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MOVE over, "Lion King." Make way, "Aida" - and take a back seat, "Phantom."
The most expensive stage musical yet produced will probably be "The Lord of the Rings," which begins previews Feb. 2 at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre.
The official cost is $27 million Canadian (about $31.6 million U.S.).
There are no Broadway dates yet for "The Lord of the Rings." The plan is to debut the show in Toronto, where it will have a gala opening March 23, and launch a London production a year later.
But if the show's a hit in Toronto, New York can certainly expect a production in the not-too-distant future. (The producers have already hired a Broadway press agent to look after the New York theater critics and reporters, who are planning to attend the Toronto opening.)
The cost of doing it on Broadway could easily exceed $40 million, theater sources estimate.
What will the stage version of "The Lord of the Rings" look like?
Details, at this early date, are sketchy.
But according to one production source, the show will play like a spectacle set to music by Indian composer A.R. Rahman (who wrote the Broadway flop "Bombay Dreams") and a Finnish musical group called Varttina.
The show will run almost four hours, and will be played on a stage made up of three interconnecting turntables ("Les Miserables" only had one) and 16 elevators.
The director and co-adapter of the J.R.R. Tolkien books is Matthew Warchus, who's had a mixed track record on Broadway.
He had a big hit with the play "Art" nearly 10 years ago, but took a drubbing for his dreary revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" in 1999.
Tickets are nearly impossible to come by, and Toronto papers report that they've been snapped up by people from Japan, Germany, Italy, Mexico, England and the United States.
The bulk of the money for the Toronto production is said to be coming from Saul Zaentz, the veteran Hollywood producer whose credits include "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Amadeus" and "The English Patient."
Zaentz certainly has plenty of money on hand to spend on the stage version. In August, New Line Cinema, which produced "The Lord of the Rings" movies, paid him $168 million to ward off a lawsuit.
Zaentz had little to do with director Peter Jackson's hit movies, but almost 30 years ago he acquired the stage and film rights to the Tolkien books they're based on.
He threatened to sue New Line, claiming the studio miscalculated his royalties.
Zaentz could wind up with even more money.
Worldwide, "The Lord of the Rings" has taken in about $3 billion. Money continues to pour in from DVD sales, and Zaentz is entitled to a chunk of that as well.
SINCE most New Yorkers probably won't get near the sold-out revival of "The Odd Couple," here are some frontline reports from yesterday's invited dress rehearsal:
* Matthew Broderick, who's been struggling with his lines, flubbed only three yesterday. But the producers weren't taking any chances: They've planted a script girl in the front row.
Now that he seems finally to be getting off script, tension between him and director Joe Mantello should ease up.
* Nathan Lane performed with a big bandage on his finger. He apparently slammed his hand in a door in his apartment.
* Neither Broderick nor Lane is giving what at this point could be called a "deep" performance. "It's pretty much the Matthew and Nathan show all over again," said a person who attended the dress rehearsal.
* The scene stealers are Jessica Stone and Olivia d'Abo, who play the Pigeon Sisters. They got more laughs than Lane and Broderick.
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