Betty Blue Eyes: Cameron Mackintosh's New Musical

Special Features   Betty Blue Eyes: Cameron Mackintosh's New Musical
A decade ago, in the summer of 2001, Cameron Mackintosh, the British producer behind the international hits Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, told the world that he wasn't going to be actively producing any new musicals.

Cameron Mackintosh
Cameron Mackintosh

He clarified his plans to in 2002, saying, "There are one or two projects that I've had the rights to for sometime, which may or may not come to fruition, in which case I would do those. At this time, to be honest, I've got so much on my plate and I'm wanting to enjoy myself as well, I just could not face taking on anything new for the moment. There's no question that I will do some new shows in the future."

In the subsequent ten years, he focused on shows that he had already begun work on, but nothing new. His schedule included collaborating with Disney on the London, Broadway and touring productions of Mary Poppins; North American tours of his productions of Oklahoma! and Oliver!; international productions of Martin Guerre and The Witches of Eastwick; bringing Les Miz back to Broadway; creating a revised 25th anniversary revival production of Les Miz, which toured the U.K. and is currently touring North America; and, today, he is working on bringing Les Miz and My Fair Lady to the silver screen.

Betty Blue Eyes, beginning performances on London's West End March 19, is Mackintosh's first major new musical in a decade — if you don't count Mary Poppins, which he had already been working on.

Based on the film "A Private Function," by Alan Bennett, Betty Blue Eyes focuses on Betty, an adorable pig who is being illegally reared to ensure that local dignitaries can celebrate the Royal Wedding (of Queen Elizabeth II) with a lavish banquet, while the local post-war population make do with Spam.

Ron Cowan and Daniel Lipman adapted and expanded the story for the stage, and songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Mary Poppins, Honk!, Just So) penned the score. Mackintosh admitted that, yes, Betty Blue Eyes is "my first gleaming new musical in over 10 years."

What attracted him to it?

Mackintosh with Betty Blue Eyes star Sarah Lancashire.

"Well, the score was written by friends of mine, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who I've known for 25 years and [who,] of course, did all the terrific new songs for Mary Poppins," he told earlier this year. "But actually, the book was written by two Americans [Cowan and Lipman], and it was their idea. … I read it and I thought it was the most original piece I had read in a long, long time. I mean, I knew they were working on it, because the moment I heard it was a musical version of 'A Private Function' — a film I loved, by Alan Bennett, which was very, very funny and off-the-wall — I was intrigued and thought, 'This sounds like a really good adult thing for them to be doing. [There's] something wonderfully English about it but quirky.' …So I encouraged them to finish it, but I was really amazed how well the two writers have wonderfully taken the Bennett screenplay and expanded it — and the songs are the best that George or Anthony have ever written."

Is it a delicious, genuine musical comedy free of the so-serious gloom (and hope) of his dramatic musical epics?

"It is delicious," Mackintosh said, "but what I didn't know when I agreed to do it was how the timing [would be so auspicious]. … Who would have thought that so many of the themes that Bennett was writing about, which [include] fair shares for all, belt-tightening, a Royal Wedding, the worst winter in decades — all of it would come to roost just as we open. The point of view of the period that the story was set in is so apposite to what our country is — and, I think, many countries are — going through now."

The timing of the royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, Prince William, which takes place two weeks after the musical's opening on the West End, couldn't be better. "Of course, I had nothing to do with, despite people trying to give me credit," Mackintosh said with a laugh. "In the end, it's going to be a good show, and if it's a good show, I think our timing will seem impeccable."

The cast of 20 is relatively intimate given Mackintosh's history with such period epics as Miss Saigon and Les Miz.

"It is," the producer agreed. "This is a big intimate show."

Is it safe to say the door is open for more new work in Mackintosh's world?

"No, it isn't," he cautioned. "I mean, I'm not saying ever, but I can't imagine I'll be doing another new musical for years. I just can't. I mean, at the moment, I'm committed to opening 35 productions over the next three years around the world. If Betty is a success, I'll have to do a few of those [around the world], as well, and I'm working on two movies which are both likely to happen."

No matter what he says, those of us who care about the form choose to believe that this is the beginning of an Act Two in the producing life of Mackintosh. New musicals need him.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Write him at, or follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)

The <i>Betty Blue Eyes</i> marquee
The Betty Blue Eyes marquee Photo by Andrew Ku
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