INTERVIEW: Cameron Mackintosh

INTERVIEW: Cameron Mackintosh

In a career that has spanned over fifty years, Cameron Mackintosh has produced more musicals than anyone else in history, including the three longest-running musicals of all time, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, which are still running extraordinarily successfully across the world. His latest project , a new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon has been a recent smash hit in the West End and is about to embark on a major UK Tour calling at Birmingham’s Hippodrome this Summer.
DLUXE Magazine’s Jonathan Fraser caught up with Cameron to discuss just what it takes to produce a hit and after fifty years just how hands-on he is in the process.

The excitement around Miss Saigon’s tour has been immense. What do you think is at the heart of the show’s success?
Ever since audiences first saw “Miss Saigon” in London in 1989, the British public have embraced this contemporary but timeless story, spectacularly staged with an extraordinary score by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. In 1989, it was only about 14 years after the Vietnam war and therefore, it was very much considered an American story. Over the ensuing 28 years, sadly, numerous wars all over the world such as in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Ukraine have happened and the story
of innocent or ordinary people caught in the background of war now involves the whole world.

What can audiences look forward to?
The new version had a wonderfully successful two year run in London, and has recently opened on Broadway where it was nominated for Best Musical Revival at the 2017 Tony Awards. In some ways, it is even more gritty and powerful than the original, with the same enormous cast, so there’s a lot to look forward to.

Part of the problem of success is that it can take you away from actually doing the thing that you love. Do you still manage to be hands on? Is that important for you?
I’ve been so lucky with my career in choosing to work on subjects that the public have also liked and so several of my key productions continue to find new audiences and therefore, to my astonishment, I have been able to build up my production company with such brilliant people that I am able to concentrate mostly on the art whilst everyone else does an amazing job ensuring that wherever we create shows around the world, they are as good as if I was there all the time. In truth, 90% of the actual work is done by my brilliant team, enabling me to have the time to be hands on where it matters.

You’ve been producing Musicals now for almost 50 years, why do you think audiences love them so much?
The main reason I think my shows keep attracting audiences is that the subject matters that I am drawn to are timeless and continue to appeal to audiences both in the UK and around the world.

Your career is peppered with record breaking shows and firsts, what do you think are the ingredients for a successful show?
I have no idea what the ingredients for a successful show are! I’ve always followed the mantra that I put on something I love, do it as well as I can and hope that the audience like what I like. So far, I’m very lucky that I’ve been more right than wrong. What attracts me to work on a specific musical are the characters followed by a good score. For me, the story is everything and a song that doesn’t help a story to be told, even though it might be a great tune, isn’t enough.

At what point do you know a show’s going to be a hit?
I really don’t know if a show is going to be a real hit until after it opens and how wide the appeal is of the particular subject. You can have a show which is on for a short time and does incredibly well but doesn’t have the broad appeal of “Les Miserables” or “The Phantom of the Opera”. Very few shows have that kind of enduring appeal and lots of shows that are worthwhile doing and get done very well, are only destined to have a certain length of run and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
My favourite part of the process is working with the authors to get the material in shape to hand over to the director, choreographer and designers and then coming back into the theatre once the creative team have got the show on its feet and fine tuning the disparate elements of the show because however much
one pre-plans, one can never judge what one is doing until you get the chemistry of the actors on stage playing to a live audience.
What’s the most nerve racking stage?
The most nerve racking part is usually the grinding of the technical period. What might have been delightful in the rehearsal room has to find the right place within the huge mechanics of putting on a musical and then working in front of the audience.

Do you still get opening night butterflies?
Yes and no. Of course, one wants everything to be a success but I have been doing it long enough now that I know that there comes a point before you open where you have to let the show go on for the audience to give its reaction, so I rarely put myself through the butterflies of opening night – I’m more out of the auditorium than in it and it is at that point that fate takes over.

What show have you been most proud of?
I’m very proud of most of my shows otherwise I wouldn’t do them. I have had probably more long running hits than anyone else. I just consider myself incredibly fortunate that so many people continue to like the work that I have done around the world and I am very proud of that.

One of the joys of success is that it opens up other avenues – you own and have been actively restoring 8 theatres in London is that a big passion for you now?
Architecture has always been my passion, ever since I appreciated the difference between a one bedroom flat and a house. Having gone to school in Bath, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I have learnt to appreciate design. However, as a schoolboy I only dreamt of becoming a producer and therefore
it is only because of the huge success I have had through my productions that I have been able to afford to buy some theatres when I was offered them. It was the late great impresario Lord Bernard Delfont who first suggested that I buy two of his theatres as his family no longer wanted them, and that turned out to be the start of my theatre collection and the reason why it is known as Delfont Mackintosh Theatres.
It has become an equal passion of mine to restore these wonderful Edwardian buildings that are mostly over 100 years old and bring them back to life with the amenities one should be offering the public in the 21st century. I know from the renovation and refurbishments that I have done, that there is no reason why these theatres shouldn’t still be there in 100 years’ time. I’m currently going through the biggest renovation yet at the Victoria Palace Theatre, which is planned to reopen at the end of this year with the much anticipated American musical “Hamilton”. When I have completed it, the Victoria Palace will have one of the biggest stages and be one of the most beautiful musical theatres in London.
What’s next for you? Is there a new project you can let us know about?
Apart from a huge amount of time being taken up with several architectural projects including the Victoria Palace, I have also got a musical movie that I’m working on and the demand for my shows worldwide is bigger than it has ever been with over 30 of my shows in various stages of production around the world in the next few years.

We also recently launched the European arm of Music Theatre International, which I co-own with Freddie Gershon. The European team, based in London, will license more than 4,800 productions a year to professional theatres and producers, amateur societies and schools across Europe and will ensure the
greatest titles in the musical theatre repertoire will be well looked after and continue to be seen by many generations to come.

However amongst all of this, one of the things I most look forward to is my life in the country and grabbing as many holidays as I can – just as I have done since I was an impoverished stagehand and cleaner at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane back in 1965 when I first started working on “Camelot”.

Miss Saigon is at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 26 Jul – 23 Sep. Tickets are limited so to make sure you get yours visit or call the ticket office direct on 0844 338 5000

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