While 1998 will probably be remembered by Utah theatergoers as "The Year of Joseph" (nine separate productions running a cumulative total of 57 weeks), the 1998-99 theater season may go down in the books as a "premiere" year.

There are at least 16 all-new plays coming up, plus several regional premieres of recent Broadway hits. And there'll be two new theaters as well. Hale Center Theatre's $8 million state-of-the-art venue will open Oct. 1 in West Valley City and the SCERA Center is taking the wraps off its new Showhouse II, a live theater space in Orem.Watch for more details on both of these before they open. The Hale Centre Theatre is scheduling a two-week run of Ruth Hale's autobiographical "Thank You, Papa," coinciding with spunky matriarch's 90th birthday.

Two of the upcoming season's most intriguing premieres should be the Egyptian Theatre Company's dramatic musical, "The John Singer Story" (which, technically, closes ETC's 1997-98 season lineup), and Desert Star Playhouse's new parody, "Forever Joseph: Joseph and His Amazing `Forever Plaid' Dreamcoat," being coauthored by Linda E. Moore and Scott Holman.

The latter is perfectly timed, falling right in the middle of overlapping productions of both "Joseph" and "Plaid" at other theaters.

For theatergoers seeking plays that are new and different, as opposed to the umpteenth stagings of "Fiddler on the Roof" or, of course, "Joseph," other original and untested works this season range from Charles Morey's adaptation of "The Count of Monte Cristo" for Pioneer Theatre Company to several new shows at City Rep, Plan-B and Desert Star Playhouse.

"World premiere" sounds pretentious, with visions of Hollywood style klieg lights, red carpet and bleachers full of adoring fans, but, a good share of these are world premieres - giving Utahns the first crack at seeing several brand new, untried works.

Major regional premieres include such acclaimed recent works as Alfred Uhry's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," Wendy Wasserstein's "An American Daughter" and Tom Stoppard's comedy, "Rough Crossing," all being produced by Pioneer Theatre Company, and Terrence McNally's `Master Class," Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive" and Moises Kaufman's "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," all at Salt Lake Acting Company.

Both of the region's "PTCs" - Pioneer Theatre Company, based on the University of Utah campus, and Provo Theatre Company, are producing "Ballyhoo." But while the Provo troupe is touting its version as "Utah's premiere stage for this hilariously touching comedy," Pioneer Theatre Company is beating Provo to the punch by about four months. Uhry is probably best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Driving Miss Daisy."

The new Hale Centre Theatre, too, has a regional premiere on its lineup, just two weeks after the venue opens. It's "The Man With the Pointed Toes," which has been gathering dust in the script closet at Universal Studios for more than 15 years . . . and has yet to be filmed. It'll run Oct. 16-Nov. 21.

Ironically, while Ruth Hale turns 90 just before it opens here, one of the play's co-authors, Helen Root, celebrated her 90th birthday on Aug. 9, while the same comedy was enjoying a return engagement at the Hale/Dietlein family's 50-year-old flagship, the Glendale Centre Theatre in Glendale, Calif.

Brigham Young University will have a few premieres this season as well, including the North American debut of "Tumuaki! Matthew Cowley of the Pacific" and a guest appearance by Robert Post in "Here in America," both part of the Entr'Acte series, and a new project from BYU's acclaimed Writer/Director/Actor program, Joshua Brady's "Joyce Baking," a comedy about dating among BYU students.

Larry West's fledgling Theatre, Inc., which got off to a great start with "Waiting for Godot" last spring, had tentative plans for mounting a new, two-person adaptation of the classic thriller, "The Turn of the Screw" this fall in Rose Wagner Hall. Instead, he and his wife, actress Betsy West, will be heading to Mongolia for three months to teach theater classes under the auspices of the University of Denver.

West is hoping to reschedule the play after they return.

Breaking from tradition, the Babcock Theatre, the intimate venue for the University of Utah's student productions, will have both "Oleanna" and "Another Antigone" playing Oct. 6-18.

The Babcock will also be the venue for another new venture, the Babcock Performing Readers' coproduction (with the University of Utah theatre department) of local playwright Shirlee Shields' drama, "The Due Process: Hiram Be Bee, Alias the Sundance Kid," playing Sept. 3-5 and 10-12, with Gene Pack in the title role.

Touring productions, part of the Theater League of Utah's 1998-99 season, include "Chicago," Sept. 8-13; "Rent," Nov. 24-Dec. 6; "Victor/Victoria," starring Toni Tenille, March 2-7, and the return of "The Phantom of the Opera," June 5-27, all at the Capitol Theatre.

Nearly everything on City Rep's calendar is a premiere, many adapted especially for family audiences by Artistic Director Joanne M. Parker. These include new stage versions of "Androcles and the Lion" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

One change for City Rep this season is the production of a pared down version of "The Taming of the Shrew," adapted especially for elementary school groups. It will run all season long, usually in the mornings on specified weekdays, from Aug. 24 through mid-June, with two public evening performances tentatively scheduled for March 12 and May 1.

Desert Star Playhouse, too, has a string of new scripts in the hopper, including such parodies as "Miracle on 42nd Street," being cowritten by Beth Bruner and Norman E. Plate, the aforementioned "Forever Joseph" project and Paul T. Murphy's new comedy, "Hamlet: This Ain't Exactly Shakespeare."

The Off Broadway Theatre, which in past years has launched several original comedies, is focusing this season on repeats of past favorites, augmented by three Broadway hits - "Lend Me a Tenor," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and Neil Simon's "Star Spangled Girl."

OBT, like a number of other local theaters, operates on a calendar year, overlapping the traditional fall-through-spring season. The one new production on its calendar is "Horror High Reunion," Sept. 30-Oct. 30, 1999.

The Egyptian Theatre Co., based in Park City, is still finalizing negotiations for two of its 1998-99 productions. "Annie" is tentatively slotted for Dec. 3-31 and Artistic Director Richard Scott hopes to pin down the rights to the recent hit revival of Ionesco's "The Chairs" for June 3-26. (Other possibilities in the latter time slot are "21A" by Kevin Kling or "Ladies Day at the Emerson Bar & Grille.")

The Tuacahn Amphitheater in Ivins is premiering a new musical revue, "How the West Was Won," early next month. It will be revived next spring when it will play in repertory with another new production, "King of Kings," in the process of being developed, and "Utah!"