‘Bombay’ exits West End for tour

Prod'n to be relaunched later this year

LONDON — “Bombay Dreams,” the Bollywood-themed musical that marked the West End’s first sizable Anglo-Asian hit, will close June 13 at the Apollo Victoria Theater after a profitable two-year run.

But the musical, scored by A.R. Rahman and produced on the West End by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, will be relaunched later this year for a U.K. tour and a return visit in 2005 to a smaller London venue, this time in the extensively tweaked version that is about to start performances in New York.

Andre Ptaszynski, Really Useful chief exec, explained the thinking behind the decision: “The simple fact is that, with the Broadway production, the book and set designs have hit the button so much better than our original attempt in London,” which opened to mixed reviews but solid biz on June 19, 2002.

The New York version, which starts perfs Monday at the Broadway Theater in advance of an April 29 opening, “just presented a much more coherent love story and narrative. Andrew (Lloyd Webber) has fallen completely in love with it. The intention precisely is to watch it open in New York and then bring that version back to tour in Britain and then into the West End” — probably to a Shaftesbury Avenue venue toward the end of 2005.

The show’s closure frees up the 1,900-seat Apollo Victoria for the growing backlog of musicals looking for a West End home. First on that list is the return to London in early July of “Saturday Night Fever” for an open-ended run produced by Adam Spiegel and directed, as it was at the Palladium, by Arlene Phillips.

Further ahead, “Hairspray” would make sense at the Apollo Victoria, since the Broadway tuner will need a big theater if and when it comes to London.

What matters, Ptaszynski told Daily Variety, is that “Bombay” “has had the best of its opening two years.” It made sense, therefore, to shutter at the end of the current company’s contracts and put the £500,000 ($925,000) necessary to recast toward a new production, to start touring late this year.

The £4.5 million “Bombay Dreams,” based on an idea by Lloyd Webber and filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, paid back its original investment within 15 months. (No word yet as to Kapur’s involvement in a still-embryonic movie of the stage musical.) The Broadway production is costing $14 million, of which Really Useful has put up $3 million.

The advance, groups included, has passed the $4 million mark. “We’re in pretty good shape,” said Ptaszynski, “for what is a fragile, unknown thing on Broadway,” where Indian-themed shows are unknown.

Speaking from New York, the musical’s designer and choreographer spoke separately to Daily Variety of a new, improved “Bombay” for Broadway.

“One feels more confident about what one’s doing,” said Mark Thompson, who has designed an entirely new set. Referring to the addition to the creative team of Tony winner Thomas Meehan (“The Producers,” “Hairspray”) as book writer alongside Meera Syal, Thompson said: “The book is clearer. It’s not been made particularly American, actually; it’s just been made less quirky.”

Anthony Van Laast, co-choreographer with Farah Khan, said he was implementing four new production numbers. The creators, he said, “got it about halfway right in London.”

It’s not uncommon for British musicals to incorporate changes made for American productions back into their London runs — “Les Miserables” and “Sunset Boulevard” are among the tuners that have done exactly that. Less common is the wholesale closing of a big musical followed by a West End relaunch a year or more later.

But what if “Bombay Dreams” ends up bombing in New York? “We’re in a risk business,” Ptaszynski said. “That’s what we do.”

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