More starry names head plays than musicals

With a little less than two months to go before its March 9 opening, advance sales for “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webbers follow-up to “The Phantom of the Opera,” have reached a reported £8.5 million ($13.7 million). Compare that with Lloyd Webber’s previous new musical, “The Woman in White,” which opened in 2004 with an advance of just $4.8 million.

A month later, Cameron Mackintosh will open the London transfer of Broadway’s hit “Hair” revival, while in May, the Menier Chocolate Factory has scored a coup with the new Hal Prince/Susan Stroman-helmed tuner, “Paradise Found,” with book by Richard Nelson, lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh and music by waltzmeister Johann Strauss II.

Private Lives,” Noel Coward’s sharpest and funniest comedy, arrives in the West End in a new production helmed by Richard Eyre. Its March 3 opening is eight years to the day since Howard Davies’ resplendent revival starring Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman closed in London en route to Broadway where it bagged three Tony Awards. If London theatergoers’ memories are still fresh, Eyre will be hoping to erase them with the casting of Kim Cattrall as the vampish Amanda. The only slightly odd factor is that her co-star, the excellent Matthew Macfadyen is 18 years Cattrall’s junior.

Competition for the busiest director of the year is likely to be fierce, but one of the most serious contenders is Jamie Lloyd. He’s already in previews with the U.K. premiere of Douglas Carter Beanes “The Little Dog Laughed” with a smart cast led by Tamsin Greig, opening Jan. 20. Then Lloyd moves to the Donmar Warehouse, where he is associate director, helming the premiere of “Polar Bears,” the debut play from Mark Haddon, whose novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is second only to Dan Brown in the 2000-10 decade adult fiction lists.

Meantime, the National Theater is gearing up for a raft of new productions including a.d. Nicholas Hytners overhaul of Dion Boucicault’s 19th century romp, “London Assurance,” starring Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw and Paul Ready, while also preparing to announce its production slate for the rest of the year.

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