Final curtain for musicals

Lloyd Webber says pounds 75 is realistic price for show
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The Independent Culture
The world's most successful composer celebrated the opening of his latest production, By Jeeves, last night and warned that the future of British musicals is "parlous". He said pounds 75 per ticket would be a realistic price for a new blockbuster musical.

Sir Andrew has, alongside Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the producer, transformed the musical into the greatest commercial force in the theatre, with productions such as Cats, which became the longest-running musi- cal in the world earlier this year.

However, Sir Andrew warned that rising production costs, audience expectations, and the burden placed on commercial productions by subsidised theatre was placing an unrealistic strain on the world of musicals.

He said: "Musical theatre can't sustain that. We are living in very parlous times for the future of musicals, and it's going to become increasingly difficult because commercial theatre is disadvantaged now against subsidised theatre."

Sir Andrew, who remortgaged his house 15 years ago to raise part of the pounds 500,000 capital for Cats, the lavish musical adaptation of TS Eliot's poems, calculated that the same production would cost pounds 2.5m to launch in the current climate, and it would be impossible to keep ticket prices low.

He told Classic FM radio: "We were pounds 15 top price for our tickets, with a lower VAT rate. Now, if we had to open Cats today, to be able to keep pace and do the kind of production we did, we would have to be charging pounds 75 a ticket."

According to Sir Andrew, both he and Sir Cameron, who will launch the musical adaptation of Martin Guerre next week, are both seriously concerned by the financial pressures on producers. He added: "It's going to be very difficult to do the kind of big musical that we've been used to."

The "angels", individuals who finance shows, would agree. Although there are rich pickings from the great British juggernauts of the musicals world, most shows lose everything.

Christopher Atkinson, one "angel", said recently: "Because of higher initial costs, it takes longer runs and fuller houses to get back the initial investment nowadays. It also takes longer to get a decent return, even from a highly successful production."

Yet despite Sir Andrew's concerns that musicals are losing out to subsidised theatre, they are flourishing more than ever. Last year, musicals represented 62 per cent of all West End theatre attendances. In stark contrast, modern drama represented 11 per cent and classical plays 8 per cent of seats.

Despite his fears that ticket prices cannot keep up with production costs, the most expensive ticket for the recent production of Sunset Boulevard, one of the most lavish shows in London, is pounds 35. A top price ticket to Cats costs pounds 32.50, while a ticket for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Romeo and Juliet goes up to pounds 23.50.