London venue changes are in the air

The good news about the Edward Snape/Fiery Angel/Stage Entertainment U.K production of “The Ladykillers” is that despite its expensive set and cast of eight with no movie star attached, it has recouped in a remarkable six weeks.

The bad news — for theatergoers, anyway — is that rather than building on its success, the show will shutter April 14.

Snape has been quoted saying he would like to see the production return at a later date, but a second run at Cameron Mackintosh’s Gielgud Theater is unlikely, since the 1,000-seat venue is highly coveted. Besides, the three-month advance notice of its availability makes it an ideal place for any show in search of a home.

Industry cynics, however, suggest the decision to quit with a hit may have come from those responsible for booking the theater, who may already have something up their sleeves.

Leaving any of the 37 major commercial West End houses dark is a costly proposition. Over the last 20 years, these prime pieces of real estate have changed hands among an array of buyers including Mackintosh, Ambassador Theater Group, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, and Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer’s Nimax Theaters. Raising funding for those purchases when the market was high proved a costly investment. With the added overhead of a theater’s permanent staff, you have the perfect reason for an owner to maximize income by keeping a property filled with product as often as possible.

Whatever the story with “The Ladykillers” exiting the Gielgud, it’s far from being the only house in an unusual state of flux. On March 17, the Novello, another Mackintosh-owned theater, comes free following the recently announced departure of “Crazy for You.” Although box office figures for London shows are a closely guarded secret, “Crazy” — a sold-out success at Regent’s Park Open Air Theater — is, judging by the widely available discounts and insider rumors, struggling mightily on the West End.

The Old Vic production of “Noises Off” is the hot contender to replace it, thanks to rave reviews and the convenient fact that it ends its current run exactly one week before “Crazy” is due to leave the Novello. A production spokesperson remains mum on the subject, but, barring unforeseen difficulties with agreements and cast availability, the move is looking close to certain.

Ironically, though, whatever goes into the Novello can play only a limited season, because, unusually for London, the theater is booked well in advance: “Mamma Mia” transfers there in September, leaving Mackintosh’s Prince of Wales theater free — possibly for “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”

Meantime, Matthew Byam Shaw, Nia Janis and Nick Salmon of Playful Prods. are in advanced discussions with yet another venue for a double bill of Terence Rattigan’s one-act masterpiece of understated passions, “The Browning Version,” and David Hare’s tender “South Downs” (the latter helmed with exquisite grace by Jeremy Herrin). Having been hunting for the right West End home since the production opened at Chichester Festival Theater last September, they’re now busy nailing down the details.

One place it won’t go is the Savoy, where Sonia Friedman’s production of “Legally Blonde” is finishing up its run. Whereas the original Broadway production totaled only 595 perfs, the London run will hit almost 1,000 perfs in advance of its April 7 closing. There is silence from Friedman’s office, but word on the street says she’ll replace that show with a new production of Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” starring Danny DeVito and Tony-winner Richard Griffiths for a limited season prior to a Gotham run.

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