The tills are alive with The Sound of Music

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, the Palladium people simply remember the small fortune being coined at every performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein's hit musical
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The Independent Online

As the curtain fell at the opening performance of The Sound of Music last week, the only noise louder than the rapturous applause of the audience was the ringing of cash tills.

Bolstered by the sort of publicity money couldn't buy - thanks to the reality TV series auditions for its female lead - the show was guaranteed success. But even How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? cannot take all the credit for the record-breaking sales at the box office - the show took £1.1m in the first eight hours of opening and has since taken £12m in advance sales.

The show is a money- making machine, and pretty much everyone involved - from the ushers front-of-house to the millionaire investors - can look forward to a share of the spoils.

At the top of the food chain is the producer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose deft handling of his lack of a Maria has, literally, paid off. No one is prepared to discuss on the record how much Lord Lloyd-Webber or any of the other people involved stand to make from the show. But an industry insider last night said the impresario could walk away with £10m in profits from the first year alone of the musical's UK revival. "The show has that essential star quality and it could run and run," the source said.

Phantom of the Opera, Lord Lloyd-Webber's biggest commercial success, has earned £1.8bn so far on the back of 65,000 performances in 21 countries. His personal fortune is estimated at £700m, according to this year's Rich List. And his Really Useful Group owns the theatre housing the show. So he is going to very nicely, thank you, out of the family Von Trapp.

When Scarlett Johansson turned down the part of Maria, the Really Useful Group's TV hunt for a new leading lady proved a double bonus.

While the critics rave about Connie Fisher in the lead role (right), the show's financiers will no doubt be rejoicing at how much cheaper she is than Miss Johansson, a huge Hollywood star who could easily have demanded six-figure sums.

According to sources, Ms Fisher will be getting the industry standard of £2,500 per week. Obviously, she will want to negotiate this upwards with her new-found success.

Although she is the biggest box-office name in The Sound of Music, the operatic soprano Lesley Garrett, who plays the abbess, is unlikely to dent the bottom line. Her estimated £3,000-a week salary is small change compared with the huge fees commanded by Hollywood names who tread the boards.

The young members of the Von Trapp family in the production will make an even smaller impact on profits. Their weekly salaries are likely to be in the hundreds, rather than thousands. At the bottom of the pile are those people, usually students, handing punters their tickets, drinks and programmes, who all earn around £23 per show.

Meanwhile the multi-million-spinning merchandising on the back of the show, offers everything from T-shirts to mobile phone ring tones of the best tunes. Lord Lloyd-Webber's company has sewn this up with its own in-house merchandise company, ensuring that no profits associated with his work go elsewhere.

It costs £50,000 per week to rent a major West End theatre, which puts pressure on the producer to deliver a hit with large advance tickets sales.

"Chuck-out" clauses in the contract ensure that even if a show is doing well the theatre's owner can tell the producer it is time to move on. The Really Useful Group has shown its business acumen in dealing with the two-fo`ld problem of what to do if the show flops and what to do if it is a runaway success, with a neat solution: it bought the London Palladium and five other theatres last year.

A slew of West End musicals, from Guys and Dolls to Porgy and Bess, has unleashed such brute pulling power that traditional plays cannot compete. As huge budgets are ploughed intospectacular musicals, straight plays are struggling at the box office, even though tickets for musicals cost up to £60.

Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke announced last week that it will close at the Apollo after only six weeks, citing "insufficient" ticket sales.

What you pay and what they can earn

1. Tub of ice-cream, £3; programme, £3. Sold by ushers earning £22.50 a show

2. Box office staff earn £23 per show

3. Bar staff earn £22.50 per show. Drinks prices: pint of beer, £3.50; glass of wine, £5; soft drink £2.50; spirit and mixer, £4

4. Theatre manager: earns £35,000 per year

5. Producer Andrew Lloyd Webber: insiders predict he could make £10m in profits from 'The Sound of Music' in this country alone. His biggest hit, 'Phantom of the Opera' has earned him £1.8bn worldwide to date

6. Orchestra: 18 musicians each earning £683.34 for an eight-show week

7. Lead child actor: £28 per performance

8. Lead actor: £2,500 for an eight-show week , more if well known

9. Lighting director: flat fee of £2,000, plus royalties of between one and five per cent.

10. Set designer: the best known earn £25,000, plus royalties of up to five per cent

11. Usher: £22.50 a show

12. Costume designer: £2,632

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