If you'd been at the Salt Palace last Sunday, the line for "Les Miserables" tickets stretched nearly as far as, well, a row of Parisian beggars in 1832.
Except these people weren't the downtrodden masses of Victor Hugo's epic novel-turned-megahit musical. Probably the only misery encountered at the Salt Palace on Dec. 2 was getting weary of standing in line (although most folks, we've heard, took it in good-natured "tailgate party" stride and made friends with others in line as they slowly inched closer to the box office windows).The two-week run of "Les Miserables," coming to the Capitol Theatre next spring, should be sold out before Christmas.
The show's first week was sold as part of the Theater League of Utah's 1990-91 season (paired with "A Chorus Line") and the second week, for which tickets became available last Sunday, was left open for non-subscription ticket purchases.
"A Chorus Line: The Broadway Tour" was sold out before it arrived Nov. 27 for its eight-performance run.
But the ticketing wasn't entirely smooth sailing.
I fielded a few complaints about how the tickets were being handled, especially for the "Les Miserables" portion of Theater League of Utah's first season.
I explained to these callers that, from my perspective at least, a few problems should've been expected. This was the first time a subscription series had been mounted in Salt Lake City solely to bring in national touring companies.
TLU is a non-profit subsidiary of The Space Agency, a Salt Lake-based booking and "event" promotion company. TLU had done a lot of homework first, including talking to a number of those experienced with similar "civic light opera" organizations in other cities.
It was decided to go with a "hard ticket" policy - that is, having individual tickets generated at the point-of-sale depending on what performances and seating the buyer wants, instead of a broader computerized system, such as Smith'sTix. When you're mixing both subscription and, later, non-subscriber tickets, this seems to be the most practical approach.
Steve Boulay, vice president at The Space Agency, said that initially, TLU was concerned about the price of the tickets - they ranged as high as $35 to $45 in some cases - but the price appeared to be no problem.
Long lines and telephones ringing off the hook, however, were.
Justin Kalm, a Salt Lake resident, called us this week. He had gone to the Salt Palace box office last Sunday, the first day that "Les Miserables" tickets became available to non-subscribers.
"I got there about 7:30 a.m., and the tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. I was No. 42 on the signup list, but when I got to the window, there were just mezzanine or balcony seats left. There were no good seats left on the best nights, but a few for some of the weeknights," Kalm said.
Joyce Kepas of Provo called the Deseret News to report that she had been trying for two days to call the advertised Salt Palace box office telephone number and "it was always busy."
We also had some complaints from people who were convinced that box office phones had been intentionally left off the hook and a few others (very few) that, when they did get through, box office personnel were rude.
Asked about the purported rudeness, David Meek, general manager of the Salt Palace for Spectacor, the new company that recently contracted to manage the Salt Palace facilities, disagreed.
Meek, who spent seven years in the box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center, knows the ticketing business inside and out.
"I feel the employees have been great," he said.
The lines were long on Sunday and the phone lines were busy, but all five box office windows were open and, Meek assured us, the workers tried to handle orders as rapidly and patiently as they could.
Buying tickets to a one week or two-week run of a theater performance is different from obtaining seats for a one-shot concert in a huge arena. The buyer has more options:
Evenings or matinees?
Which day of the week?
Where to sit (orchestra, mezzanine or balcony)?
Then it has to be determined what seats are still available within those options.
This takes more than just a couple of minutes at the box office.
Another minor problem, and one that probably had no real impact on the way tickets were handled, is that Spectacor was brought in to manage the Salt Palace under a new "privatization" policy after the Theater League of Utah had already contracted with the previous managers.
Boulay noted that, with TLU's premiere 1990-91 season pretty much history (at least as far as selling tickets is concerned), it'll probably consider some changes next season - most likely going directly to a computerized system (such as Smith'sTix) for all of the remaining performances once the initial subscription series has been marketed.
It's also hoped that a permanent box office can be established at the Capitol Theatre itself within the next few months.
We asked Boulay if TLU would handle its subscription program as Pioneer Theatre Company does - that is, allowing subscribers to keep the same seats from season to season. Many PTC patrons have favorite seats and nights and always know from one year to the next exactly what night and what seats they'll have. Boulay said that such a system wouldn't work right now, but once TLU computerizes its program - probably starting with the 1991-92 season - it could happen.
At least three shows, maybe four, are under consideration for the next season. "Cats" seems like a sure thing. Beyond that, not too many other recent Broadway shows have started touring, but "Love Letters" may be one possibility (with the casting combinations for the two-performer show practically endless), and Tony Award-winner "Lettice and Lovage" has been mentioned as a long-shot.
Another possiblity - and that's all any of these are at this point - would be a limited run of a big off-Broadway hit, such as "Forbidden Broadway," for a month or so at the Broadway Stage, rather than the Capitol Theater.
In the meantime, the lines at the Salt Palace have dwindled considerably and there are still some tickets available for most performances of "Les Miserables."