Today’s transaction, for an undisclosed sum, follows RUG’s sale of four of its playhouses to Nimax in 2005. At nearly 1400 seats, the Palace is now the biggest by far in Nimax’s group of six West End venues.
In addition to the four others previously owned by RUG - the Apollo (775 seats), Duchess (475 seats), Garrick (650 seats) and Lyric (960 seats) – Nimax also owns the Vaudeville Theatre (690 seats).
In 2010, RUG announced that it was selling four of its musical houses, including the Palace, to a consortium led by former head of ITV Michael Grade and theatrical agent Michael Linnit.
The deal fell through at the eleventh hour that December, when GradeLinnit reportedly raised concerns about "a long-standing contractual agreement between one of the theatres and a production company" as the reason for their last-minute cancellation of the deal.
Commissioned by Richard D'Oyly Carte, producer of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the Grade II*-listed theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue opened in 1891 as Royal English Opera House. Its name was later changed to the Palace Theatre of Varieties before it became the Palace Theatre in 1911. It’s currently home to the recently opened Chichester Festival transfer of screen-to-stage musical Singin' in the Rain.
Other long-running shows at the Palace have included Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, which ran for 3,358 performances from 1972 to 1980, and Les Miserables which played a 19-year run before transferring to the Queen's Theatre April 2004.
Productions since Les Miserables' 2004 departure have included the premiere of Spamalot and Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White and Whistle Down the Wind/
Singin' in the Rain opened on 15 February 2012 (previews from 4 February) and is currently booking until 23 February 2013.
In a press statement released today, Andrew Lloyd Webber explained: “I am selling The Palace Theatre because I love it. I feel that it’s been my home for nearly 40 years. Jesus Christ Superstar began its record-breaking run there in August 1972 and I bought the theatre in 1983. I wrote big chunks of Phantom in my upstairs office there.
“During the time I owned this Victorian dream, I removed the huge neon sign that defaced the glorious terracotta exterior, much to the chagrin of West End producers who told me I had removed the greatest theatre advertising sight in London. I argued that the restored facade would speak for itself. It didn't hurt the staggering run of Les Misérables.
“I am proud that under my ownership the auditorium has been restored, the magnificent front of house that had been covered with army surplus paint was removed to reveal acres of Italian marble and the theatre that John Betjeman described as ‘the only theatre architecture … which climbs into the regions of a work of art’ was brought back to its former glory.
“So why am I selling it? First, and most importantly, I want to see a secure theatrical future for the Palace as I do the other historic theatres that I own through Really Useful Theatres. I can think of no better future custodians of Britain's finest Victorian theatre than my friends Nica and Max.
“Secondly, the proceeds of the sale will be used to repay debt and to strengthen the balance sheet of Really Useful Theatres. This will allow me to plan the future of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and continue work on refurbishing the London Palladium. Lastly, Nica and Max are completely aware of my passion for the Palace and we have agreed that if there is a major theatrical reworking of the building, I will partner them.
“Good luck Nica and Max. I hope the Palace is as good for you as it has been for me.”
Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer added: “We are honoured that Andrew Lloyd Webber has entrusted us with the guardianship of this iconic building with its extraordinary history and will cherish it as he does. We have longed to own a major musical house and it doesn’t get much better than the Palace.”
Burns, who also runs Nimax as its CEO and recently completed her three-year term as president of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) added: “A big thank you to our financiers HSBC Corporate - a bank that still backs business - for making our bid possible”.