Germans say they can't take any more Lloyd Webber

ON SUNSET BOULEVARD the sun set long ago, Joseph is hanging up his Technicolor dreamcoat next Friday and the curtain is about to fall for the final time on several other imported musicals.

The German public, which once appeared so obsessed with Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that purpose-built theatres sprang up around the country to house them, now seems sated with the genre. The company that brought in Lloyd Webber productions has gone bust, and many theatres in derelict steel towns are likely to stand empty.

As bonanzas go, Germany's craze for musicals has lasted longer than most. It began in 1986, when the producer Fritz Kurz brought Cats to Hamburg to great acclaim and the even greater joy of his bank manager. There was something sweet and light in Lloyd Webber musicals that appealed to German tastes. Performances were sold out, at ludicrous prices, several months ahead.

Starlight Express arrived two years later, at a brand new theatre in the Ruhr city of Bochum built by the local authorities. Two years after that came The Phantom of the Opera, at another new theatre, this time in Hamburg. That was a great success, too, and suddenly every town with a multistorey car park wanted to erect a theatre for musicals on the adjacent plot. It was a classic German arrangement between private enterprise and the public purse. The towns offered to put up money for the hardware, in the hope of sharing the proceeds of what seemed an inexhaustible gold mine. Everyone was building musical theatres in Germany, even Lloyd Webber himself, envious perhaps of his German partners' profits.

The first sign that the German appetite for Lloyd Webber was not limitless was the closure last year of Sunset Boulevard, which ran for only two years near Wiesbaden. Mr Kurz had by that time departed from the stage, leaving his company, Stella, in the hands of property developers. His successors just kept building, despite mounting evidence that the number of people eager to be coached across Germany for the latest musical (not all, of course, by Lloyd Webber) was declining.

The combination of more and more theatres and fewer and fewer patrons has now brought about Stella's insolvency. Three theatres are closing immediately, leaving the local authorities fuming over their investment.

Five productions will still run but for how long no one can say. "We had some musicals whose lifespan has expired," Hans Peter Sommer, Stella's spokesman, said. He maintains that the genre remains in rude health and blames the company's problems on a series of bad financial decisions.

"We have had too-high costs for many years," Mr Sommer explained. "Stella signed contracts and leases that were too ambitious. We needed to sell 90 per cent of tickets, and that was unrealistic."

It is all very ominous for the cast of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a Disney production on which Stella has staked its future. Hunchback had its world premiere in June in the heart of Berlin, in a purpose-built theatre on the new Potsdamer Platz. The critics hated it from the outset (admittedly Berlin critics hate all musicals). They had specific complaints about the appallingly up-beat rendition of what started life as a Victor Hugo tragedy. And almost universally, the leading lady was declared not sexy enough to play Esmerelda.

Despite the critics' carping, the show has been a box-office success, with 85 per cent of tickets sold. Whether that will save the cast now depends on Stella's ability to renegotiate the rent. The performers' wages have been guaranteed till March, but uncertainty has caused travel agencies to cancel bookings.

As imported musicals fade out, producers are looking for other forms of light entertainment. Even in Berlin, where the expensive Potsdamer Platz development is in danger of falling silent, there is talk of building a new theatre dedicated to British imports. It would be a replica of the Globe, filled with wall-to-wall Shakespeare. The project is fronted by a well-known German actor; all it needs now is an investor.

Any offers?

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz