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Lloyd Webber sells four theatres

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 Festival.

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 by them.

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 Acorn 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.

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