When Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical Whistle Down the Wind opens in London next year, don't expect any photos from the first night party in the newspapers the next day, and don't expect to turn on the late evening television news and see some gushing TV presenter at the after show party being told by a 'B' list celebrity 'how wonderful Andrew's latest musical is'. Why?
Because, after a year of downsizing, the Sunday Times of London has revealed that Lord Lloyd Webber has had a 'no-party' clause inserted into documents offering shares in Whistle Down the Wind -- evidently to reassure prospective angels (theatrical investors) that their money will not be wasted on a first night party that might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage. Why?
The answer to that is most likely Sunset Boulevard, Lloyd Webber's last musical, which despite healthy runs of over two years in both London and New York, still managed to evidently lose investors money -- when the Broadway production of Sunset closed, Hal Luftig, an investor with $1 million in the production, complained in The New York Times about the dismissive treatment he and his money received. He cited, for example, television commercials that continued to run in the last weeks of the production. "The show's closing," he said. "What are we doing on television? Why wasn't this explained to the investors? Andrew Lloyd Webber has made over $8 million on this show (with composer's royalty payments), and I'm here not recouping my million. Here's a show for which a group of investors put up $13 million, and there's a total lack of concern for that."
To help answer his critics, it seems that Lloyd Webber is endeavouring to downsize all aspects of his operation - from administrative costs through to production costs. "In the Washington production of Whistle Down the Wind," Lloyd Webber said, "we had spent $150,000 on one stage prop - a baptismal font that was on stage for maybe 10 seconds. It was madness, and we have to change attitudes."
But it doesn't mean investors will entirely miss out on a party. "If we have a hit with Whistle after it opens next June," Lloyd Webber said, "we shall have a modest party a year later with the investors paying their own way and me paying for my own guests. It is not fair to spend angel's money in advance on a show that may close in a few month's time." Only time will tell if Whistle is a hit, but it will be facing some stiff competition in London's West End with Chicago, which opened last month at the Adelphi Theatre, expected to still be a 'hot ticket' well into next year while musicals with confirmed openings next year include Harold Prince's revival production of Show Boat on 28 April at the Prince Edward Theatre, the stage musical version of Saturday Night Fever opening 5 May at the London Palladium and Rent opening on 12 May at the Shaftesbury. Whistle is expected to open at the Aldwych Theatre on 30 June and a couple of weeks after that the stage musical version of Doctor Doolittle opens at the Apollo Hammersmith Theatre on 14 July.
-- By Paul Dixon
Albemarle of London's West End Theatre Guide