Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle
IT HAS now been confirmed that the Really Useful Group (RUG)
which is 50% owned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, has sold four of
its West End theatres - the 776-seat Apollo, the 475-seat Duchess,
the 960-seat Lyric and the 655-seat Garrick - to Broadway producer
Max Weitzenhoffer and Nica Burns, RUG's current production director.
The new, jointly-owned company, Nimax Theatres, will take over
management from October 1, 2005.
Weitzenhoffer, who already owns the West End's Vaudeville Theatre,
has been a major force on Broadway since the 1970s, with hit shows
Dracula, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Song and Dance and Burn
This to his credit.
He has also worked in the West End with Burns, co-producing Alistaire
Beaton's Feelgood, as well as Medea (with Fiona
Shaw), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (with Christian
Slater) and Some
Girl(s) (with David Schwimmer).
Burns too, has a distinguished record. In addition to her independent
producing, she has been responsible for programming dozens of
RUG West End shows since 1993.
Prior to RUG and between 1983 and 1989, she ran the Donmar Warehouse
and, for the past 25 years, has been a major force at the Edinburgh
Although no figures have been released, previous estimates suggest
the purchase value of the four theatres to be in the region of
£12 million. Lloyd Webber has, however, confirmed that the
sale will enable him to invest a minimum of £10 million
in his remaining theatres - the Palace, the London Palladium and
the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Previously Posted: ACCORDING to reports, theatre
impresario and composer, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, is negotiating
the sale of four of his 11 London theatres - the Lyric, Apollo,
Duchess and Garrick; all of them in the West End.
Apparently, the deal is still in its early stages and although
the identity of the potential buyer has not been disclosed, several
names have been suggested - Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who already
owns seven West End theatres; the Ambassador Theatre Group, which
owns ten, and Broadway theatre magnate, Max Weitzenhoffer, who
owns the Vaudeville Theatre.
Not surprisingly, the news caused considerable speculation, not
least that Lloyd Webber could decide to sell the Really Useful
Group (RUG) in its entirety, with far-reaching consequences for
the West End.
As previously stated, the RUG includes
11 theatres - as well as those already named, there's the London
Palladium, Her Majesty's, Adelphi, Palace, Cambridge, New London
and Theatre Royal Drury Lane; plus the Gielgud, which is managed
The fear is they could fall into the hands of some huge international
operation which, in turn, could bring Las Vegas-style shows to
the West End stage or, to put it another way, usher in Americanisation
by the front door - the very thing Lloyd Webber claimed he was
trying to stop, when he bought the theatres in the first place.
And all this comes at a time when theatreland, in general, has
been severly criticized for its rundown state. Only last month,
the Theatre Trust produced a report, stating that the West End's
40 theatres need £250m for a major refurbishment programme,
simply to bring them in line with the 21st Century.
This, in turn, has prompted an investigation into the health
of the capital's theatreland by the House of Commons Committee,
which will examine whether more public money should be spent to
help commercial West End venues.
On a more personal note, it was only last year that actress,
Nicola McAuliffe, whose outspokenness was partly responsible for
the precipitant closure of Murderous
Instincts, said that Lloyd Webber's theatres were among
the worst in the West End.
Something, I'm sure, Lloyd Webber is only too well aware of.
At the end of 2003, he said that commercial theatres could not
compete with venues that were subsidised by grants.
And in December 2004, he told a newspaper his theatre empire
was not in profit: "Everyone thinks we've got a fortune hanging
around, but in actual fact, the company's got a big debt,"
he is quoted as saying'
The price of tickets has also come under fire, with one astute
critic complaining that a top-price ticket for Victoria Wood's
Antiques Musical, costs more than a flight to Spain.
He does, indeed, have a point.
So what, I wonder, will be the outcome? We can only wait and
see but let's not forget that a good show will go on, whatever.
On second thoughts, better make that as long as it's making money.
Not only that, not all shows come from America
- we do export some very good ones of our own. And lastly, some
extra money in the kitty, could see a cleaner, brighter theatreland
- one to be truly proud of.