WHEN the final curtain falls on blockbuster musical Jersey Boys next Sunday, the Theatre Royal may be dark for many months, with no significant new shows booked after the sudden cancellation of the jukebox musical Rock of Ages.
The 1100-seat theatre has enjoyed a packed 15-month run of Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but it is scrambling to book shows for 2012.
Rodney Rigby, the producer of Jersey Boys, pulled Rock of Ages, which was expected to run four to six months in the theatre, after disappointing presales in an overcrowded January entertainment market. Its opening clashed with those of Annie at the Lyric Theatre and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies at the Capitol Theatre, Haymarket.
Speculation has been rife that the theatre may close temporarily or permanently because of a need to renovate the 34-year-old MLC Centre in which it is housed. In August, co-owner of the MLC Centre, GPT Group, announced it would sell its 50 per cent stake in the $750 million building. Queensland Investment Corporation is believed to be poised to sell its share too. But a spokeswoman for the GPT Group has confirmed the renovation would not impact on the theatre at all, as the work will be confined to the ageing exterior of the tower. Work isn't expected to begin before mid-2012. The lower levels will be developed when the theatre is scheduled to be empty to avoid any potential noise problems.
"We are not being closed or going dark," Patricia Charan, manager of the Theatre Royal, said. "It's tough to find shows at late notice as most shows book at least a year out but we're getting there."
The only confirmed booking for 2012 is Scooby-Doo Live! Musical Mysteries, which will play for just three days in April.
This comes amid a crisis of theatre space in the city, major producers calling for a 1500-seat theatre to avoid losing theatre premieres to Melbourne or Brisbane.
"The Theatre Royal is incredibly important to the infrastructure of Sydney," said Rigby, whose next musical, The Addams Family, will play at the Capitol in 2013.
John Frost's world premiere of An Officer and a Gentleman - The Musical will open in the Lyric Theatre in May 2012 and Legally Blonde will open there in October 2012. Strictly Ballroom - The Musical will play at the Lyric Theatre in September 2013.
"Of course we desperately need that 1500-seat playhouse," Rigby said. "We took [the Theatre Royal] out of commission for the best part of 18 months with Jersey Boys. Now someone else needs to come and use it."
Jersey Boys is one of the longest-running musicals since Cats or Phantom of the Opera and has injected millions of tourist dollars into the NSW economy, Rigby said.