London joins chorus of ‘Producers’

Prod'n marches to B.O. victory

LONDON — “The Producers” has opened in London to what its producers are claiming is the highest single day’s box office take on the West End: £430,000 (just shy of $800,000) Nov. 10. The $9.2 million production bowed to generally rapturous notices at Theater Royal, Drury Lane, the previous night.

“I’m a very happy producer,” Clear Channel’s David Ian told Variety Nov. 11, when he thought the Drury Lane box office might even surpass the previous day’s sales. Ian is the London arm of “The Producers’ ” vast producing swathe, which includes Rocco Landesman, the Frankel/Baruch/Viertel/Routh group and creator Mel Brooks.

Such records, of course, are notoriously tricky to claim. A rep for Cameron Mackintosh’s office, for instance, says their musical “Miss Saigon” took £900,000 at the Drury Lane box office back in 1989, the day after that megasmash opened. But two-thirds of that sum repped ticket agents, with only £300,000 picked up by telephone and B.O. sales.

Nor, of course, does one know whether to factor in the London stand of “The Lion King,” since Disney never discloses figures. Nonetheless, says Ian, “we’re claiming” the Nov. 10 take as a best-ever record for individual ticket sales. “We’ll see if somebody shoots it down.”

The result has been to push to close to $10 million an advance that, as of opening night, was well past $8 million already. The figures are impressive in a city where shows often open to little or no advance; however, that still represents only about 10 weeks’ capacity in the 2,100-seat Drury Lane, one of London’s largest venues.

Show can take about $965,000 a week at a top ticket just shy of the psychologically important £50 mark (about $92). “The Producers” breaks even at around $515,000 a week, or 60% capacity, Ian says.

The box office acceleration is good news for a show that has always been far from a sure bet in London and seemed even less secure when original star Richard Dreyfuss dropped out four days before the first preview. But his replacement, Broadway Tony winner Nathan Lane, was loudly trumpeted in the reviews, with the Independent’s Paul Taylor just one of those to suggest the producers of “The Producers” plow their profits into coming up with a clone of Lane. (In which case, paging Brad Oscar, from the Broadway company.)

Lane is due to leave Jan. 8 so as to have a rest before filming starts Feb. 21 in Brooklyn on the $45 million movie of the stage musical. “I promised (Nathan) he will have at least a month off,” director-choreographer Susan Stroman tells Variety.

Ian says it was highly likely that Lane’s replacement, at least in the short term, would be culled from the list of thesps who have played Max Stateside: “The important thing is that, wonderful as Nathan is, he’s not hugely known here, so it’s not as if we’re dependent on his name for box office. What we are dependent on is the quality of his performance.” (Co-star Lee Evans, who also got raves, is signed through April 23.)

Nor is any other Max Bialystock likely to come at quite Lane’s price. By all accounts, Lane will finish his 10-week run nearly $1 million better off: British press reports have trumpeted the $185,000 “golden hello” Lane is said to have received, in addition to a weekly salary nearing $75,000.

But given the ecstatic reviews (“intoxicating and time-suspending,” enthused the Guardian) and brisk biz, that seems to have been money well spent.

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