After selling off four West End playhouses this summer (See News, 11 Jul 2005), composer-turned-impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber (pictured) has – for an undisclosed sum - bought full ownership of the remaining theatres in his empire, including some of the world’s most famous musical houses.

In 2000, as part of the biggest shake-up in the West End in 80 years, Lloyd Webber established Really Useful Theatres, 50% owned by City-based venture capital firm Bridgepoint, to buy up the ten venues in the Stoll Moss group for an estimated £87.5 million. When added to the theatres he already owned - the New London, Palace and the Adelphi (the last in association with Nederlander International Ltd), the result was the biggest theatre-owning group in the West End.

However, rumours earlier this year that Lloyd Webber wished to divest himself of all of his property in order to concentrate on composing were followed by the sale of four of RUT’s playhouses - the Apollo (with 776 seats), Duchess (475 seats), Lyric (960 seats) and Garrick (655 seats) – to Nimax, a new company set up by RUT’s production director Nica Burns and Broadway producer Max Weitzenhoffer. Potential bidders reportedly interested in the remaining venues have included fellow theatre owners ClearChannel, Cameron Mackintosh and BBC chairman Michael Grade.

With today’s announcement of the new RUT agreement, which takes effect from 30 November 2005, Lloyd Webber becomes 100% owner of: the London Palladium (with 2,300 seats), Theatre Royal Drury Lane (2,240 seats), Palace (1,400 seats), Her Majesty’s Theatre (1,200 seats), Cambridge Theatre (1,230 seats) and New London (1,110). In addition to these and the co-owned Adelphi, the Gielgud (890 seats) remains part of RUT until March 2006 when it reverts to Cameron Mackintosh, who intends to make it part of a new £20 million Shaftesbury Avenue complex with the Queen’s and the still-to-be-built Sondheim Theatre (See News, 25 Jun 2003).

Commenting on the change at RUT, Lloyd Webber said: “Musical theatre has been my lifelong passion and I am overjoyed to have secured the ownership of these wonderful buildings for future generations of theatergoers. The West End theatre plays a vital role in London’s life and I am totally committed to its future. I have pledged £10 million for the renovation and refurbishment of my theatres over the next five years (See News, 11 Jul 2005). I am extremely proud to own such magnificent buildings.”

André Ptaszynski remains as chief executive of RUT. Lloyd Webber’s other company, the Really Useful Group – which he founded in 1977 and operates in theatre, film, television, video and concert productions as well as merchandising and music publishing – will continue as a separate entity.

- by Terri Paddock