A Life in the Theatre: Cameron Mackintosh

Special Features   A Life in the Theatre: Cameron Mackintosh
Meet British producer Cameron Mackintosh, the man behind the international hits Mary Poppins, Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. His Betty Blue Eyes just opened in London.

Cameron Mackintosh
Cameron Mackintosh


In 1954, when British producer Cameron Mackintosh was eight, his family took him to a hit London musical, Salad Days. "I fell in love," Mackintosh remembers. "I insisted on going back, and after the show I introduced myself to its composer, Julian Slade. He took me onstage. He played the piano. I remember thinking, 'Yes, this is what I'm going to do when I grow up.'"

Mackintosh, the North London-born son of a Scottish timber merchant, has entered the pantheon of musical-theatre giants. Now 64, he produced the three longest-running shows in Broadway history: The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Misérables. His Miss Saigon is No. 10. His and Disney's Mary Poppins has been on Broadway for four years. In London's West End, Les Miz and Phantom are the first- and second-longest-running musicals — the London Les Miz is in its 26th year, with over 10,000 performances. In the States, Les Miz is currently touring, and a film version is in development. Mackintosh's latest musical, Betty Blue Eyes, is playing in London. Knighted in 1996, he has four Tony Awards and owns seven London theatres.

In his teens, Mackintosh attended the Central School of Drama. Bored with "lectures about Euripides," he got a stagehand job at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

He started producing "unbelievably quickly. I had set a goal of being a producer by 25. By June 1967 I was involved setting up a repertory season in Henley-on-Thames. I said I was doing as much work as the producers, and to shut me up they put my name on the poster. I was 20."

Mackintsoh and Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Phantom of the Opera 10th Anniversary, 1996.
photo by Alan Davidson

For a decade, he produced many shows, but not many hits. "My first West End show, in 1969, a revival of Anything Goes, was a disaster." But he also produced a tour of Godspell that ran five years. "I produced six or eight shows a year, and I was still in debt for my disasters."

His first international success, in 1976, was Side by Side by Sondheim. The Arts Council of London asked him to produce touring revivals of Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady. Then came an invitation to lunch from a successful composer.

"We chatted for hours about musical theatre. At the end he told me about T. S. Eliot poems he thought might make a show."

The composer, of course, was Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the musical idea became Cats.

"Cats paid off all my bills for the previous 25 years. It gave me enough money to do what I want."

After Cats, Mackintosh heard the French album of a show by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg: Les Miz. "I fell in love with the music immediately — not all of it, but enough to know it was something I wanted to do." He never thought, he says, that the London version would still be playing in 2011, the longest run of any original production anywhere that's still on the boards.

While he was working on Les Miz, Lloyd Webber came to him with another idea — Phantom. "I said, 'That sounds like fun — why don't we do it?'"

Betty Blue Eyes is based on a 1984 movie, "A Private Function," co-written by Alan Bennett and set in 1947 on the eve of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The composing team is George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, of Mary Poppins.

The future? "I'm 64, and I'm working harder than I have for 20 years. Over the next three years I'm going to put on or supervise 25 productions. I've been in this business a long time, and I'm still here."

Playbill.com shares photos from Mackintosh's personal collection:

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