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In a year that marks Sir Cameron’s 50th anniversary in producing, Hippodrome Heritage Volunteer Ivan Heard has been looking back over some of the incredible productions Cameron has brought to Birmingham across the years. From Mary Poppins to Les Miserables right through to our 2017 summer blockbuster Miss Saigon…it’s no wonder that Sir Cameron is widely recognised to be one of the most influential and successful theatre producers of all time!
Sir Cameron Mackintosh this year celebrates 50 glorious years of theatre production. Many of his shows have graced the Hippodrome’s stage since the first, “Salad Days” in 1972, right up to this summer’s blockbuster “Miss Saigon”. He has been described as ” the most successful, influential and powerful theatrical producer in the world”.
Born on 17 October, 1946, at the age of eight he was taken by an aunt to see the original Vaudeville Theatre production of “Salad Days”, a small-scale intimate and thoroughly English musical by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds. He recalls running down the theatre aisle to chat to Julian Slade, then playing the piano in the orchestra pit – he showed Cameron how the “magic” piano worked and from then on the lad was smitten by the stage.
Leaving school at 17, Cameron attended the Central School of Speech and Drama but left half-way through because he wanted a more hands-on experience of the theatre. He was taken on by the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane as a stage-hand, even volunteering to clean the foyer and polish the circle brass! In 1965 he joined the touring cast of “Oliver!” as Assistant Stage Manager and also found himself on stage as one of the singing and dancing Londoners, even though he described himself as ” really quite terrible”. However, this musical remained close to Cameron’s heart and he later revived it on tour. It first played the Alexandra Theatre in 1977 and came to the Hippodrome in May, 1983, starring Roy Hudd and Jimmy Edwards. A version by the Birmingham and Midland Operatic Society in 1990 featured a 12-year old English bull terrier from Quinton as Bill Sykes’ dog “Bullseye”.
Back in the mid-1960s, Cameron Mackintosh set himself the target of becoming a producer in five years- he achieved it in less than three! His first venture in 1967 was to stage a season of plays, followed by tours of Agatha Christie favourites. His production of “A Man and His Wife” came to the Alex in 1969.
His first musical, “Anything Goes”, was put on when he was 23 and it was his first big flop. However, he learned many valuable lessons from this experience and, undaunted, he negotiated a deal with one of the West End’s most influential managers, Michael Codron, to tour some of his hit London plays, several of which were staged at the Alex.
After Cameron’s first Hippodrome production, ” Salad Days” in 1972, his next show on our stage marked an important landmark in the history of regional theatre in Britain. “Oliver” had always been one of his most favourite shows and its 1977 tour had been highly successful. He had mounted a full replica of the original production, with no trimming or lack of quality because it was touring ( as had very often been the case when West End shows left London for the provinces). “Oliver!” had helped to keep many venues open at the time when Moss Empires were off-loading their big city centre theatres. In 1979, they sold the Hippodrome to Birmingham City Council for £50,000, who leased it to the Hippodrome Trust which continues to run it today.
Against this background, the Arts Council made a highly significent decision to back Cameron Mackintosh’s plan to stage top quality revivals of iconic musicals, not for London but for the regions. Some of their critics opposed this financial backing of the commercial theatre but it more than paid off.
Accordingly,in 1979, Cameron launched a newly designed ” My Fair Lady” that still managed to keep the spirit and high quality of the original. Opening at the Hippodrome on 20 February, it starred Birmingham-born Tony Britton, Liz Robertson and Dame Anna Neagle. It was big, lavish and beautifully costumed. (BHIPP; 2016.53).
To add to the opening night atmosphere, a flower stall was set up in the foyer and outside the Hippodrome in Hurst Street there was a hot potato and chestnuts wagon. Cameron Mackintosh, present at the opening, heard about it and ordered hot potatoes and chestnuts for the cast, crew and staff. Queues stretched around the block and extra supplies had to be brought in. As the audience were leaving, a Cockney flower seller offered her “luverly violets” for sale. Quite a night!
