Lloyd Webber Denies Starlight ClosureDate: 25 January 1999
According to reports this weekend, the arrival of Disney's musical The Lion King could cause one of the biggest West End shake-ups in years. The Sunday Times claimed yesterday that Andrew Lloyd Webber would be closing his skate-bound musical Starlight Express - one of London's longest running shows, second only to Lloyd Webber's feline perennial Cats - and that other long-running hits were in imminent danger.
'The Lion King will be a very big show that will cause a clear-out in the West End,' Lloyd Webber is quoted as saying in the newspaper. 'Strong shows such as The Phantom of the Opera will survive, but others may go to the wall. But there will be a net gain because it will encourage people to go to the theatre again.'
He continues by saying that the arrival of the £10m Broadway hit provides an ideal opportunity to retire Starlight Express. 'My children went to see it recently and did not know the difference between diesel and other trains, which told me it was dated. So I'm going to rework it and launch it again as a travelling show outside London.'
A spokesperson for the show, however, told What's On Stage today that the report was completely untrue and that Lloyd Webber was misquoted. In a statement, the impresario strenuously denied that the show would be closing. 'Starlight Express has tremendous advance ticket sales of £1 million and there is no question of it being closed. Starlight Express will continue to entertain and attract new audiences and run throughout 1999 and beyond.'
According to Lloyd Webber, The Lion King will be a help not a hindrance to its West End neighbours. 'The success of Whistle Down the Wind and its hit songs has broadened the appeal of musicals to new audiences,' he says. 'I believe the arrival of The Lion King in the autumn will do exactly the same thing.'
Starlight Express enters its 16th year at the Apollo Victoria Theatre on 27 March 1999. Over seven and a half million people have seen the London production where the cast skate by at speeds of over 40 mph. A new cast takes over on 29 March 1999.
The Sunday Times article also suggested that other big budget West End musicals - including Cameron Mackintosh's Miss Saigon, which has been playing at Drury Lane since October 1989, and Doctor Dolittle, which opened last year at the Apollo Hammersmith - may soon be posting closing notices. Show spokespeople, speaking today to What's On Stage, were unable to confirm future plans. The current booking periods for the two productions extend to June and September 1999, respectively.