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Game over for Lloyd Webber musical

Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical, The Beautiful Game, will leave the West End on Sept. 1, having lost about $4-million during its yearlong run.

But the award-winning composer is looking ahead to his next show.

"All I do know is that I want to continue writing," said Lloyd Webber, whose mammoth hits include Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.

Lloyd Webber, 53, said it was a difficult decision to close his latest show, a particularly ambitious project set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland's "troubles."

Although The Beautiful Game was that rare Lloyd Webber entry to win a London Critics' Circle Award as best musical, Canadian director Robert Carsen's production at the Cambridge Theatre was shut out of the Olivier Awards _ London's equivalent to the Tony _ and never caught fire with the public.

In recent weeks, the musical about a Belfast soccer team composed of Catholics and Protestants had been playing to only 45 percent capacity in a 1,250-seat house.

"If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, "What did I think?' I would have said quite frankly that we've got another couple of years here," said the composer-producer, whose shows usually run several seasons or more in London before landing on Broadway for equally long runs.

Cats, Starlight Express and Phantom are all still playing on the West End, having opened in 1981, 1984 and 1986 respectively. But Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind closed in January.

Part of the problem with The Beautiful Game, he said, was the slump in tourism, which resulted in losses of more than a million dollars of potential sales to overseas ticket-buyers.

Then there's the heaviness of the subject matter at a time of an apparent public appetite for comic musicals, such as Broadway's The Producers, and well-known shows such as the West End revival of Lerner and Loewe's classic, My Fair Lady.

Lloyd Webber's intimate comic musical, By Jeeves, is expected at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theater in November, with Lloyd Webber later producing _ but not writing _ a $6-million West End show, Bombay Dreams, due in London next May. That one has a score by Indian composer A.R. Rahman, who is based in Madras.

But the book hasn't been closed on The Beautiful Game. A Canadian premiere is planned for fall 2002 at Toronto's Canon Theater, followed by a U.S. tour of five or six cities, excluding New York.

Whatever the popular appetite for the show, which features a book and lyrics by British comedian Ben Elton, Lloyd Webber said he was pleased to have done it.

"The point is, this piece isn't really about the Irish problem but about the futility of these conflicts the world over and how they keep repeating themselves," he said.