Cameron Mackintosh sees theater kind of town
By Misha Davenport, Chicago Sun-Times
Like the old Frank Sinatra tune says, Chicago has always been Cameron Mackintosh’s kind of town.
Long before the the “Wicked” citizens of Oz followed a yellow brick road to the Oriental Theatre and the “Jersey Boys” called the LaSalle Bank Theatre their home away from home, Mackintosh -- a fixture on London’s West End and Broadway -- took a chance and produced long-running productions of his hit musicals “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera” in Chicago.
“I count the long-running Chicago productions of my shows as my proudest achievement in America,” Mackintosh says, during a recent phone conversation from his London home.
Mackintosh, 61, has brought all of his hits here (his latest, “Mary Poppins,” kicks off its North American tour in Chicago in 2009). When he began producing his shows here in the ‘80s, the theater scene was a far different landscape.
“Everyone in New York was telling me Chicago wasn’t a theater town,” he says.
He took a risk and it paid off. His productions often played for six to nine months, paving the way for longer runs of “Wicked” and “Jersey Boys.”
“It turns out that the Chicago theater scene is becoming what I always knew it would be,” he adds.
Mackintosh says the city has always had a special place in his heart and it was hard to believe the New York naysayers, considering Chicago had a hand in nurturing his love of musicals.
“My great-uncle owned an antiques shop in Chicago and he is the one that turned me on to musicals,” Mackintosh explains.
His great-uncle would send him original Broadway cast albums of classic shows like “West Side Story,” “Camelot,” and “My Fair Lady.”
“We couldn’t get them in England and he would send them to me as they were released in the States,” Mackintosh recalls.
“He was my eye into America and American musical theater, and he would be very, very proud that fate has taken so many of my shows back to Chicago.”
Mackintosh now brings his latest show here, a revival of “My Fair Lady.” He saw the original production with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews twice, once when he was 13 and again on his 16th birthday, which happened to be the show’s closing night in the West End. He produced a revival of it in 1979 that was re-mounted with help from the show’s librettist, Alan Jay Lerner.
“My professional relationship with Alan lasted more than a decade and because of that, I probably know more about ‘My Fair Lady’ than anyone else in theater,” Mackintosh says.
“It’s one of the most wonderful pieces of musical theater ever written and I cannot wait to bring it to Chicago.”