‘Bombay’ a dream for investors

Breakeven achievement marks breakthrough for original tuners

A correction was made to this article on Aug. 18, 2003.

“Bombay Dreams” is in the black.

The Bollywood-themed tuner has paid back its £4.5 million ($7.25 million) production costs, recouping as the Broadway-bound musical entered its 14th month at the Apollo Victoria Theater. Producer Andrew Lloyd Webber signed investors’ letters confirming the news on July 28 and within days was on the phone to Variety: “I’m quite pleased because it’s been tough out there.”

“We did it,” he went on. “We just did it a month later than I would have liked, but still…”

“Bombay’s” commercial good fortune isn’t this show’s alone. Of the three London mega-musicals to open within as many months of each other in spring-summer 2002, all three have either paid back or are poised to do so.

Queen jamboree “We Will Rock You” had backers — Bohemian or otherwise — rhapsodizing from late May, when the $10.9 million techno-heavy extravaganza recouped costs while entering its second year at the Dominion Theater. (Show opened in Australia Aug. 7.)

Over at the London Palladium, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” co-producer Michael Rose says the airborne (well, most of the time) stage musical of the popular film should reach payback by September — i.e., within 18 months of opening. “Chitty” flew in at $10 million, considerably more than “Bombay.”

The West End success of “Bombay Dreams” was anything but guaranteed, especially in an age when few shows with original scores find profit in London. While “Mamma Mia!” had Abba’s back catalog on its side, “Martin Guerre,” “The Witches of Eastwick” and Lloyd Webber’s own “Beautiful Game” all died at the box office without pre-existing hit tunes to help pull auds.

“Bombay Dreams,” by contrast, grossed more than $400,000 at the box office for the week ending Aug. 3, about $100,000 above the break. The show, says Lloyd Webber, “doesn’t have a huge advance, but it’s been very consistent.” With recoupment, the break-even will go up, though the musical, the composer adds, “is still pretty healthy.”

Less strong, though evidently stable enough to warrant the sizable extension until Jan. 10 of solo star Denise van Outen’s contract, is the West End revival of Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s “Tell Me on a Sunday.” The Gielgud Theater stand opened to sharply divided reviews (Variety was in with the nays) in April.

“(‘Tell Me’) is doing all right — better than that,” says the composer. “It’s certainly not losing anything; I get my royalties.”

Across the Atlantic, plans are firming up for an April launch of “Bombay” at the Broadway Theater in a production costing $12.5 million, of which Really Useful is ponying up $3 million. That puts the U.S. “Bombay” well ahead of “Hairspray” in economic terms, not to mention “La Boheme” and “Movin’ Out,” but still behind autumn Broadway opener “Wicked.”

Lloyd Webber will have to absent himself somewhat from the substantially revised American production of “Bombay,” whose producing consortium is led by the Williams/Waxman team. (U.K.-based scribe Meera Syal is collaborating with Thomas Meehan on the revised book for the Broadway production of musical “Bombay Dreams”; Syal scripted the ongoing West End production.)

The impresario in any case has competing commitments closer to home — the long-aborning screen version of “The Phantom of the Opera” and Lloyd Webber’s next stage entry, “The Woman in White,” on which he will double as composer and producer. (On “Bombay,” he served only as the latter.)

“Woman” enjoyed a distinctly buzzy airing — the first act, anyway, since that was all there was — at Lloyd Webber’s own Sydmonton fest last month, with special praise afforded American collaborator David Zippel’s lyrics (“grown-up Tim Rice,” crowed one eyewitness).

The full version, to be directed (as was the workshop) by Trevor Nunn, is expected to go into rehearsals in late July 2004 for a West End opening that September. And though the Lloyd Webber-owned Palace Theater has often been mooted as “Woman’s” final destination, fellow impresario Cameron Mackintosh is unlikely to surrender his flagship production of “Les Miz” without a fight.

“It’ll need to be a musical house,” Lloyd Webber said of “Woman’s'” eventual home. His claim takes into account the narrative import of a project based on the 1860 classic by Wilkie Collins, Britain’s first detective novelist: Expect a 1,200-seater at least.

Far more imminent is the Sept. 15 start at Pinewood on Joel Schumacher’s film of “Phantom.” Costing just under $80 million, “Phantom” looks to be among the biggest independent pictures ever shot in Britain. To date, the movie has been sold “virtually everywhere,” says Lloyd Webber’s film man, Austin Shaw. Warner Bros. has the film for a skedded U.S. release in December 2004, to position it for the Oscars. British distrib will be Entertainment, which served the same function on Alan Parker’s “Evita.”

One territory still unsold is Germany, which has been a particularly strong market for the stage version. On that front, says Shaw, the idea is “to wait until we have some footage to show,” so as to command top price in what has been an uncertain climate of late.

Six weeks of rehearsals have begun with co-stars Emmy Rossum (Christine) and Patrick Wilson (Raoul), while the Phantom — Scottish actor Gerard Butler (“Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”) — finishes shooting in Brazil on “The Game of Their Lives,” a soccer drama starring Wes Bentley.

The 17-week filming sked is due to finish Jan. 23, with a final delivery date in the books for June 30.

If the film’s principals want to play compare-and-contrast, they can always check out the ongoing West End “Phantom”: On Aug. 12, the original stage production at Her Majesty’s Theater celebrates its 7,000th perf.