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Thursday, September 4, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Backstage Pass

Single Vs. Season Tickets At The 5Th

Arts And Entertainment Editor

So this woman calls me up the other day from one of the local theaters, and apologizes for bothering me at work. "Huh?" I think. "I get a million calls from publicists. What is she talking about?"

Suddenly, I realize she's not a publicist and, in fact, has no idea she's reached the entertainment department. She's just trying to sell me a subscription.

Intrigued, I listen to her pitch. I tell her all I really want to see is "Victor/Victoria" (with the fabulous Julie Andrews) at the 5th Avenue Theatre. She tells me that for the price of a single ticket to "V/V," I could get practically the entire 5th Avenue season, which includes "Peter Pan" (with the Energizer Bunny-like Cathy Rigby), "Easter Parade" with Tommy Tune and Sandy Duncan, and "Hot Shoe Shuffle," yet another in an unending series of tap shows.

I have a hard time believing that this is a bargain, namely because I would probably pay not to see Cathy Rigby in "Peter Pan." But just to be fair, I check out the prices. It's roughly $18 to $68 for single tickets to "Victor/Victoria." A subscription price runs $54 to $186 for all four shows. So technically, what she said is true. You can buy the cheapest subscription for less than the top ticket for "V/V."

Of course, the cheapest subscription puts you in the very back of the balcony on Tuesday nights. Upgrading increases the cost pretty quickly. Middle balcony subscriptions on the same nights cost $121, and grand tier/orchestra seats go for $153. So you can end up paying anywhere from $13.50 to $38.25 per show on Tuesday nights.

Confused yet? I certainly was, and not just about the 5th Avenue. But finding out what the exact benefits are can take some careful research. Let's break down the benefits.

-- Price. It's tough to figure out exactly how much you'd save by buying theater subscriptions rather than single tickets, because all the single-ticket prices haven't been announced yet. But count on saving about 10 percent across the season. If you're only interested in high-profile shows, however, you won't save much at all. Subscribers often get the biggest breaks on low-demand shows. The savings make the most sense if you really want the whole program.

-- Ticket exchanges. Single-ticket buyers can't do exchanges. Subscribers, on the other hand, have more flexibility. Say, you don't really know what you're going to be doing March 31, 1998. You can swap the ticket for another date, usually up until about two days before the show. You can also buy a cheap-seat subscription, then upgrade to a better seat for a particular show.

-- Seating. Subscribers get priority seating choices, but timing is crucial. The 5th Avenue, for example, has already sold 30,000 subscriptions, so you'd be pretty far down on the pecking order. The Moore Theatre's Off-Broadway series, on the other hand, just went on sale last month, and it's a new series, so you still have a good shot at the best seats.

Even so, if you're worried about getting a seat to probable sellouts (like "Chicago," which plays only two weeks at the Paramount next June), subscribing is a good way to guarantee your seat. Don't wait forever, though; most theaters stop selling subscriptions after October.

-- Perks. Most theaters throw in dining coupons and parking discounts, and some even have hotel discounts.

-- Optional shows. 5th Avenue subscribers can also buy tickets to "Rent," which plays the Moore a year from now. ("Rent" is a popular special. It's part of the regular Paramount Theatre season, and also an option offered by the Moore's Off-Broadway series.)

Personally, I passed on the 5th Avenue subscription. I figured I'd take my chances on single tickets for "Victor/Victoria," (which, by the way, has now been postponed to Feb. 3) and skip "Peter Pan." Whether it makes sense for you, just depends on your taste. Heck, plenty of people LOVE Cathy Rigby. - Doug Kim, arts and entertainment editor

Got a question for the Backstage Pass? Call 206-464-2583. E-mail: Scene@seatimes.com.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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