All the world's a stage

The map: From Sapporo to Stockholm, one British export always does boffo box office: the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh musical. Illustration by Andrew Lovell

The musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh may never be truly accepted by the British theatrical establishment, but why should the two impresarios really care, when their productions are watched by millions worldwide, and they have made billions of pounds at the box office.

Critics may have renamed Lloyd Webber's most recent offering Piffle Down the Wind, and, on previous occasions, rated the performance of the sets above that of the actors, but no one can deny the awe-inspiring numbers who flock to see these musicals every year. (Few people can claim to have escaped either sitting through or appearing in a school production of Lloyd Webber's Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or Mackintosh's orphan Oliver!).

Together, Mackintosh and Webber are now the undisputed musicals dream team, with a score of co-productions - all stemming from one famously long lunch in 1980 which has gone down in the annals of Soho schmoozing.

Worldwide, you are now just as likely to hear the theme from Phantom being quietly hummed on the streets of Tokyo as you are in the seemingly endless queue of foreign tourists and coach parties outside the show's London home at Her Majesty's Theatre.

Phantom, seen already by an estimated 52 million people and with takings in excess of pounds 1.5bn, permanently haunts Basle in Switzerland in a purpose- built pounds 15m theatre. Neighbouring Germany, however, is home to the most obsessive Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh fans. In the town of Bochum, there is a dedicated home for Starlight Express. Meanwhile, near Frankfurt, Sunset Boulevard has a hotel attached to its own pounds 25m home.

The scale of these international ventures is breathtaking. Mackintosh's Les Miserables is the world's most popular musical. It has played in 26 countries from Iceland to the Philippines and completed over 25,000 performances, with an estimated audience in excess of 40 million. There have been more than 30 cast recordings, while the video of the 10th anniversary Royal Albert Hall concert has sold more than one million copies worldwide. And then there are those sets: the plunging chandelier from Phantom of the Opera - made up of 6,000 beads, 3m wide and weighing one tonne - the staircase from Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express's careering train tracks through the audience. Touring productions of Phantom require 27 articulated lorries to transport the set.

Interestingly, cultural idiosyncrasies are taken into consideration when these shows are restaged. Audiences at Cameron Mackintosh's production of Oliver! in Hungary hear the poor little orphans dreaming, not of cold jelly and custard, but of goulash soup and chestnut puree. In Poland, by contrast, the delicacy craved is huge cakes and pork chops, in Finland, fish, in Sweden, meat pudding. Still want more?

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