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SHEA'S TAKES GREAT PRIDE IN SUCCESS OF 'LION KING'

"The Lion King" is the new box office king at Shea's Performing Arts Center.

A record 129,000 people saw the traveling version of Disney's popular Broadway musical over 46 performances -- the longest run in Shea's 79-year history -- before the final curtain last Sunday, theater employees said.

Ticket sales easily surpassed the previous record of just over 100,000 for the 1999 Buffalo debut of "The Phantom of the Opera," the first Broadway "megamusical" to visit the Main Street showplace following a $15 million stagehouse expansion. "Phantom" ran for 30 performances.

Ninety-four percent of Shea's 2,958 seats were sold, equaling the average audience for "The Producers" and "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," featuring the Rockettes, earlier in the 2004-05 season.

Disney does not announce box office receipts. But the show business weekly Variety reported under the headline "Biz up; 'King' rules again" that "Lion King" grossed more than $1.2 million during both its fourth and fifth weeks at Shea's. That suggests gross revenues were more than $7 million for the six-week run.

Unlike many productions, "The Lion King" gained momentum as the six-week run progressed.

"Ticket sales accelerated during the last three weeks," said Shea's spokeswoman Lisa Grisanti. She attributed the trend to favorable reactions to the show that were passed by word of mouth, and to people who saw the show and then returned for a second or third time.

Shea's recent practice of marketing programs to a broader audience also paid off, Grisanti said. Numerous packages that included dinner, tickets and lodging at Theater District hotels were purchased by visitors who read or heard about "Lion King" in Jamestown; Erie, Pa.; and St. Catharines and Hamilton, Ont., she said.

The campaign "created awareness of our theater, the Theater District and Buffalo," Grisanti said. "Some people were coming here for first time."

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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