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Ayckbourn times four

LONDON — The West End looks to be all Alan — well, not quite — in 2002, courtesy of producers Michael Codron and Lee Dean, who will be bringing Alan Ayckbourn to the West End four times over.

As Britain’s most prolific dramatist readies the Broadway preem of “By Jeeves,” plans are shaping up back in London for an April 18 Aldwych Theater opening of “Bedroom Farce,” the 1977 comedy first seen at the National Theater prior to a Broadway transfer. (That looks to be a busy week, with the stage preem of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” bowing two days earlier at the Palladium.)

For this revival, Richard Briers and June Whitfield will inherit the roles that earned supporting player Tonys in 1979 for Michael Gough and Joan Hickson. Loveday Ingram — the woman responsible for the recent West End revival of “The Blue Room” — will direct, with designs by Lez Brotherston (“The Little Foxes”). Runs in Guildford and Richmond will precede the West End stand.

From Ayckbourn past to present, next summer should see the West End bow of “Damsels in Distress,” a typically audacious Ayckbourn enterprise consisting of three separate full-length plays performed on the same set by the same company. The plan is for one play to open per week, building to a daylong Saturday marathon of all three; unusually for a dramatist whose shows often are recast with starrier names for London, the trio will preserve the Scarborough ensemble that opened the plays at Ayckbourn’s home theater in the north of England.

Codron puts the cost of “Bedroom Farce” and “Damsels” in the region of £250,000 ($370,000) each and acknowledges that the trilogy, in particular, is not the sort of venture a West End impresario takes on lightly. “Alan has found a nice, kind producer,” deadpans Codron, “who is willing to do this.”

Singing Nunn

Trevor Nunn turns once again to opera when he helms the world preem Dec. 7, 2002, of “Sophie’s Choice,” a Royal Opera House venture based on the William Styron novel that inspired the much-lauded 1982 film. Composer-librettist is Englishman Nicholas Maw, with Simon Rattle and Rob Howell on hand to conduct and design, respectively. (Rattle wielded the baton at Nunn’s now-legendary production of “Porgy and Bess.”)

Penciled in for six perfs, the staging will team baritone Rodney Gilfry as Nathan (the Kevin Kline role) opposite mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager’s Sophie (the part for which Meryl Streep nabbed her second Oscar), with Stafford Dean and Dale Duesing also on board. The project marks Nunn’s first major freelance foray since taking over the Royal National Theater in 1997, a post he vacates in April 2003.

‘Witches’ winds down

“The Witches of Eastwick” will close Oct. 27, with a reprieve of one or two weeks possible if the Cameron Mackintosh production does a last-minute box office rally at the Prince of Wales. Whichever date it departs, the show will have sustained cumulative losses approaching $9 million, despite a critically well-received relaunch earlier this year that failed to translate into full houses.

“The summer’s just not been very good,” Mackintosh tells Variety, adding, “there comes a point where you know November and December are going to be even harder.” At the same time, the John Dempsey-Dana Rowe musical is on tap for a separate Moscow staging in 2002, with Australia, Norway, Hungary and Japan also in the queue and the launch of a U.S. tour — Patrick Swayze has been touted as a possible Darryl van Horne — in November 2002.

That production looks likely to go out under the banner of Clear Channel, the former SFX, since Mackintosh is at the moment restricting his hands-on producing of new projects to revivals — “My Fair Lady” in London and “Oklahoma!”, opening March 21 on Broadway. The latter, incidentally, has firmed up casting in all major roles except Will Parker and Aunt Eller, with Patrick Wilson (Curly), Josefina Gabrielle (Laurey), Shuler Hensley (Jud Fry), Aasif Mandvi (Ali Hakim) and Jessica Boevers (Ado Annie) set.

Mackintosh pegs the “Oklahoma!” advance so far between $7 million-$8 million, with the Gershwin Theater box office not even open for another six or seven weeks. And with “My Fair Lady” holding a Drury Lane advance near $10 million, Mackintosh doesn’t sound too despondent about the fate of “Witches” in a week that saw back-to-back London birthdays for “Les Miserables” (16 years on Oct. 8) and “The Phantom of the Opera” (15 years as of Oct. 9).

Cumulative profit on “Phantom” to date in the West End alone is nearing $30 million, with “Les Miz” rapidly approaching the $40 million mark — figures to leave anyone far from glum.

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