Curtain lifts on Act 1 of Lloyd Webber pix

As L.A. witnessed the opening of his new musical based on a classic Hollywood film, Andrew Lloyd Webber said he is setting out to become a movie mogul himself.

After years of trying to get his projects off the ground here, the composer/theater entrepreneur — whose “Sunset Boulevard” opened Dec. 9 at the Shubert Theatre in Century City — is launching an all-out blitz to mount five of his Broadway and West End extravaganzas as film projects.

The British tunesmith’s Really Useful Group (RUG) has hired former Paramount Pictures production prexy Gary Lucchesi as point man in L.A. to oversee such projects as “Cats,”The Phantom of the Opera,”Aspects of Love,” “Starlight Express” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” And Lloyd Webber has recruited playwright Tom Stoppard to do the “Cats” screenplay.

“We have five projects that are actually going to progress. We are ready to go,” Lloyd Webber said. “I have to make the quantum leap into the movies.”

His only previous musical to be adapted for the screen was “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a collaboration with Tim Rice, which was released in 1973.

For some of the projects, Lloyd Webber is prepared to mobilize important co-financing to insure artistic control. Studios involved include Universal on “Cats” and Warner Bros. on “Phantom.”

Polygram, which bought 30% of RUG several years ago for a reported $ 130 million, has also shown some interest in financing a feature version of “Aspects of Love.”

On Dec. 10, Oliver Stone closed the deal to direct “Evita” for Disney. Lloyd Webber and RUG have little direct control over that deal, apart from script, director and star approval. Lloyd Webber has been in town for several months helping reshape “Sunset Boulevard” from the London version, which garnered only lukewarm reviews. “Whatever happens, a version like this one will be in London in March,” he said.

In an interview at the Beverly Hills mansion that Lloyd Webber has rented, he said “Cats” and “Aspects” are the projects closest to joining Hollywood’s pre-production charts.

“Cats,” which Lloyd Webber said has grossed more than$ 2 billion legit worldwide, is skedded as an animated pic in the $ 20 million to $ 35 million budget range at Universal. Stoppard has agreed to adapt and Lloyd Webber said he hopes to involve the original creative team of director Trevor Nunn and designer John Napier in some capacity, though neither is definite.

“Of course, a lot of work will need to be done to adapt to film,” he said. “We want to find an animated style for the film that is it’s own.”

“Aspects of Love,” a relative B.O. disappointment in the West End and on Broadway, should fare better on film, Lloyd Webber thinks. With financing from various sources, the pic is in development with helmer John Schlesinger. “Now we’re just looking for a screenwriter,” he said.

Calling it “‘Howards End’ with music,” Lloyd Webber added that “Aspects” is not looking for big-budget financing. “It would be destroyed with a lot of money ,” he said.

“Phantom,” which continues to rake in cash on Broadway and across the country , has a full-fledged deal with Warner Bros., though it’s moving slowly. Lloyd Webber said RUG and WB are wary of pushing too quickly “because the stage version erupted so extraordinarily that nobody thought the risk of the film destroying the stage show should be taken.”

Still, he said Warners is ready and the search for a director is on. “It’s moved from the back burner to the front,” he said.

“Joseph,” with successful revivals in London and New York, and the rollerskating “Starlight Express,” which has found a new legit life in Las Vegas , are being developed as animation projects.

Lloyd Webber said no deals had been made for them, but Lucchesi is actively on the lookout for potential financing.

Lloyd Webber and Lucchesi agreed that Really Useful Co. wants to make quality movies, even if it means reaching deep for financing. “Nothing here will be done on the cheap,” said Lucchesi, “but we’re not looking to spend $ 100 million either.”

Lloyd Webber said one of his biggest artistic concerns may be whether exhibitors can handle the musical sound needs of a film like “Phantom.”

“We’ll look at the quality of sound where they are exhibiting,” he said. “It really needs to be more of an event than just going to a normal movie.”

The establishment of a West Coast rep clearly means Lloyd Webber thinks there’s gold in them thar musical hills. He said he’s convinced that with the success of MTV, as well as the booming stage musical industry, film musicals can find a market with both child and adult audiences.

“There really is (a market). But nobody quite knows how big it is,” he said. “We’re talking now about an awful lot of people who have not got access to the musicals at the moment and who want to go and see them.”

Lucchesi agreed. “I am convinced musicals will come back,” he said. “Hollywood became a little scared and a little cautious, as they were about Westerns. All it takes is one to come back.”

As for a film version of the musical “Sunset Boulevard,” which is based on Billy Wilder’s classic film, Lloyd Webber said it’s too early to tell.

“The issue might well raise itself only because we can’t find the theaters to produce (the show),” he said, noting there aren’t enough legit houses in the country equipped to handle such a technically complicated show.

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