Cameron’s continued association with the Arts Council in 1980 brought to the Hippodrome a spectacular revival of “Oklahoma!”. But, around this time, he was also beginning to forge another association- this time with Andrew Lloyd Webber., who had already had a string of hit musicals, including “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”,”Jesus Christ Superstar” and ” Evita”. Cameron was looking to do an original new musical and Andrew’s enthusiasm to stage a show based on T.S.Eliot’s ” Book of Practical Cats” came just at the right time.
Opening to acclaim at the New London Theatre on 11 May, 1981, “Cats” was to make all those involved in its production millionaires and to set new records for performances. It was first staged at the Hippodrome between March and June,1995.
“Cats” brought in new audiences, and with Cameron Mackintosh devoting detailed attention to every stage of production, including branding, advertising and merchandise, it cemented the success of the British “mega-musical”. Andrew Lloyd Webber had initiated the trend towards bigger, more spectacular musicals that had gone on to overseas success but, with Cameron on board, these hits shows went global on a never-before-seen scale for a British musical.
A smaller Andrew Lloyd Webber double-bill, ” Song and Dance”, with Marti Webb and Wayne Sleep, arrived at the Hippodrome in 1984, once again produced by Cameron Mackintosh.
The next mega-musical was “Les Miserables”, not this time with Andrew Lloyd Webber, but with two unknown composers- Tunis-born Alain Boublil and Frenchman Claude- Michel Schonberg. Cameron had heard the concept album and he knew he wanted to be associated with it. His involvement produced a show that re-defined the musical theatre- it was sung-through like an opera and it tackled huge themes on a sweeping scale. It was not upbeat or glamorous- quite the opposite- but it was to take audiences on a roller-coaster of emotions. After a very uncertain start at London’s Barbican, it opened at the Palace Theatre at the end of 1985 and another world-wide triumph was on its way to becoming voted ” the world’s favourite musical”. After over 30 years it is still running in the West End. It first came to the Hippodrome from June to September, 1997.
Even while Cameron Mackintosh was ensuring the success of “Les Miz”, his boundless energy was working back with Andrew Lloyd Webber: “The Phantom of the Opera” was to become another worldwide mega-hit. Opening on 9 October, 1986 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, again over 30 years later it is still there, remarkably at the same theatre. It came first to the Hippodrome in 1998, ensuring sound finances for us! What an historic period in our history, with two of the world’s biggest musicals coming onto our stage within two years. However, “Phantom” was to be Cameron’s last collaboration with LloydWebber. The team had made the British mega-musical. Cameron returned to the composers of ” Les Miz”, who were now working on a re-interpretation of Puccini’s opera “Madam Butterfly”. The emotional whirlwind of ” Miss Saigon” landed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 20 September, 1989- the very place where Cameron had begun as a stage-hand. The big four mega-musicals were now running simultaneously in the West End and on Broadway. What an achievement! “Miss Saigon” was first staged at the Hippodromein the summer of 2003.
Boublil and Schonberg’s next collaboration with Cameron Mackintosh, “Martin Guerre” was not as successful – it was here in May, 1999. Subsequently, Cameron returned to revivals of classic musicals, often in association with the National Theatre. “My Fair Lady” was one of them, returning to the Hippodrome in 2005
Cameron’s next big musical had been simmering for many years. In 1993, he finally worked his charm on P.L.Travers, the author of “Mary Poppins”, who entrusted him with producing a stage version of her books. She had hated the Walt Disney film in 1964 but maybe she was charmed in the end by Cameron presenting her with a cherry tree- after all, the Bankes family did live in Cherry Tree Lane! This great family musical landed at the Hippodrome first in 2008, making a very welcome return in 2016.
There have been so many Cameron Mackintosh productions in the last 50 years and this has just been a skim over the major ones. Not only has he become the world’s most famous and successful producer of popular shows but he has also established the Mackintosh Foundation, with a Chair of Drama at Oxford University, which also funds a range of charities and helps to develop young musical talent for the future. He now owns nine West End theatres- the Prince of Wales,Gielgud,Queen’s,Wyndham’s, Noel Coward, Novello, Prince Edward, Ambassadors and the Victoria Palace.
