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The Stage 100 2016 (top 5)

5. Peter Bazalgette and Darren Henley

Photo: Philippa Gedge

Photo: Philippa Gedge

Arts Council England
Everyone was expecting it to be so much worse last year. The arts sector had been braced for deep and painful cuts when George Osborne stepped up to deliver his spending review. That Arts Council England’s funding was only reduced by 5% in real terms – and received a small increase in cash terms – was remarkable. So remarkable that for some time after the announcement, people almost couldn’t believe it. Sure, there is no denying that there are still major issues to be addressed around local authority funding for the arts, but this was a genuine victory for the sector and much of the credit for it should go to Arts Council England’s chair Bazalgette and chief executive Henley, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure the best possible settlement for the sector. Now, it just has the small matter of its own funding decisions to get right.

Last year: New entry
Coming up in 2016: National portfolio funding decisions, a major new report investigating England’s theatre sector

4. Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: Bruce Glikas
Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: Bruce Glikas

Really Useful Group/Really Useful Theatres Group
The last 12 months have represented something of a comeback for the UK’s most successful ever musical theatre composer. Having taken some time off due to ill health, he returned with a bang (and some thrashing guitars) withSchool of Rock – his first new musical since the ill-fated Stephen Ward. It opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre, to generally positive reviews, and will transfer to the London Palladium in the autumn of this year. Following his sale of the Palace Theatre to Nimax Theatres, it had looked as though Lloyd Webber might have been downsizing his London theatre holdings, but during 2015 news emerged that he was looking to add to his portfolio of West End venues: he is in the process of buying the St James Theatre in Victoria, with a view to turning the site into a home for new musicals. Cats also enjoyed a comeback last year – both at the London Palladium and on tour, while The Phantom of the Opera is soon to notch up 30 years in the West End at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber

Last year: 5th
Productions include: Cats, School of Rock, The Phantom of the Opera, Evita
Coming up in 2016:School of Rock in the West End, Tell Me on a Sunday UK tour starring Jodie Prenger, Jesus Christ Superstar – Lloyd Webber’s debut at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

3. Cameron Mackintosh and Nick Allott

Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Chicago Tribune
Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Chicago Tribune
Nick Allott
Nick Allott

Cameron Mackintosh Ltd/Delfont Mackintosh Ltd
Miss Saigon ran at the Prince Edward Theatre throughout 2015, but will close in February having not quite done the business that was hoped. Still, it was unlucky to miss out at the Oliviers. Mary Poppins is a big hit on tour, as was Barnum early in 2015. Alan Finch was announced as co-managing director (alongside Allott) and joins in 2016, while Mackintosh also expanded Music Theatre International – a hugely important secondary rights licenser for musicals, including most of Sondheim’s works. Plans were announced to transform the Ambassadors (which Mackintosh is buying) into a home for transfers from regional producing theatres. Oh, and there was the small matter of the West End’s most successful ever musical, Les Miserables, celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Last year: 2nd
Productions include: Miss Saigon, The Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins, Les Miserables
Coming up in 2016: Les Miserables goes to the Philippines, Mary Poppins continues UK tour, The Phantom of the Opera turns 30

2. Sonia Friedman

Sonia Friedman. Photo: Alex Brenner
Sonia Friedman. Photo: Alex Brenner

If anyone had a chance of dislodging Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire from the top of The Stage 100, it was Friedman, who enjoyed an absolutely stellar 2015. Friedman has an unmatched ability to blend artistic flair with business nous and is by far the West End’s most successful producer of the moment and also one of Broadway’s leading lights. The only thing that prevented her from topping the list was the fact that Sonia Friedman Productions is a subsidiary of Panter and Squire’s Ambassador Theatre Group.

Still, the past 12 months have been pretty remarkable – even by Friedman’s own high standards. In January 2015, she was named Producer of the Year at The Stage Awardsand she also managed to be responsible for the two most talked about and in-demand productions of the year. She also cleared up at the Olivier Awards. Again.

The first of the two big hitters was Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch at the Barbican Centre. Tickets sold out, social media went into meltdown and once-respectable publications such as The Times behaved like naughty schoolchildren, sneaking in to watch the very first preview so they could be the first to review the show. None of it was very dignified and few would argue the production was the best show of 2015, but it was undoubtedly a huge draw for audiences from across the world, many of whom were visiting a theatre for the first time.

