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Empty chairs at empty tables explained

Monday, May 30, 2016 - 05:50
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Les Misérables did not open on Sunday evening as earlier promised, and the exact reason for this is still unclear - as muddled as tinctures in Thénardier's inn.

Singapore

LES Misérables did not open on Sunday evening as earlier promised, and the exact reason for this is still unclear - as muddled as tinctures in Thénardier's inn.

On Saturday, The Business Times published a commentary lamenting the first show's cancellation - it was rescheduled from May 29 to May 31 - which left ticket-holders scrambling for replacement seats or appeals for refunds.

In response to the BT piece, the musical's promoter, MediaCorp VizPro International, tweeted: "The official premiere of #LesMisSG is on June 3, and the first performance is on May 31."

Sistic senior manager, customer service and operations, Jocelyn Ong, responded to BT's article with a letter to the editor. Said Ms Ong: "Sistic would like to clarify that an error by a staff member of our ticketing unit led to a number of tickets for a dressed rehearsal show on May 29 being mistakenly sold to the public. As soon as we discovered the error, we set about contacting affected patrons who had bought tickets to the show and offered them replacement tickets to see the show on another night."

This is the first time Sistic has revealed that a human error on its end was responsible for the mix-up; affected ticket-holders had earlier been told by Sistic that the production had been experiencing delays.

Ms Ong later elaborated on this in a separate e-mail, stating that before affected patrons were contacted, Sistic "tried to make an appeal to the producers to make the show on May 29 a public one".

She said: "The producers declined as they did not think they would be ready to stage an outstanding performance prior to the scheduled opening night. Our customer service personnel communicated what the producer had shared with us, without the context that the May 29 show was a dress rehearsal and never meant for paying patrons.

"We regret selling the tickets in error and then miscommunicating the reason for the cancellation of tickets. We apologise for the confusion and inconvenience this has caused affected patrons."

Michael Cassel, executive producer of the Singapore production of Les Misérables, reiterated Sistic's response in an e-mail to BT.

But reactions from the production's promoter, producer, and ticketing agent have failed to address several issues and inconsistencies.

First, in contrast to Ms Ong's statement that "the opening night had always been scheduled on May 31, not May 29", media coverage as early as October 2015 stated that the show "will play at the Esplanade Theatre from May 29". This date was repeated in news articles across local media and online platforms, even before tickets went on sale.

In fact, an Oct 20 press release from CameronMackintosh.com - the website of history's most prolific producer, and the man behind Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Cats - stated that the show would be staged at "Esplanade Theatre from May 29, 2016".

Second, seats were released for public booking on Nov 2. As several affected ticket-holders were only contacted by Sistic in April, this means Sistic took around five months to discover the error and rectify the situation - a length of time described as "inordinately long" by one observer.

In the earlier months of this year, patrons were still able to collect physical tickets from Sistic box offices - the error notwithstanding.

Third, the administrators of Les Misérables Singapore's Facebook page had told a BT reader that the rescheduling was "due to the complicated and elaborate set-up" of Les Misérables - not to a human error on Sistic's end. Proof of this correspondence was seen by BT.

Finally, questions have been raised about MediaCorp VizPro's failure to respond to a BT query sent in April - which had asked why the opening night's show was cancelled - especially since organisers would have been aware of Sistic's human error by then.

Given incongruencies like these, theatre-goers BT spoke to expressed concern that the rest of the show's run might be affected.

But Mr Cassel was keen to stress that the Singapore production of Les Misérables will nevertheless be a sight - and sound - to behold.

Said Mr Cassel: "I'm writing to you while sitting in a dark theatre at the Esplanade as we continue our final technical rehearsals ahead of Tuesday's first public performance and I promise you, you will not be disappointed when you see this production. It looks and sounds phenomenal in this theatre!"

  • Disclosure: The writer bought tickets for the May 29 show. To avoid any perceived conflict of interest, she will not accept any compensation from the organisers.
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