LONDON (Reuters) - British composer and impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber is selling four of his company's seven London musical theatres in order to reduce debt, he said on Thursday.
Webber's Really Useful Group (RUG) will sell the Palace, Her Majesty's, the Cambridge and the New London, with a combined seating capacity of 4,900 seats.
The group described them as "mid-sized" music houses. It will retain the larger Palladium, Theater Royal Drury Lane and its 50 percent interest in the Adelphi, which together represent 6,100 seats.
"It has been a totally gut-wrenching decision for me to decide to sell the four theatres," Lloyd Webber, the creator of "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera," said in a statement. "However, following my illness last year I was advised to reduce the debt in the family company."
The award-winning 62-year-old had surgery for prostate cancer in 2009. Post-operative complications contributed to the delay of the Broadway opening of the new musical "Love Never Dies" until 2011.
"It is particularly difficult for me as the New London was Cats' home for 21 years," he added. "For nearly 25 years Her Majesty's has been and still is the home of 'The Phantom of the Opera.'
"I have agreed that the purchase price be reduced by five million pounds to enable GradeLinnit to invest this sum in the theatres, principally in the Palace. My commitment to composing, producing and theater ownership remains as strong as ever."
The buyer GradeLinnit includes Michael Grade, former chairman of BBC and ITV.
Mark Wordsworth, chairman of the Really Useful Group, added: "Following Andrew's illness last year both Andrew and his family felt that de-gearing RUG would make it easier for him to concentrate on composing and allow him the time to produce shows such as 'The Wizard of Oz' and "Love Never Dies' internationally without any financial worries."
Proceeds of the sale, details of which were not given, will be used to invest in and develop the Palladium and the Theater Royal Drury Lane, as well as cutting debt. A major reconstruction of the Palladium's front of house is already underway.
The deal is expected to be finalized in January 2011.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Patricia Reaney