Ever since Sunset sank and Wind stopped whistling, speculation has swirled about the condition of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's finances. Firings at Really Useful posts around the world fueled the gossip, as did a May auction wherein the composer sold of 18,000 wines from his world famous collection.
With the resignation of Really Useful chief executive officer Patrick McKenna in May (alongside other departures and layoffs), 49-year-old Lloyd Webber has become chairman of the organization, though his spokesman told Robert Frank of the Wall Street Journal that a replacement for McKenna is being sought. The New York Post reported, June 17, that earlier this year, Webber took on a business manager, personal friend and music executive John Reid, who also helped rocker Elton John out of financial difficulties years ago. Webber Spokesperson Peter Brown told Playbill On-Line Reid had been offered the CEO job but turned it down.
Lloyd Webber owns 70 percent of Really Useful; Polygram the rest (with an option to buy a majority in 2003. Said Brown of the current situation, There "was a problem, it's been recognized, changes made. We have restructured."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Webber told the UK Daily Telegraph that his losses could reach 10 million pounds for fiscal `97 -- estimated at $16.3 million USD. Granted, Lloyd Webber's estimated worth is over $600 million, but it also marks a sharp reversal from the $50-$60 million annual profits of previous years. Staffing at the New York Really Useful office has been cut by two-thirds since 1994. The New York Post reports that Sunset Boulevard's sudden collapse in New York and around the world is said to have cost upwards of $3.2 million, with $10 million more dropped on Whistle Down The Wind. ("Those numbers are on the high said," Brown told Playbill On-Line.) The show was the hottest ticket in town when Glenn Close opened it at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre Nov. 17, 1994, but did not fare as well at the box office during Elaine Paige's tenure. In March, Lloyd-Webber spokesman Peter Brown confirmed a published report in the New York Post that the 85 percent recoupment figure for Sunset was accurate. "Eventually we almost certainly expect to recoup fully," Brown said, "within the show's lifetime. Once we get through merchandising, recording revenues, revivals, stock and amateur rights... A show that runs as long as Sunset doesn't die."
Asked in February about the rumors circling around Webber, Brown confirmed that 16 people were fired from the London Really Useful office, "but those were normal for the industry. There were no new productions this year, and those people were specifically involved in new productions. We've been unusual in that every year for several years we've had a new show." As for Webber's personal circumstances, Brown dismissed rumors of financial trouble and said, "He's selling one house and buying another."
Brown told Playbill On-Line (June 19) that the New York Really Useful office was still extant, albeit "in a new location. But the present staff will remain." Also, Nina Lannan who was the company general management for Really Useful, has spun off as an independent entity."
As for Lloyd-Webber's current creative plans, the most certain is rewrites of Whistle Down The Wind, which is targeting a June 1998 London opening. "Phantom II is certainly on the agenda," said Peter Brown, who also said A Star Is Born (not a Webber composition) was still being developed as a production. Brown denied a months-old rumor that Webber was also working on an adaptation of the film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. He did say an animated version of Cats was being developed for Universal, "and we're talking about Joseph and Starlight Express with various studios."
As for the rumor that John Travolta would play Erik the Phantom, Brown had no comment but said the film was still searching for a director and leading man. "When we have those, it'll be a go very quickly."
On the plus side for Lloyd-Webber, The Phantom Of The Opera continues to be a sold-out blockbuster, while Cats will become the longest-running Broadway musical in history, June 19. Brown also pointed out that productions of Webber shows worldwide remain a steady source of income.
Webber-watchers are saying that if Really Useful wants to succeed again, the company will need more product than just ALW shows to market. The Wall Street Journal quotes Christopher Dixon, entertainment analyst at Paine Webber, as saying, "Really Useful has been putting all their [sic] eggs in one basket. That's fast becoming an outdated approach."
--By David Lefkowitz