Mackintosh And Useful Go Head To Head In Asia

Asia’s prosperous cities are being turned into a Broadway on the Road, East, for glitzy Western musicals, thanks to the trailblazing efforts of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Australian producer John Frost.

Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh did the groundwork last year by producing, respectively, “Cats” in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul, Korea, and “Les Miserables” in Singapore. Frost’s first excursion was mounting an Aussie production of “South Pacific” in Hong Kong in June for a successful three-week run via local partner Lunchbox Prods.

The results are encouraging all three organizations to open a regular flow of product into the Asia region, and to widen the circuit to untapped markets such as Taipei, Taiwan.

‘We’re hoping to consolidate on the success of ‘Cats’ by staging a major musical annually in Southeast Asia,” says Brian Barnes, general manager of the Australian outpost of Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, which is driving the Asian expansion. The group has “The Phantom of the Opera” opening in Singapore at a 1,760-seat theater March 3 and is expecting a three-month sellout season. Harold Prince will direct Livent Intl.’s Canadian touring production, presented jointly by RUG and Mackintosh, with RUG bearing the entire capital risk. The show moves to Hong Kong (a 2,000-seater in the Cultural Center) in June for 16 weeks.

At capacity, the two stands would gross $26 million, according to Barnes, who sets that figure against Really Useful Group’s total “at risk” investment of $18 million. That risk gets lower by the day as advance ticket sales in Singapore have grown to a healthy $7.5 million. Top ticket price in both markets is about $70. Not factored into the equation are royalties payable to Lloyd Webber. Barnes adds that negotiations are under way to bring “Phantom” to Seoul and Taipei. The difficulty in Taipei is the shortage of venues that can accommodate an 8-to-10-week run, he notes. For 1996, RUG is talking to Australian producer Harry M. Miller about an Asian tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and possibly a new version of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Either musical could be competing with “Les Miz.” Mackintosh’s London-based managing director Martin McCallum and Australian general manager Matthew Dalco toured the East several weeks ago to plan a “Les Miz” tour for the latter half of next year, encompassing Singapore (again), Hong Kong, Taipei, and Seoul, and possibly Thailand and the Philippines. A U.S. touring company will be used.

In their travels, the Mackintosh execs were frequently asked when “Miss Saigon” could be choppered into Asia.

“We might have some information about that in about six months,” vouched John Robertson in Mackintosh’s Sydney office.

“Les Miz” played for 11 weeks in Singapore, averaging more than 80% capacity, and was a financial success, according to Robertson. In one concession to the local population, Mandarin supertitles were played on a screen above the stage.

At home, Robertson is thrilled by the $12 million advance sales for the Australian production of “Miss Saigon,” which bows July 29 at Sydney’s Capitol Theater.

Oz producer Frost of the Gordon/Frost Organization is busy assembling a raft of attractions for the 1,650-seat Kad Theater, the centerpiece of Thai entrepreneur Suchai Keng karnka’s new $17 million performing arts complex in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second-largest city.

Suchai appointed Frost and the Adelaide Festival Center Trust as his worldwide agents for acquiring productions after being impressed by Frost’s “Hello, Dolly!” in Hong Kong. The strategy is to fully import Western shows until Suchai is able to use a mix of Thai and foreign cast and musicians, and maybe eventually to mount all-Thai productions, said a company director, Knit Kounavudhi.

Although Chiang Mai has a population of only 1.2 million people, Knit says his organization will bring people from all over Thailand to see the Kad’s attractions. Frost aims to extend the life of the productions staged in Chiang Mai by arranging tours to other Asian cities in league with local producers.

The Kad theater bows in April with a three-week season of a totally new Aussie production of “Grease.” Next comes “South Pacific,” jointly produced by Frost and the Adelaide Festival Center Trust. Frost wants to use this incarnation of “South Pacific” as an international showcase to try to place the show in the U.S. and London.

In August, Frost is reviving his Aussie show “Elvis the Musical” at the Kad. “Cabaret” (with an all-Australian cast) preems in September, followed the next month by “Hello, Dolly!” transferring from Melbourne. All will be presented in English, with Thai supertitles.

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