Cameron’s influence on British musical theatre has been immense and prolific. He has secured the double – not only producing international hit shows but also helping to sustain a healthy regional theatre in our major cities. He has been a stickler for quality, right down to the last detail of merchandise, branding and ticket sales. Modestly, he once said “producers can’t instigate shows: they can only hope to find good material and make it better”. He has most certainly achieved that.
Cameron Mackintosh, colossus of British theatre, the Hippodrome salutes your 50 years and looks forward to staging many more of your shows.
Ivan Heard – Hippodrome Heritage Volunteer
With just over two weeks until Titanic The Musical docks at Birmingham Hippodrome, find out what happened when Diane Parkes went behind-the-scenes of the stirring and spectacular new stage production to meet some of the local stars of the show.
When Claire Machin was 12 years old she made her theatrical debut – in the musical Annie at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Those performances convinced her that acting was her future – and 35 years later, 47-year-old Claire is returning to the Hippodrome in the tour of Titanic the Musical.
“It was 1983 and I was 12 and I auditioned for Annie. It was the first UK tour after the London performance and they were auditioning for some orphans,” she recalls. “My mum and dad took me to an open call and there were hundreds and hundreds of kids.
“You had to be under a certain height. They had something like a Mickey Mouse and you had to fit under his ears – it was a bit like getting on a rollercoaster!”
Claire, who grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, gained the part of July which she played for around six weeks at the Hippodrome – a theatre where she has performed many times during her career.
“Every time I go back to the Hippodrome I have a real fondness for that theatre,” she says. “I only have to open the stage door and the smell takes me back to being that 12-year-old girl with my little Annie canvas bag. It’s always an excited feeling when I come back to the Hippodrome.”
As a youngster, Claire watched amateur dramatics at the Queens Theatre in Burslem.
“I would sit in the balcony at the side. Just hearing the orchestra tuning up and the hustle and bustle – I just loved it. There was a local actress and the first time I saw her was in Mack and Mabel and I was in love with her and the idea of being her! I never wanted to do anything but acting.”
Titanic the Musical comes to Birmingham Hippodrome on June 4-9 as part of the show’s first UK tour. A vastly reworked version of the 1997 Broadway musical, this production was premiered at London’s Southwark Playhouse in 2013, played Toronto in Canada and Tokyo and Osaka in Japan and was staged at Charing Cross Theatre in London in 2016.
This tour is the first time Claire has been in the production which sees all of the actors playing a variety of different roles.
“What is so special about Titanic the Musical is that it’s not a show about a ship – it’s about the people on that ship,” she says. “It’s very relatable when you think about things like 9/11 and Grenfell Tower.
“We rush about in our busy lives but this will be a moment when the audience sits for two hours and is hopefully enthralled in these people’s lives. There is somebody there on stage who everyone can relate to – audience members will see characters and think ‘that’s me’.
“I think the audience will really feel something for those characters in that tragic situation. It’s good to be reminded of the human story and the human cost to life.”
Claire’s key character is Alice Beane, a second class passenger.
“It’s really easy to make Alice seem aspirational and a Hyacinth Bucket type character and I feel I owe it to Alice to ensure there is more to her than that,” she says.
“I love Alice – she is so excited to be getting on this ship which is a wonder of the new world and she’s determined to get into the first class lounge and make friends. Being American it was OK to want more and she speaks for a world which was changing.”
Simon Green, who plays J Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, the company which launched the Titanic, also first discovered theatre locally. Born in Solihull and a student at Cedarhurst and Solihull Schools, it was the Royal Shakespeare Company which inspired his love of acting.
“We lived in Baddesley Clinton and because we were close to Stratford-upon-Avon my parents took me to see Shakespeare’s As You Like It when I was about eight,” he recalls. “Dorothy Tutin was playing Rosalind and I watched and went ‘that’s what I want to do’.
