NEW YORK — Sixteen London-based staffers of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group will have to make themselves useful somewhere else: The company quietly downsized its U.K. operations two weeks ago, Daily Variety has learned.
The London layoffs included at least two high-level execs whose tenures with Lloyd Webber date back years. Jerry Blair, a senior financial officer, and Alistair Smith, a senior exec assigned to new theater projects, were among the staffers let go. The layoffs cut Really Useful’s London staff to about 60.
Peter Brown, Really Useful’s New York spokesman, said Tuesday that the downsizing came at a time when the company has no new productions planned for London. Although Really Useful has six productions running in London and one on tour in the U.K., each of those productions has its own operating staff, Brown said. The layoffs occurred at the corporate level, outside the individual production staffs.
Brown said there were no further layoff plans for London, and denied rumors that the company’s New York operations — the Really Useful Theater Co. — would be similarly downsized. The New York office in Rockefeller Cen-ter houses 14 staffers, including Really Useful Co. president Edgar Dobie.
The company’s denials might dampen widespread rumors about cutbacks in the New York office. “The bloodbath is approaching,” said a source with close ties to the company. “This is a big shakeup.”
The downsizing — the first in the company’s 17-year history — comes at a tricky time for Really Useful and Lloyd Webber. The Broadway opening of the composer’s new $9 million musical, “Whistle Down the Wind,” recently was postponed from April 17 to June 15 — well after the April 30 Tony Award deadline for the current season — leading to much speculation in the New York theater community about the tuner’s readiness. Despite a pan in the Washington Post, the musical, directed by Hal Prince, has been doing good business at Washington, D.C.’s Na-tional Theater since opening in December.
But perhaps even more significant to Really Useful has been the disappointment of “Sunset Boulevard,” a musical that has yet to recoup on Broadway more than two years into its run and that has been greeted with little enthusi-asm on the road. “They expected ‘Sunset’ to replace ‘Phantom of the Opera’ ” as a cash cow, said one Broadway vet.
But Brown said that the London downsizing “has nothing whatsoever” to do with the U.S. “Whistle” or “Sunset” productions, but was prompted by the absence of new product in the U.K. pipeline. Although the Lloyd Webber-produced “A Star Is Born” is in pre-production, it is being readied for a U.S. bow.
The company’s current London productions are “Cats,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Starlight Express,” “By Jeeves,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Sunset Boulevard.” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is touring the U.K.
Productions or co-productions in New York are “Cats,” “Sunset” and “Phantom.”