Close Goodbyes In July; Buckley Gets N.Y. Norma

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber met the press last week to unveil a new Norma Desmond for Broadway and scotch at least one newly emerging rumor – no, Tom Cruise won’t be playing Joe Gillis if and when his musical “Sunset Boulevard” returns to its roots and becomes a film.

“That was news to me when I read it in the paper,” Lloyd Webber said Feb. 15 of British tabloid reports that Cruise was heading toward a movie musical debut in “Sunset.” “I’ve never met him; I don’t know anything about it.” The composer “always thought of Joe as a bigger person” than Cruise: “You probably do need someone quite tall.”

Buckley hies to B’way

Speaking in the Adelphi Theater’s Billy Wilder bar, Lloyd Webber did, however, confirm another rumor that had been circulating for some time: His current Norma here, Betty Buckley, will be Broadway’s next Norma – for a year, starting July 4. She leaves the London production April 29, a month beyond her originally intended departure.

Buckley, who joined Lloyd Webber several minutes late, said it had taken nearly six months to negotiate her Broadway contract, which will mark her third Lloyd Webber musical in New York, following “Song and Dance” – in which she succeeded Bernadette Peters – and her Tony-winning turn in “Cats.” Although Lloyd Webber said neither Buckley nor Glenn Close has ever been paid a percentage of the gross, documents for the New York production indicate otherwise; Close’s salary has been $30,000 per week plus 10% of the Minskoff gate over $600,000, which translates to a weekly take in the neighborhood of $50,000 – or $6,250 per performance.

“We signed the deal on Valentine’s Day,” Buckley said, adding that her first New York “Sunset” would be the day after her birthday. “Andrew has a way of giving great gifts.”

An announcement of London’s next Norma will be made in the next few weeks, the composer said. The nod is expected to go to Elaine Paige following her well-received fill-in stint for Buckley earlier this winter. The London Joe, John Barrowman, stays through December.

Having cost just under £5 million ($7.75 million), according to James Thane, managing director of Really Useful Theater Company Ltd., “Sunset” locally has been averaging about $360,000 recently, against a potential of $435,000. Thane pegged the current London advance at about $2.33 million.

Those figures are dwarfed by the ones in New York, where the show’s $13 million capitalization included the cost of buying out Patti LuPone’s contract when Lloyd Webber, et al., decided to go with Close for the Broadway bow. (By contrast, Lloyd Webber’s settlement with Close’s would-be Los Angeles replacement, Faye Dunaway, was handled privately.) The Gotham show has a whopping advance of more than $40 million and is selling seats for more than a year from now.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the L.A. fiasco, which was costly in terms of both money and credibility, Really Useful has been holding financial matters regarding the productions very close to the vest – giving mixed messages, for example, as to whether or not the show has even recouped in London as it approaches its second anniversary.

But Broadway investors have been receiving monthly distributions – an unheard-of practice signaling Really Useful’s confidence in the show’s durability. To date the producers have returned 15% of the capitalization. If current B.O. levels hold – and there’s every indication they will – “Sunset” should recoup around the time of its first anniversary in November (though that won’t account for the millions lost, mostly to the same investors, from the abrupt shuttering in L.A.).

“It’s the only show on Broadway selling out in bad weather,” Lloyd Webber said, “and that includes ‘Phantom.'”

Beyond New York, various other “Sunset” companies are set to levitate, starting with Toronto in October; Frankfurt in December; and March or April ’96 in Melbourne, Australia. Designer John Napier is also preparing “a slightly smaller production” for an American national tour, Lloyd Webber said.

Are there enough Normas to go around? Lloyd Webber seemed unfazed by past casting crises and mentioned Cher and Donna Murphy as two candidates, though Cher is said to be reluctant to commit to more than a four-to-six week run. As for Close’s future in the role, Lloyd Webber said there is “a very strong possibility” she might do an abbreviated London stint and that she would also be a contender for any film adaptation.

“I can’t see her leaving this role,” he said. “She’s really got her teeth into it.”

Jeremy Gerard in New York contributed to this report.

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