“I hardly knew what it was and had hardly been to the theatre but I just knew. I did my O-levels and went to Stratford College which had a ground-breaking drama course with A-levels and then went to London and trained.”
Since then, 60-year-old Simon has built a successful career in theatre taking roles in a range of works from Phantom of the Opera to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and winning a New York Drama Desk Award for his show Life is for Living.
He played the role of Ismay in the Southwark production and again in Toronto and takes on Ismay’s mantle again for the tour.
“Ismay is a really good part and the show is an extraordinary piece of work,” Simon says. “It’s a perfect piece of theatre. The response from the audience on the first performance was astonishing really – I don’t think we’d really realised what we’d got until then. It’s very powerful.
“With Ismay, Titanic was his pride and joy and he went on the maiden voyage and I suppose most famously he is the man who pushed it to go faster and faster because they wanted it to be the fastest ocean liner in the world.
“And he got on the life boat and came back and was vilified for it and called a coward. But after he came back he was the man who led the vanguard in changing all the rules in maritime travel and making it safer. So out of the tragedy came some good.
“Ismay is not the villain. He didn’t set out to kill anybody but it was through his ambition, need and desire that this terrible thing happened. There is no single element which made the tragedy of the Titanic happen.”
However Simon’s Ismay sometimes does sometimes spark an interesting response from audience members.
“When we did the show in Toronto, after the performances, we would walk past the exit to the car park and people who had just seen the show would wind down their windows and boo me – but I like to think they booed me with love!”
For Emma Harrold, being a student at the University of Birmingham between 2008-2011 aided her career path to the stage.
Emma, who is from St Albans, studied classics at the university and spent a good deal of her time performing in student productions.
“I had danced since I was three and had been in dance competitions on stage since I was six,” she says. “I loved doing it and at the age of 16 I had started doing lots of am dram.
“I was torn between going to drama school or university and I decided I was a bit too young to go to drama school so decided to go a really big university which I knew had extra-curricular drama and quite famous alumni.
“Then at the freshers’ fair I immediately went to the musical theatre stand and said ‘I want to be in your next production’. We did Hot Mikado which was great. Over that time I got to play some great parts in some great plays.
“Being in Birmingham I went to all of the theatres, the Rep, the Alexandra, the Hippodrome, and saw all of these productions coming through and it all secured in my mind that I wanted to be an actor. So when I graduated I had a gap year and then did a post-graduate diploma in musical theatre at the Royal Academy of Music.”
Since then, 27-year-old Emma has been in a number of productions, including Happy Days at the Hippodrome four years ago – and she was keen to be involved in Titanic the Musical.
“As soon as Titanic came up I had my eye on it,” she says. “I watched the film of Titanic when it first came out and I remember it being really traumatic. I actually said I would never watch it again it was so sad – so maybe I was drawn to this production to exorcise some demons!
“I’m a newbie to the cast and the first weeks of rehearsals, rehearsing with people who have done this show maybe one, two or even three times before, I’ve been so excited to see how passionate they are about the project.
“I knew it was a great musical before I auditioned but it’s also understanding that we are in quite a unique position telling this wonderful and tragic story. We are recreating people who are not unlike us but lived 100 years ago and thought they were embarking on the most exciting period of their life – and obviously some made it and some poor souls didn’t. There is something thrilling about bringing this to life.”
Emma plays the role of Kate Mullins, a third class passenger on the ship.
“She’s Irish, from Donegal, and she makes her way to the Titanic to start a new life in America. Her dream is to become a sewing girl. She meets two other girls, also called Kate, also Irish, on the boarding of the Titanic and they start this very exciting journey together.”
And Emma has come to feel a real empathy for Kate.
“When people think about the story of the Titanic they think about a really fantastic ship which crashed into an iceberg and sank. But I think as we have gone through the rehearsals we’ve been seeing the people as an interactive living museum in which we are paying homage to them.”
