Mackintosh’s ‘Witches’ to close in London

Tour productions planned for musical

LONDON — “The Witches of Eastwick” is flying out of London. The Cameron Mackintosh musical could close as early as Oct. 27 at the Prince of Wales Theater, possibly lasting a week or two more, the producer said, if there are any 11th-hour box office rallies.

Whatever happens, the show will have sustained losses in the region of £6 million ($9 million), making it among the costliest money-losers in West End history. Its closing follows the departures of “Notre-Dame de Paris,” “Closer to Heaven” and “Peggy Sue Got Married,” three other musicals to depart the West End in the red, with “The Secret Garden” a sizable London casualty earlier this year.

But “Witches,” said Mackintosh, is far from written out, despite failing to catch fire when it was relaunched in March at the Prince of Wales after a nine-month stand at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane.

Productions are planned for Russia, Australia, Norway, Hungary and Japan, while Patrick Swayze has been mentioned as a possible Darryl van Horne — Jack Nicholson’s part in the Warner Bros. movie — in a U.S. tour due to start late next fall. That production looks likely to take place under the banner of Clear Channel, since Mackintosh says he is “not producing at the moment” — his major revivals of “My Fair Lady” and “Oklahoma!” notwithstanding. (Translation: He is no longer gambling on original material.)

“My Fair Lady” has an advance of about $10 million at the Drury Lane through March 16, when principals Jonathan Pryce and Martine McCutcheon finish their contracts. A Broadway mounting is expected in 2003, with Mackintosh not yet sure whether Pryce is willing to commit to a long enough run to ensure his presence in the New York cast.

‘Oklahoma!’ on tap

“Oklahoma!,” meanwhile, is gearing up for New York previews starting Feb. 23 at the Gershwin Theater, prior to a March 21 opening. Josefina Gabrielle (Laurey) and Olivier Award winner Shuler Hensley (Jud Fry) remain from director Trevor Nunn’s London incarnation, with Patrick Wilson (Curly), Jessica Boevers (Ado Annie) and Aasif Mandvi (Ali Hakim) also confirmed. Still to be cast are Will Parker and Aunt Eller. Mackintosh nixed reports that the late Kathleen Freeman (“The Full Monty”) had been tapped to play Aunt Eller.

Boasting a $90 top (these days a Broadway bargain), the $6.5 million production already has “quite a healthy advance,” said Mackintosh, in the $7 million-$8 million range, with the Gershwin box office not opening until early December.

That’s in contrast to the much-publicized drops sustained of late in New York by both “Les Miserables” and “Phantom,” which this week in London celebrated their 16th and 15th birthdays, respectively, on the West End. (Between them, the two shows’ London profit alone is nearing the $70 million mark.) Even in New York, said Mackintosh, speaking of the 12 months prior to Sept. 11, “Les Miz” and “Phantom” cleared profits of $1.3 million and $2.3 million, respectively.

London concessions possible

The producer said it was unclear whether London would end up adopting the union concessions that have been in place to varying degrees on Broadway, where the long-running tourist perennials have been the hardest-hit shows in the month following the terrorist attacks.

“Because there are only three theater owners in New York,” said Mackintosh, “you can sort of kick ass much quicker.” On the West End, he went on, “I think everyone’s got the same aim, if necessary. The thing is, we don’t know what’s necessary at the moment; times are not easy.”

That’s why he made the decision to close “Witches” in what, after all, is one of his theaters rather than have the show limp into 2002 before “The Full Monty” moves in: “You’ve got to make a sensible decision.

“The summer has just not been very good,” he said, “and there comes a point where you know November and December are going to be even harder.”

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