Lloyd Webber in Final Talks to Sell Four PlayhousesDate: 13 June 2005
Andrew Lloyd Webber (pictured) is in advanced negotiations to sell off four of his West End playhouses for an estimated £12 million. An announcement is expected by the end of the month to confirm the sale of the Apollo (with 776 seats), Duchess (475 seats), Lyric (960 seats) and Garrick (655 seats) Theatres to American producer Max Weitzenhoffer, who already owns the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre (690 seats).
When it first emerged in January that Lloyd Webber was planning to dismantle all or part of his Really Useful Theatres empire, of which 50% is owned by City financiers Bridgepoint Capital, Weitzenhoffer was one of a list of potential buyers which included the Ambassadors Theatre Group, fellow impresario Cameron Mackintosh and, bizarrely, American hip-hop mogul Sean Combs, otherwise known as rapper “Puff Daddy” and now “P. Diddy” (See News, 24 Jan 2005).
In a statement released today, Lloyd Webber commented: "I have always been keenly aware of the responsibility that comes with ownership of such valuable national assets, and throughout this process, have taken great pains to persuade my partner, Bridgepoint Capital, that we must sell only to someone who understands the particular nature of theatre and who will protect and preserve these very special buildings.”
Weitzenhoffer would certainly seem to fit that bill. On Broadway, where Weitzenhoffer has been a major player since the 1970s, he’s produced hits including Dracula, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Song and Dance, Burn This and The Will Rogers Follies. More recently, he helped to arrange the Broadway transfer of the Fiona Shaw-headed West End production of Medea and, back in London, has co-produced One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Whatsonstage.com Award winner Christian Slater, and Some Girls, currently starring David Schwimmer at the Gielgud.
Once the playhouses are dispatched, there has been widespread speculation that Lloyd Webber will divest himself of his other business interests in order to concentrate on composing. His producing arm, the Really Useful Group, which retains rights to the composer’s own hits like Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, could fetch up to £500 million.
Lloyd Webber’s seven other Really Useful Theatres, all musical houses – the Adelphi, Cambridge, Her Majesty’s, New London, Palace, Palladium and Theatre Royal Drury Lane – may also still go under the hammer. However, in his statement to the media, the impresario said he had no intention of standing back entirely if at all on that score: “I would stress that I intend to maintain a significant, if not all my current stake in the music houses."
Most of Lloyd Webber’s West End venues were formerly part of the Stoll Moss group, which he purchased from Australian heiress Janet Holmes à Court in 2000, in what was at that time, the biggest shake-up in theatreland in 80 years (See News, 10 Jan 2000). That deal had a reported price tag of £90 million, which Lloyd Webber raised by teaming up with Bridgepoint. One of the contenders who Lloyd Webber outbid in that deal was Max Weitzenhoffer.
- by Terri Paddock