Spacey's Old Vic pulls in £1.2m advance sales for new show

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Kevin Spacey, hailed as the saviour of the Old Vic Theatre but struggling to convince the critics, finally seems set to score at the box office.

Kevin Spacey, hailed as the saviour of the Old Vic Theatre but struggling to convince the critics, finally seems set to score at the box office.

His next show, a version of The Philadelphia Story, has pulled off the rare feat of taking more than £1m in ticket sales before he has even taken a step on the stage. It is a near-record performance.

While racking up a seven-figure advance is no problem for a blockbuster musical such as Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the straight plays that can do so are few and far between.

With a £1.2m advance, Philadelphia Story is only a whisker away from the West End record of £1.25m set by Sexual Perversity in Chicago in 2003.

Spacey, the Oscar-winning actor whose movies include American Beauty and The Usual Suspects, was appointed artistic director at the Vic in 2003. But when his first season began last year, the productions failed to fulfil the weight of expectations among critics.

Of his opening production Cloaca, The Daily Telegraph declared: "Spacey's down in the gutter with this stinker", while the Guardian called it "a sitcom with attitude".

But Spacey's productions - including a pantomime starring Sir Ian McKellen - have chimed with audiences, helping to build the theatre's core audience.

The Philadelphia Story stars Spacey, Jennifer Ehle - best known for her appearance in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice - and Broadway star D W Moffett in the tale of a haughty society girl who chooses between three suitors. Philip Barry's original play was made into a hit movie starring Cary Grant, James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn, and was later turned into the musical High Society, with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

The show's producer, David Liddiment, the former ITV executive, said he was delighted with the advance for the play, which opens on 10 May, with previews from Tuesday.

"It's a remarkable figure. We've been very fortunate. We are a commercial company, in that we have no subsidy, and we have to make our own way in the world. Box office and audience reaction is vital to our success and our standing in our first few seasons.

"We have to get the theatre into people's minds because we're not on Shaftesbury Avenue or in the West End and we don't get much passing trade. We have had some terrible reviews. But I'm pretty sanguine about that sort of stuff. Critics have to report things as they find them, but we don't always agree with what they write."

Spacey will leave the Philadelphia Story after seven weeks of the four-month run to film his role as Lex Luthor in Superman Returns. His replacement has yet to be announced, but Mr Liddiment said the theatre had been upfront about his limited involvement.

Spacey will return to play Richard II later in the year, directed by Trevor Nunn. The Old Vic will also host further performances by Sir Ian McKellen, who will reprise his role as Widow Twankey in Aladdin.