Andrew Lloyd Webber has pulled out of a deal to sell four of his West End theatres to a consortium led by Michael Grade.
The original deal for the theatres was rumoured to be around £50 million and the consortium buying the theatres was led by former BBC Chairman and ITV Chief Executive Michael Grade and theatre agent Michael Linnit.
A statement released by Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group regarding the sale to the GradeLinnit consortium said that “at the eleventh hour, GradeLinnit raised issues relating to a long-standing contractual agreement between one of the theatres and a production company about a possible future production. GradeLinnit decided that they would not want to take this contract forward as owners of the theatre. The Really Useful Group has chosen to continue with the agreement and therefore the sale will not be going ahead.”
The deal had included the New London Theatre, current home to War Horse, the Palace Theatre, where Priscilla Queen of the Desert is playing, Chicago venue the Cambridge Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, which has run Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera since 1986.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group will continue to own the four theatres and West End flagship venues the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, currently housing Oliver! and then Shrek The Musical, the London Palladium, which sees Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz open in February, and a 50% stake in the Adelphi Theatre, home to Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies.
It is expected that Michael Grade will be particularly disappointed that the sale has not gone through. His family’s history is entwined with London theatre, with his uncle Lew Grade staging Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the 1950s and 60s for his ATV network. Michael has recently recorded a Radio 2 history of the venue timed for its centenary this December.
His uncle Bernard Delfont converted the London Hippodrome into the Talk of the Town restaurant in 1958, bringing in a host of entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt and Judy Garland, and staging the Folies Bergère. In the early 1990s Bernard Delfont struck a deal with Cameron Mackintosh to take on his Prince Edward and Prince of Wales theatres, creating the company Delfont Mackintosh, which today owns seven West End theatres.
Lloyd Webber has been slowly divesting of his theatre assets. In 2005 Really Useful sold four theatres to Nimax Theatres – the Lyric, Apollo, Garrick and Duchess for £11.5 million. And in a frank interview with the Daily Mail in July, Lloyd Webber talked of the stress involved in keeping the theatres going and the large debt owed on them: “We’ve got an overdraft of about £100 million against the theatres, which is too much… it’s simply beyond me.”
Producers associated with the venues that were to be sold include Cameron Mackintosh, producer of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Broadway producers Barry and Fran Weissler and their production of Chicago at the Cambridge and Liz Koops and Garry McQuinn at Back Row Productions, producers of Priscilla at the Palace Theatre.
It has long been rumoured that Cameron Mackintosh would like to buy the London Palladium and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for his Delfont Mackintosh company, but Lloyd Webber has so far been unwilling to divest of the venues.