Lloyd Webber tops list of most influential people in UK theatre

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The Independent Culture

A triumphant revival of The Sound of Music starring a television talent show Maria has propelled Andrew Lloyd Webber back to the top spot in an industry guide to the most influential people in British theatre.

The enormous public enthusiasm for BBC1’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and its winner Connie Fisher puts Lloyd Webber on equal top dog footing with David Ian, his co-judge and producer on the project.

Ian, who was little known outside the industry until the last year, knocked Lloyd Webber off the No 1 position the composer/impresario had held for five years in the 2005 list compiled by The Stage newspaper.

Joining forces for the television series and show proved a winning format for both men with The Sound of Music reporting record ticket advances of £12 million.

However, next year they will go their separate ways, featuring in rival reality TV shows on BBC and ITV. Lloyd Webber will be involved with the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do, which will be a search for a star for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat while Ian will feature on ITV’s You’re the One that I Want, to find the leads for a new production of Grease.

Brian Attwood, The Stage’s editor, said the emergence of reality television as a way of casting a show was one of the most important developments in British theatre in the last year.

The TV series was criticised by Equity, the actor’s union, among others but up to 8 million viewers tuned in and the winner turned out to be a fully trained actress.

“Whatever one’s thoughts on the process employed by How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, it has been undeniably successful, with The Sound of Music reporting record advances,” Mr Attwood said.

“This success is reflected in the joint first positioning of Ian and Lloyd Webber. It will be interesting to see how they both fare next year when they are competitors with two separate TV shows, rather than collaborators.”

The higher echelons of the Stage 100 list are dominated by commercial producers including Cameron Mackintosh and Nica Burns, the Perrier comedy prize founder who became a theatre owner last year.

But the continued success of Britain’s subsidised theatre was reflected in the rise of Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), and Nicholas Hytner, his counterpart at the National, and the arrival at No 17 of Vicky Featherstone and the newly-founded National Theatre of Scotland..

Other new entries in the top 20 included David Lan, who re-opened the Young Vic in London after an acclaimed renovation, Jonathan Church, now head of the Chichester Festival Theatre, and Dominic Cooke, who will take over running the Royal Court next year.

Harold Pinter is the highest ranked performer at No 12. After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature at the end of 2005, the playwright made a cracking return to acting in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape at the Royal Court.

Other names honoured include the playwrights Tom Stoppard, whose Rock ‘n’ Roll was a major hit, Alan Ayckbourn, who directed his 70th new play, Alan Bennett, whose History Boys triumphed on Broadway, and Peter Morgan, the television and film writer whose stage work Frost/Nixon transferred from the Donmar to the West End.

Performers named included Judi Dench, who starred in Noel Coward and Shakespeare, Rufus Sewell, Stoppard’s leading man, Michael Sheen, who plays David Frost in Morgan’s play, and Samuel West, who is credited for directing quality shows at Sheffield Theatres as well as his acting.