‘Shrek’ stakes out West End swamp

Green ogre, Dorothy sniffing round nunnery

Word surfaced in London last week that “Shrek the Musical” was licking its Broadway wounds by readying for a 2010 West End opening. But those reports appear to have been overstated.

DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg was indeed in town holding meetings, but inking a deal on a fall date for the hoped-for 2,100-seat London Palladium cannot have been at the top of the agenda. Why? Because “Sister Act,” the Palladium’s current incumbent, shows no sign of leaving just yet.

The singing nuns may not be doing boffo box office — discount tickets have long been widely available, not least at the TKTS booth — but, according to insiders, at least one of the leads has recently extended her contract. Furthermore, it’s believed that lead producer Stage Entertainment is keen to keep the show afloat in London to boost chances of a Broadway run.

“Sister Act” cannot stay at the Palladium indefinitely, however. The musical is obliged to leave by 2011, at which point “Shrek” could move in, so long as Andrew Lloyd Webber ’s new production of “The Wizard of Oz” doesn’t grab the venue first. The latter is eyeing both the Palladium and the Theater Royal Drury Lane (home to “Oliver!”) for a 2011 run. “Oz” will be able to play hardball in negotiations given that Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group owns both theaters.

Hampstead headhunt

The other question on industry lips is “Who will get the Hampstead gig?”

Hampstead Theater, the new-writing venue celebrating its 50th anni with “What Fatima Did,” a sharp-eyed, smart-thinking debut from 21-year-old Atiha Sen Gupta about a schoolgirl who suddenly adopts the hijab, is interviewing for an artistic director.

Outgoing a.d. Anthony Clark took over the theater in its spanking new building in 2003 and has since had more than his fair share of problems. Chief among them was that the building cost wildly more to run than its rundown predecessor, a fact its funders initially failed to recognize.

Artistically, Clark’s tenure has been much criticized, and not without reason. He has displayed a laudable dedication to certain writers, notably Dennis Kelly , whose spellbinding “Taking Care of Baby” was a high point. But the highs have been outnumbered by lows like Penny Gold ’s risibly unconvincing Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev play, “The President’s Holiday.”

Two of the most touted candidates to step into Clark’s shoes told Variety they have firmly ruled themselves out of the running.

Bush Theater a.d. Josie Rourke , riding high on her flawlessly acted production of Nick Payn e’s dark comedy “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet,” has not applied for the post.

The same goes for Anna Mackmin (“Dancing at Lughnasa” at the Old Vic), happily pursuing a freelance career that continues with a new Tamsin Oglesby play opening at the National Theater early next year.

Unconfirmed reports, however, put several heavy-hitters in the ring, not least of them Roger Michell , who has spent a decade juggling the London stage (a matchless “Old Times” at the Donmar) with movies such as “Notting Hill.” Lindsay Posner , best known for directing starry casts in U.K. stagings of American dramas, including several David Mamet revivals, is also rumored to be in contention. Ditto Royal Court associate Ramin Gray , Thea Sharrock (“Equus”) and David Grindley , whose “Six Degrees of Separation” opens at the Old Vic in January.

An announcement is not expected until the New Year.

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