BERLIN — With the insolvency of Hamburg-based Stella Entertainment last month, one-time reality TV and quizshow guru Joop van den Ende looks set to dominate Germany’s musical theater industry.
Van den Ende’s Stage Holding says it is interested more in Stella’s venues than in its productions. It’s looking at taking over the prestigious Stella Theater at Potsdamerplatz (aka Berlinale Palast during the Berlin Intl. Film Festival).
Nevertheless, Stage has signaled interest in at least some Stella titles, including “Dance of the Vampires,” based on Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers.”
Stage spokesman Michael Hildebrandt says it is too early to talk about the acquisitions of Stella productions, but he adds some definitely are interesting, including “Vampires.” The show is one of Stella’s few success stories.
While Stella’s collapse has left Stage Germany as sole musical superpower, Hildebrandt is quick to point out there’s little advantage for Stage in the demise of its main rival.
“Stella’s insolvency is not good for the business,” he asserts. “It’s a blow to the industry and causes mistrust among licensors in the German market, despite the fact that it was directly tied to Stella’s own internal problems. It doesn’t help anyone.”
This was Stella’s second bankruptcy in two years. The last time around, van den Ende tried but failed to purchase the company. Instead, Stella’s main assets were picked up by live-show giant Deutsche Entertainment (DEAG).
Shortly thereafter, van den Ende set up his Stage Holding in Hamburg, which rolled out popular productions including “The Lion King” and Teutonic tale “Elisabeth.” Van den Ende, who with John de Mol founded hugely successful Dutch TV outfit Endemol, has focused on musical theater since the sale of Endemol to Spanish telco Telefonica two years ago.
Stage says it has plenty of its own productions in the works for Germany, including “Aida,” “The Full Monty” and “Titanic” as well as original musicals such as “Wind of Change,” a collaboration with rock group the Scorpions, written by band’s front men Klaus Meine and Rudolf Schenker.
“Wind of Change,” about the fall of the Berlin Wall, was slated for a 2004 premiere at Berlin’s Metropol Theater, which Stage bought last year for a symbolic n1 in return for a maximum n40 million ($37 million) investment to renovate the dilapidated 73-year-old building.
Shortly after Stella filed for insolvency, however, Stage announced the Metropol’s restoration would far exceed the $37 million limit and turned its eye to the Stella Theater.
Company also is bidding for Berlin’s Theater des Westens, which the city is seeking to privatize; in Hamburg, Stage took over the Operettenhaus theater hours after Stella went bust. Stage, which operated the Operettenhaus jointly with Stella, will be bowing Abba musical “Mamma Mia!” there in November.
Stella, once Germany’s premier musical producer, was run aground the first time by mismanagement. Even after its acquisition by DEAG, insiders say, the new parent company’s commitment to Stella’s productions was halfhearted.
Stella’s own management has been blamed for failing to properly market nationwide its big productions in Berlin and Hamburg, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Mozart” — a practice that has helped draw people to the smaller city of Stuttgart, where Stella’s most successful productions, “Cats” and “Dance of the Vampires,” will continue to play for the time being.
Stella’s bankruptcy came after dramatic drops in ticket sales this year, an increasing lack of liquidity and alleged mismanagement. Stella’s annual forecast for 2002 was off by a long shot. Company said it was expecting a profit of about $9 million, but it likely will end up with a $45 million loss, observers say. Stella now is shuttering its unprofitable musicals and the theaters that house them.
Industry insiders say costly license fees for Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Potsdamerplatz contributed to Stella’s demise. The show is being shelved after three years and losses totaling millions of dollars. “Saturday Night Fever,” from Mannheim-based producer BB Promotion, was scheduled to take its place this fall, but who will run the theater remains unclear.
DEAG moved quickly to unload its 75% stake in Stella to an unnamed investor after the insolvency and is reckoning with a $23 million writeoff.