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`PHANTOMANIA' LURKS IN THEATER `CATACOMBS'

Down in what could be loosely described as the Capitol Theatre's catacombs, ArtTix staffers and volunteers are busy sorting bagsful of mail.

Maybe the Capitol's basement doesn't have quite the legendary mystique as the Paris Opera House - and there are no romantically mysterious masked men lurking down there, but the Theater League of Utah, the Capitol Theatre and its ArtTix box office is feeling the impact of "Phantomania."The megahit Andrew Lloyd Webber production is still eight months away, but the two-month run is already 85 percent sold out just on the basis of subscription sales.

Last week, coupons appeared in newspapers throughout Utah and southern Idaho for mail-order only ticket sales. That meant no phone calls and no waiting in lines at other ArtTix outlets.

But, according to some of the Capitol Theatre's ArtTix employees, the mailmen delivering the big canvas bags full of ticket orders claimed the sacks were getting heavier each day.

Sheralyn Pratt and Amber Brewer, who were opening and sorting the mail earlier this week, made some interesting discoveries.

Although the coupon advertisement was explicit in explaining that all orders would not be processed until after Aug. 2, some patrons still mailed their forms in Federal Express or other high-speed envelopes, hoping theirs would still be handled first.

One person included some healing beads with their order and one rural Idaho resident sent along a letter, commenting how nice it would be for her children to have front-row seats (which, I presume, have long been spoken for by season subscribers).

All ticket orders had to be postmarked Wednesday, Aug. 2 - but, according to Bruce Granath of the Theater League, there are no guarantees that every mail order will be filled.

Following procedures established by the producers in New York, all orders will be handled on a lottery basis, with requests drawn randomly from all of those sent in.

If (and this is a very LARGE "if") there are any seats left after all of these orders have been processed, then - probably later this fall - there will be some orders taken by phone for the few remaining tickets.

The ArtTix staff will begin filling some of the mail-order requests this weekend. It's a slow process, due to all of the variables involved. The mail-order forms gave prospective patrons several options - days of the week, matinees or evenings, balcony or downstairs, etc.

It will likely be at least three or four more years before Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" comes through Utah again. But, like "Les Miserables" (opening in less than two weeks) and "Cats" and other popular road tours, "Phantom" could be touring for years to come.

John Ballard, who heads Space Agency Concerts & Theatricals, of which the TLU is a subsidiary, noted earlier this week that he and his staff have to look two or three years ahead when they're booking the major shows.

He indicated that "Sunset Boulevard" could likely be in Utah for the 1996-97 season and possibly "Miss Saigon" during the 1967-68 season.

For those who don't get "Phantom" tickets this time around, there are some other options:

- Two non-Webber versions are scheduled this season, including another highly acclaimed musical, "Phantom," at the Grand Theatre, and a non-musical, local adaptation at City Rep.

- Or you could visit San Francisco, where there's an open-ended run at the Curran Theatre (now into its second year). Ticket prices are comparable to those in Salt Lake City, maybe even a little less. What with competitive airfares in and out of the Bay area, this is probably as accessible as any other "Phantom" city right now.