Hollywood waits for courtroom theatrics to outshine stage: Faye Dunaway is suing Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber for pounds 3.87m after being fired from one of his musicals. Phil Reeves reports

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AS SIR Andrew Lloyd Webber and Faye Dunaway head for a courtroom to settle their differences, Hollywood is eagerly preparing for a celebrity trial that promises to be considerably more gripping than the musical which gave rise to the dispute.

Insults began flying between the two parties only hours after Ms Dunaway fulfilled her threat to file a dollars 6m ( pounds 3.87m) lawsuit against the composer-producer and his Really Useful Company over a decision to fire her from the Los Angeles production of Sunset Boulevard.

Sir Andrew's spokesman accused the actress of mounting a 'stick-up'; Ms Dunaway's lawyers characterised him and his associates as 'cold-blooded character assassins cravenly abusing their awesome power over the world's media and public opinion'.

The row began in June, as she was preparing to debut in the leading role of Norma Desmond, replacing Glenn Close, whose performance won widespread admiration. Less than two weeks before her opening night, Sir Andrew abruptly announced that the show was to close, claiming that Ms Dunaway's singing was not good enough for the demanding part.

A furious Ms Dunaway, 53, - who has never sung on stage before - responded late on Thursday with a suit which seeks dollars 1m for breach of contract, and at least dollars 5m for defamation and fraud, and punitive damages.

As word of the suit swept through Tinseltown, the Oscar- winning actress issued a statement welcoming a public forum to clear her name: 'I hope that I am the last in a long line of artists who have come to this man's productions in good faith and have suffered great personal and professional injury at his hands.' Sir Andrew's spokesman, Peter Brown, countered: 'We've never seen a lawsuit with so little foundation. It's a stick-up, and we are not going to tolerate it.'

Ms Dunaway alleges she was used as 'a stalking horse to test the financial viability' of the show, and her singing was not the issue.

She claims that when advance sales slumped, Sir Andrew decided to save money by sending the LA cast of Sunset Boulevard - based on the story of a clapped-out Hollywood actress - to Broadway, where it is due to open in November. 'Having smeared (her) reputation to camouflage the financial motives for the closure decision, Webber then launched a press campaign to protect his fragile ego and to preserve his Midas-touch reputation,' her complaint alleges.

Mr Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company condemned as a 'public relations stunt' Ms Dunaway's claim for damages after being sacked from Sunset Boulevard - and criticised her for her attacks on Sir Andrew. 'We will take the severest action against her insulting, damaging and defamatory remarks,' a statement said.

'This lawsuit is a public relations stunt - a further log thrown by Faye Dunaway and her representatives, trying to fuel the fire of media attention which they have constantly stoked since we terminated her role.'

Betty Buckley, star of the British version of Sunset Boulevard, has expressed regret over the backstage rows which have affected the show on both sides of the Atlantic. Miss Buckley, who has won praise for her performance at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End of London, said she feels bad for everybody involved.

(Photograph omitted)