment in the entertainment infrastructure with the building of Disney Hall, investment in the Orpheum, the Kodak and now they're building this new space across from Staples," said Aaron Paley of Community Arts Resources, an organization that tracks arts venues by size and amenity. "There's a belief that there's still a market for these larger spaces, because if it works, you can make money."
The reasons behind the renaissance vary from venue to venue.
The owner of the Orpheum Theatre, built in 1926, capitalized on Hollywood's constant need for filming locations. The Nederlander Producing Company of America Inc. was happy to refurbish the 76-year-old Pantages Theater, if it meant Disney would mount "The Lion King" there.
AEG Live LLC chief executive Randy Phillips, whose company books the Staples Center for the Anschutz Co. and promote the Nokia Theatre, says that a change in the music world is having a profound effect on the live entertainment industry. (The List this week ranks local venues and begins on page 43.)
Phillips said that the way music is distributed today on myriad podcasts, via satellite and through individual downloads doesn't create pop supergroups or stars, but does make a greater number of bands relatively popular, and that's crucial to small arenas.
"It's a very few bands that get to arena level," Phillips said. "But there are a lot more bands and entertainers that can do tremendous business in 2,500- to 6,000-seat venues. That's a sweet spot for live entertainment.
"People would rather spend a little more to see an artist in a more comfortable setting than a stadium. And that's really why you're seeing this propagation of these venues," said Phillips. "We're very opportunistic."
AEG has enjoyed success with musical acts at the 20,000-seat Staples Center which also is home to pro basketball's Lakers and pro hockey's Kings and the company is expanding its downtown footprint with the soon-to-be-completed Nokia Theater, a 7,000-seat venue downtown across from Staples set to open next summer. The plan is to create a "sports-entertainment district," with the theater providing a smaller concert venue. Anschutz is also banking that it will be the location for awards shows like the Latin Grammys or the ESPY Awards.
Staples isn't the only relatively fresh face in town that's thriving. Concerts have been selling out since the Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003, and the Kodak Theatre augments its 20-year deal to host the Academy Awards with a steady stream of tourists who pay $15 a head to tour the facility.
Several landmark venues have also seen a resurgence in recent years. The Greek Theatre, the Pantages Theatre, the Orpheum Theatre, and the Wiltern have all been refurbished within the last few years and are finding success in their new reincarnations.
The Pantages, built in 1930 and owned by Nederlander, underwent a $10 million facelift and major overhaul to accommodate "The Lion King." Along with a hydraulic stage, the renovation included an earthquake retrofit, 75 new chandeliers and gold gilt accents.
"[Disney] said we'd like to come if you do this to the theater, and for us it was an investment in the future," said Martin Wiviott, general manager of Nederlander's theatrical division in LA. "The Lion King" run lasted nearly three years and almost made up for the investment by itself. That success bred more. The next show was "The Producers," and that lasted six months.
"Now the Pantages is a top-of-mind theater," Wiviott said.
Wayne McWorter, director of marketing Nederlander's theatrical division, said that the success of "The Lion King" helped the area, too.
"It brought in a tremendous number of people who hadn't been to Hollywood for years or had never been," said McWorter. "When you get someone who steps in your doors and has a great experience, there's nothing better."
The Orpheum Theatre has found a different sort of success.
In 2001, owner Steve Needleman spent $3.5 million to retrofit the building to earthquake code and installed air conditioning, new seats, additional restrooms, a new electrical system and stage rigging.
The Orpheum was booked about 160 days in 2005, but only about 25 nights were for musical or stage shows. The rest of the time the theater was rented for TV, film or video production. Needleman said he's recently booked two TV shoots, a week of "American Idol" and the finale of this season's "The Apprentice."
"Would I love to be in the live entertainment business? Absolutely," Needleman said. "I think it's a great venue for it, acoustically and environmentally. But getting those shows to come into the venue and having the artists commit to make a change from the places they're used to going is difficult."
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