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Lloyd Webber to sell 4 theaters

LONDON — Andrew Lloyd Webber has quietly entered discussions to sell off four London theaters, representing just over a third of his portfolio of West End playhouses.

But a spokesman for the composer-impresario emphasized that such talks were “in the early stages” only, notwithstanding a front-page article in Monday’s Evening Standard that made the transaction sound like a done deal.

The theaters that would be affected are the Garrick, Duchess, Apollo and Lyric, four of the smaller straight-play houses. The West End theatrical climate, much like Broadway, has long relegated nonmusical venues to the status of loss leaders. (Or “loss followers,” joked one wag, referring to the difficulty straight plays have had in London of late.)

Unaffected by the talks are such flagship West End venues as the Theater Royal Drury Lane and the London Palladium, currently home to hit tuners “The Producers” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” respectively.

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Lloyd Webber’s decision reflects the realities of a shifting West End, which has seen the expansion of both the Delfont Mackintosh group and the Ambassador Theater Group. Delfont Mackintosh already owns the Queens, which once belonged to Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group (in association with Bridgepoint Capital), and, in January 2006, will take over the Gielgud Theater.

If the sale does take place, it will help ease particularly burdensome interest repayments during a difficult time for the straight play in London.

Lloyd Webber has reportedly brought on board Ingenious Media and his erstwhile business supremo, Patrick McKenna, to help plan a course of action.

The composer’s move comes at a busy time: His latest London musical, “The Woman in White,” opened to mixed reviews in September and reaches Broadway in November. West End revivals of “Cats” and “Evita” are at varying stages of preparedness, while the film version of Lloyd Webber’s still-running stage behemoth, “The Phantom of the Opera,” has embarked on a lengthy rollout.