…in Sunset Boulevard, Anything Goes, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Company. He was on the TV judging panel of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and…
We’ve put together a quarantine reading list with a touch of theatrical sparkle!
Here are 10 books that have inspired some of the world’s greatest musicals. We can’t promise jazz hands or showtunes, but you might discover something special in the original source material.
1. Les Misérables (1862) by Victor Hugo
An epic novel centring on the struggles and redemption of ex-convict Jean Valjean. More than a quarter of the book is devoted to moralistic essays on topics varying from the Battle of Waterloo to sewage systems. Not surprisingly, these deviations were left out of the musical adaptation!
2. Tevye’s Daughters (1894) by Sholom Aleichem
A collection of tales about Tevye, a dairyman living in a Jewish shtetl in Russia, were the inspiration for Fiddler on the Roof. Originally written in Yiddish, they tell of Tevye’s troublesome daughters, his business dealings and the encroachment of outside influences on his way of life.
3. The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown (1933) by Damon Runyon
Along with Runyon’s other short stories exploring Broadway in the Prohibition era, this tale was the basis for Guys and Dolls, a love story between a gambler and a missionary.
4. The Phantom of the Opera (1910) by Gaston Leroux
First serialised in newspapers, this gothic novel was inspired by the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Leroux claimed, even on his death bed, that the book was based on true events. Indeed, an underwater pool can still be found under the opera house today!
5. Goodbye to Berlin (1933) by Christopher Isherwood
The basis for Cabaret, this semi-autobiographical book takes place in 1930s Berlin. It’s written as a loosely connected collection of six stories inspired by the intriguing people Isherwood met in the city just before the Nazis came to power. The cabaret singer, Sally Bowles, is his most memorable creation.
6. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T.S. Eliot
Eliot originally wrote these whimsical poems about a group of cats for his godchildren under the name ‘Old Possum’. Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber into Cats in the 1980s, the musical is as quirky as the poetry!
7. Anna and the King of Siam (1944) by Margaret Landon
This novel is based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens who travelled to Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s to teach the King’s children and wives. Landon embellished these writings into a love story which later inspired the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, The King and I.
8. The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker
Mainly written in the form of letters, this novel focuses on the lives of African-American women in rural Georgia in the 1930s. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 and was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2005. Birmingham Hippodrome staged a triumphant production of the show in 2019, co-produced with Leicester Curve.
9. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) by Gregory Maguire
The first in The Wicked Years series of books, this novel gives an alternative backstory to characters encountered in The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and is also a commentary on the nature of good and evil. The main character, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West), is derived from the initials of Baum: L-F-B.
10. Alexander Hamilton (2004) by Ron Chernow
This biography about one of the Founding Fathers of the United States became an international bestseller after Lin-Manuel Miranda read the book on holiday and convinced Chernow he could turn it into a Hip-Hop musical. Chernow worked as historical consultant on Hamilton for six years while Miranda devised the show.
…roles in Sunset Boulevard, Anything Goes, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Company. He was on the TV judging panel of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?…
…years in London, making it the 5th longest-running show ever to appear on the West End behind The Mousetrap, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and The Woman in…
…You, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and Mamma Mia! returning by popular demand to the Hippodrome, and for the very first time Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Hamilton) cult cheerleading musical…
…West End theatre credits include “Les Misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre and “Alice” at St James Theatre. Carl Sanderson’s many West End credits include “Cats”, “The Phantom of the Opera”,…
…has appeared in TV shows including Extras, Doctor Who and Miranda, and has also appeared in feature films including Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and Pirates of the…
…Truly Scrumptious, Phil Jupitus as Lord Scrumptious/Baron Bomburst, Matt Gillett (Jersey Boys, Top Hat) as the Childcatcher and Andy Hockley (The Phantom Of The Opera) as Grandpa Potts. Chitty Chitty…
…soon as possible. Sister Act 15 – 26 September 2020 Rescheduled for 2 – 13 November 2021* The Phantom of the Opera 29 July – 12 September 2020 This event…