Heavenly B.O. for ‘Angels’ tour

Broadway will probably not see the likes of it anytime soon, and the road has never experienced anything quite like it, either. “Angels in America” – which in Gotham was a critical sensation but a financial behemoth that defied profitability – is on tour, and in its early stages, it’s burning up the highway.

A sit-down run of the two-part “gay fantasia on national themes” just closed at Chicago’s 500-seat Royal George Theater, and the financial windfall from the Windy City kickoff gave the tour the kind of transfusion that will virtually guarantee profits.

The “Angels” tour, capitalized at $1.2 million, has in recent months more than doubled its itinerary from 15 cities to 32, stretching into February ’96 from initial plans to wrap up in the fall. A record advance sale of more than $800,000 at the Royal George, and a comparatively low weekly running cost of $130,000 for the six-month run, have combined to send the seven-hour epic out to America with great expectations.

When “Angels” landed on Broadway in its two huge pieces – “Millennium Approaches,” which ran for more than 18 months, and “Perestroika,” which lasted about 13 – costs hit an unheard-of $3.5 million. When the final curtain came down in December, about 75% of that had been recouped, said executive producer Margo Lion, though other figures cited have run about 10% lower.

Now the stripped-down tour is gearing up, and the producers predict that it will almost certainly pay back by mid-summer, with eight to 10 months left on its slate.

“We frankly didn’t know how this show would be received on tour,” said Lion, one of six “Angels” producers who stayed aboard for the road gig from the 10-member Broadway consortium. “But let’s just say we never thought it would be a disaster. I always thought this play would find a substantial audience.”

But for the flotilla of “Angels” producers to finally see a profit after their Broadway bath, the tour represents only one element. Independent productions in San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston and elsewhere have sent license fees and royalties back to the New York “mother company,” headed by Jujamcyn Theaters. And the feature film version, optioned by Fine Line Cinema for director Robert Altman, is reportedly coming closer to production.

“Angels,” which closed at New Haven’s Shubert Theater on March 26 and revisits Boston’s Colonial for a second 16-show run on March 28, is getting guarantees from presenters of up to $180,000 per week. The costly physical production that was seen on Broadway has been considerably minimized for the road.

“This show could be done on a bare stage,” Lion insisted. “That’s one big difference between the tour and Broadway – this is a bit more, shall we say, constrained.”

As on Broadway, everyone in the eight-member cast has been given the multiple-part workloads specified in Tony Kushner’s text. Unlike on Broadway, the players are pushing a lot of the props around themselves, and there’s just one set, with no sliding panels. For the repertory production of more than seven hours combined, “Millennium” will average about twice the number of performances that the more daunting “Perestroika” will get on the road.

Broadway’s 945-seat Walter Kerr, where “Angels” set a straight-play record with a $65 top ticket, is less than half the size of many road houses that are preparing for “Angels.”

At Boston’s 1,658-seat Colonial, where “Angels” has a weekly gross potential of around $800,000, the split run grossed more than $1.2 million for its March 3-15 stay and topped $1.3 million for the March 28-April 9 return. That performance, fueled by a $65 top ticket, put “Angels” in the Colonial’s record books.

The highly charged political and sexual climate of “Angels” has evidently done nothing to diminish the show’s drawing power beyond the expected core audiences in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. Presenters in a host of venues around the country, including Bible Belt bastions and such far-flung spots as Palm Desert, Calif., Iowa City, and Lincoln, Neb., have knocked on the “Angels” door since then.

It all points to the probability that “Angels,” which limped out of New York, will eventually turn a profit after all.

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