It is difficult to call anything associated with “Mamma Mia!” — a show that has grossed more than half a billion dollars and counting worldwide — a crapshoot. Clear Channel, however, definitely saw moving the tuner from SARS-scarred Toronto to Vancouver this summer as a big gamble.

On June 4, the “Mamma Mia!” Toronto company was told the show would be going on hiatus, closing July 1 at the Mirvishes’ Royal Alexandra and reopening there Sept. 30. Two days later, Clear Channel floated the idea of quickly moving “Mamma Mia!” to Vancouver. It was put to a vote by the acting company, and on June 16 it was official: “Mamma Mia!” would travel to the other coast, opening at the Queen Elizabeth Theater for a six-week run beginning July 22.

Taking in C$2 million ($1.6 million) in Vancouver on June 23, “Mamma Mia!” set a first-day ticket sales record for the mega-tuner. Not bad for saturating the media on one week’s notice. Clear Channel’s Scott Zeiger now puts total receipts for the run at between $7.2 million and $8 million, which makes for a nifty profit of $500,000.

The SARS panic began April 23 when the World Health Org advised against travel to Toronto. The advisory was lifted a week later, but the damage had been done to the Toronto productions of “Mamma” and “The Lion King.”

“We needed to take one show out of the market,” says producer David Mirvish. “During the summer, the theater turns into a visitors’ business.” Last summer, 65% of theatergoers were from outside Canada, but this year the Americans and Japanese stopped coming.

In early June, Mirvish announced the “Mamma” hiatus and said Toronto’s “Lion King” would close in late September after 3½ years. The Disney show looked to have only a few more months in its run, while Mirvish estimates “Mamma” has legs for at least another year, which is why no one is sweating the hefty $1.4 million relaunch costs for latter tuner in September.

“The Lion King” may be the bigger beneficiary of all this last-minute scrambling. With “Mamma Mia!” now out of the way, “Lion King” has returned to soldout status at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theater and has been extended to November, with another extension possible. But not too far into the future. “Hairspray” goes into the Princess of Wales in May.

Big just got bigger

CAA’s new theater department continues to grow. Recent signings include Tony winner Joe Mantello (“Take Me Out”), who’s currently helming new musical “Wicked,” due on Broadway this fall. Also onboard at the tenpercentery are playwright Rupert Holmes (“Say Goodnight, Gracie”), whose stage tuner “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is getting the ABC Disney treatment, and composer Andrew Lippa (Off Broadway’s “The Wild Party”), who is readying his new musical, “The Little Princess.”

Lost and Found

The day before Alexander H. Cohen’s death on April 22, 2000, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the legendary legit producer in his long-standing dispute with the League of American Theaters & Producers. That decision gave Cohen control of the Tony Awards programs he produced through his Bentwood Television Corp. between 1967 and 1986.

Two years after Cohen’s death, the result of his victory is “Broadway’s Lost Treasures,” to be presented on PBS as part of its August pledge drive. The TV show features 17 musical highlights selected from the 21 Tony Awards telecasts Cohen exec produced, including live perfs from such greats as Yul Brynner (“The King and I”), Zero Mostel (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Gwen Verdon (“Chicago”).

In 2001, arbitrator Michael S. Oberman ruled Cohen’s company held the right, subject to the consent of the League and the American Theater Wing, to exploit excerpts from the awards programs and that the League and the Wing could not unreasonably withhold or delay consent.

The League had argued it owned the Tony Awards programs much as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences owns the Emmy programs and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences owns the Oscar programs.

Oberman said the League and the Wing did own the most recent Tony broadcasts, but that Cohen’s shows were not work-for-hire. Oberman wrote, “Mr. Cohen’s testimony convinces me that the programs in dispute were produced in circumstances different from those associated with the contemporaneous Emmy programs.”

Oberman’s decision did not give Cohen the right to use the Tony image and name, neither of which will be seen or heard on “Broadway’s Lost Treasures.”

At the time of the 2001 ruling, Cohen’s son Jerry told Varietyhis father felt the Tony footage was “very valuable property that had future marketability.”

The producer’s lawyer, Eugene Girden, expanded on that sentiment: “Cohen firmly believed that these Tony broadcasts represented one of the only (television) records of the musical theater in the United States for a 40-year period.”

The 1971 Tony telecast provided especially memorable material for the archives: Since it was a weak year for new musicals, Cohen disguised that fact by assembling one star from each of the awards’ preceding 25 years.

“Broadway’s Lost Treasures” is being used as a fund-raiser by PBS. Profits from the sales of the VHS and DVD go to a variety of individuals and orgs including the Actors’ Fund, legit unions and guilds, the League and the Wing, authors of the songs and Hildy Parks, Cohen’s wife and writer of those Tony shows produced by Bentwood.

Cohen’s son Christopher is already looking at the sequel.

“If this is successful, we hope the League and the Wing will join us to produce ‘Broadway’s Lost Treasures, Part Two,’ using material from 1987 to today. Hopefully this first show will be used as a boilerplate between creatives and producers to do archival work.”