The empire-building theatre mogul Michael Ovitz may be out of luck this time. Andrew Lloyd Webber announced this week that he wishes to buy back full control over his theatrical company, The Really Useful Group (RUG).
Rumors surrounding the future of the RUG were sparked last week when minority shareholder Polygram - which has a 30 percent stake to Lloyd Webber's 70 percent stake - was bought by Canadian drinks and entertainment group Seagram.
These rumors were followed by press reports that Michael Ovitz, former deputy chairman of Disney and new president of the Canadian-based theatre production company Livent (Ragtime), was interested in buying the Seagram's stake.
But Lloyd Webber has denied any such possible sale, saying that he intended to buy the remaining stake in his company personally. "Far from wanting to dilute my involvement, I am eager to acquire the PolyGram minority shareholding if that is available to me and indeed formally made such an offer to Polygram before Seagram's involvement was announced," he said. The contract with RUG and PolyGram includes a "legal pre emption right" so that, if the stake ever was to be sold, it must first be offered to Lloyd Webber.
Lloyd Webber also quashed rumors that financial difficulties persist at the RUG. He said, "I have never seen The Really Useful Group in such good shape. We have a new team of managers -- young and enthusiastic -- who are taking the group forward on all fronts. We have expanded the company considerably over the past year with additional staff to work on new projects, particularly in video, record and film." The RUG spokesperson added that profit forecasts for this year are in excess of £10 million. He says that Lloyd Webber is especially excited about revenues for film quality videos, which he sees as a way of presenting musical theatre to a whole new audience.
Cats has recently been filmed -- with full, digital surround-sound -- and is due for worldwide video release by Christmas. RUG is also in negotiations for the production to be televised in the UK sometime next year. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, starring Donny Osmond, is due to be filmed in January or February of 1998.
Other upcoming projects include a film of Phantom of the Opera, starring Antonio Banderas, for cinema release. And author Frederick Forsyth is currently writing a novella which may become a sequel to Phantom. Lloyd Webber is scheduled to begin work on the project following the opening of his latest musical, Whistle Down the Wind, which receives its world premiere at the Aldwych Theatre in the West End July 1, 1998.
-- By Robert Simonson
and Terri Paddock