If the reaction to the Cumberbatch Hamlet bordered on the hysterical, it seems as nothing compared to Friedman’s second coup of 2015: her announcement that she will produce a stage sequel to Harry Potter this year. It looks set to become one of the West End’s most commercially successful shows ever and will almost certainly open to the biggest advance that Theatreland has ever seen, even adjusting for inflation. It is a juggernaut, a huge opportunity for the West End and theatre more broadly and, like Hamlet, completely critic-proof. That being the case, Friedman could have rested on her laurels, but has instead assembled an exciting creative team – led by John Tiffany – and even pulled off one of the year’s most talked-about castings, with Noma Dumezweni set to play Hermione.

Those two shows alone would be enough to justify Friedman’s high placing, but if that weren’t enough, she also transferred Robert Icke’s remarkable reworking of the Oresteia to the Trafalgar Studios and produced the year’s best new British musical, Bend It Like Beckham, in the West End. Incidentally, these two productions were The Stage’s lead critics’ two top shows of 2015.  She also found time to sign a producing deal with the Old Vic and enjoyed two successful forays into television with the BBC productions of The Dresser and Wolf Hall.

It is exhausting just thinking about Friedman’s workload, but she is ably supported by an excellent team, led by Diane Benjamin and Donna Munday. The latter joined the SFP team in 2015.

Sonia Friedman: West End ‘best it’s ever been’

Last year: 3rd
Productions include: Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, The Book of Mormon, King Charles III, Oresteia, Farinelli and the King, A Christmas Carol
Coming up in 2016: Funny Girl in the West End, UK tours of King Charles III and Sunny Afternoon, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

1. Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire

Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire. Photo: Alex Brenner
Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire. Photo: Alex Brenner

Ambassador Theatre Group
Ambassador Theatre Group’s co-founders Panter and Squire officially become The Stage 100’s most successful ever entrants this year, with a record-breaking seventh time at the top of the list.

Backed by private equity owner Providence, ATG’s ambitious expansion plans have continued apace throughout 2015, with acquisitions in Germany, Australia and the US, adding to its sizeable UK operation, where it is the clear market leader both in London and across the rest of the UK.

The pair – husband and wife, as well as business partners – make a formidable team. Panter (Sir Howard Panter in full) is a theatrical showman renowned for his extraordinary talent for raising investment, while Squire is a more reserved figure who is widely respected as a shrewd businesswoman. In 2015, she became the first woman to represent the UK at the EY World Entrepreneur Awards.

On stage, 2015 has seen some remarkable productions and co-productions, both from ATG and its subsidiaries. Spamalot and Jersey Boys have joined The Rocky Horror Show in becoming stalwarts of the touring market (which ATG controls through its 26 regional theatres), while Dirty Rotten Scoundrels hit the road after its run at the Savoy, as did East Is East post-Trafalgar Studios. Its subsidiaries, The Jamie Lloyd Company and Sonia Friedman Productions, also enjoyed excellent years (see separate entries), and pantomime production arm First Family Entertainment is the UK’s second-largest panto producer.

It was internationally, though, where ATG made the biggest strides in 2015. In April it became the majority shareholder in the BB Group, parent company of one of continental Europe’s leading producers and promoters. In August it completed a deal for a long lease and management contract on Sydney’s 1,187-seat Theatre Royal, making ATG the first theatre company to operate theatres in three continents.

In September, ATG added five theatres to its US portfolio with the acquisition of the ACE group, including venues in Brooklyn, New Orleans and San Antonio. But its biggest coup was secured in December with a deal to reopen Broadway’s historic 970-seat Hudson Theatre. As a result of that acquisition, ATG now operates 46 theatres worldwide. Towards the end of the year, Providence also became a controlling stakeholder in AKA, the West End’s leading marketing agency. It is currently unclear what this will mean for ATG, AKA or indeed the rest of the West End, but it is likely that the two organisations will work more closely together with one common owner.

What will the future bring? More expansion, certainly, and not just of bricks and mortar. Its recent acquisitions have ranged from production companies to marketing agencies to ticket sellers. All these fit ATG’s business model. So, expect the company to look at other ancillary service companies as well as theatre producers and venues as it continues to build. What will happen longer term is harder to fathom; Providence will be seeking a return on its investment, which could mean selling on to a larger investment firm intact, or splitting the business up into smaller parcels. But that’s all still some way off and until then, it’s hard to see anyone dislodging ATG from the top of our list.

Last year: 1st
Productions include: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, First Family Entertainment pantos,Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Oresteia, The Homecoming
Coming up in 2016:Matthew Perry in The End of Longing, The Maids, new UK tour of The Rocky Horror Show, Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour to open at Lyric Theatre on Broadway, reopening of Hudson Theatre 
in New York