InDepth InterView Exclusive: Cameron Mackintosh Talks LES MISERABLES Onstage & Onscreen, Plus PHANTOM, OLIVER!, MISS SAIGON, BARNUM & More
Today we are talking to the king of the modern musical and the most successful theatrical producer in history - the man behind the original productions of many iconic properties, among them: LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, CATS, MISS SAIGON and MARY POPPINS - the one and only Cameron Mackintosh. Looking back at many of his most remarkable musicals to date and also some of his lesser-known success d'estime projects - such as THE FIX and THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK - Mackintosh reveals his dedication and passion for the performing arts and discusses many aspects of the lore behind his legendary shows and displays the characteristic charm and exacting insight that has gotten him to his enviable position over his forty-plus years producing for Broadway, the West End and around the world. Most importantly, Mackintosh and I analyze the mega-successful feature film adaptation of LES MISERABLES, directed by Tom Hooper, and Mackintosh relates many fascinating insights as to the original London production's genesis and the journey of the Victor Hugo story in general from page to stage to screen - such as working with original composer/lyricist team Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer on creating new musical material explicitly for the movie, as well as the audition and casting process for the central characters. Looking ahead, Mackintosh shares thoughts on potential MISS SAIGON and OLIVER! feature film adaptations in the future and gamely speculates on casting for each, while also giving us the scoop on a new stage production of BARNUM he is producing, set to star Christopher Fitzgerald, and the exciting enhancements being made to the well-regarded musical for this new revised and reconceived production. So, too, does Mackintosh relate tales involving his frequent collaborators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim. All of that, Mackintosh's thoughts on the enduring legacy of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and the recent Royal Albert Hall 25th Anniversary Celebration and Broadway anniversary, as well as comments on the new touring productions of LES MISERABLES and PHANTOM coming later this year, in addition to the major 2014 LES MISERABLES and MISS SAIGON revivals set for the main-stages of the West End and Broadway - and much, much more!
LES MISERABLES is now available on DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Download. More information is available at the official site here.
Make The Most Of Your Musicals
PC: Was PUTTING IT TOGETHER the first major filmed production of yours that you oversaw? Did CATS came a little before that, perhaps?
CM: Yes, I think CATS was first. But, really, what we were doing with PUTTING IT TOGETHER was recording a stage show with cameras - and the same with CATS, really, except in a studio.
PC: Did that process though eventually lead you to be here, now, with LES MISERABLES?
CM: Well, obviously, the difference between those and LES MISERABLES is that we pulled it apart and put it back together again in order to make it a real movie - and that's why it works. We didn't want it to ever feel in any way stage-y - never. That's what we thought was one of the great assignments, was Tom Hooper instructing Alain, Claude-Michel and I to re-make it into a movie. We all thought that that was the only chance it had in order to do justice to the material and not just try to be a bigger, more glamorous version of the stage show. And, I'll tell you, I think that's one of the big reasons it has worked as well as it has.
PC: How far along did you get with the project originally in the late-80s?
CM: It was about '87 I think - right around when we opened on Broadway; a little after that. We had gotten quite a long way along with it, actually...
PC: Who was involved?
CM: Alan Parker was going to direct it and John Napier was going to design it. John had already come up with a big design that used up a lot of Pinewood. That's where we were going to film it then and that's actually where we ended up filming it now.
PC: A full-circle occurrence, no doubt - for you, especially.
CM: Yes, it was. But, you know, it just wasn't meant to be at that time.
PC: Why do you think that is?
CM: Well, part of the reason that it didn't get made then is that I put a stricture that I wanted it to run at least five years on Broadway... [Laughs.] How little did I know how long it eventually would run! So, after that, Alan Parker decided he wanted to go off and do other things. Then, we talked to another few directors and nothing came to nothing - it was just fate making us wait, I think, now, looking back on what happened.
PC: The moment was right this time.
CM: I think it was, yes - this was the most marvelous cast we could have ever hoped to do a film of LES MISERABLES with.
PC: Did you consider doing it with the success of MOULIN ROUGE! and CHICAGO right after the millennium?
CM: Well, no - but, I was fascinated to see how they were working and I think that if it wasn't for those films working then we would never have had the opportunity for anyone to even take the risk on LES MISERABLES like they have - particularly in the way that we did it. The audiences, especially. I mean, it was Tom who wanted to really keep it in its original form and keep the sung dialogue and recit like we did. Initially, we thought we would have to have much more straight dialogue in it - you know, we were fully expecting that, going from the original screenplay that we read.
PC: The first draft, apparently.
CM: You know, undoubtedly, though, you are right - MOULIN ROUGE! and CHICAGO paved the way. MAMMA MIA was a very big success and HAIRSPRAY was a big success - SWEENEY TODD, too. I think that all of them have contributed in building it up to the place where it is, where we could take the risk to do something like this and have it be a success. Thank God it paid off for everybody!
PC: SWEENEY TODD featured some significant cuts to the score, did you anticipate having to go that way with LES MISERABLES in the early stages of developing the film?
CM: Well, since you mention it, I actually went to see SWEENEY TODD with Stephen Sondheim - he took me to see it and that's where I met up with John Logan first and I liked him enormously. It was great to see it for the first time with Steve himself, though, I'll say.
PC: What did you think of the film?
CM: I liked it a lot. You know, having come in knowing the stage show very well, I obviously missed some of the numbers, but I completely understood Tim [Burton]'s take on it. The fact is that Steve was very comfortable with all of that and he was willing to allow that to happen - and it did. It was definitely a very specific view - Tim Burton's version - of Sondheim's piece. I thought it succeeded very well in that. But, yes, I enjoyed it immensely and I can tell you that one of the reasons I wanted to get Sacha [Baron Cohen] and Helena [Bonham Carter] in my movie was because of SWEENEY. [Laughs.]
PC: One thing led to the other - and how!
CM: I enjoyed their performances so much in the film.
PC: Did you ever consider going another way with the Thenardiers? Jenny Galloway and Alun Armstrong are much different types, obviously.
CM: Well, obviously, once Tom was chosen to direct, there was no question in Tom's eyes that Helena should play Madame Thenardier - obviously, after having done THE KING'S SPEECH with Tom like she did she was just perfect casting for this role. I mean, having seen her in SWEENEY TODD, there was no discussion once we had established that that's who he wanted - the part was hers. [Pause.] Of course, we did talk about one or two other actors - along with Sacha; but, having seen Sacha in SWEENEY TODD, I just thought he was fantastic and absolutely right there as one of my first choices all along. Tom very much pursued them and his vision of them in those roles - and, to be honest, it was quite difficult to schedule since they were both quite busy.
PC: They are both very in demand in general, to say the least.
CM: Yes, actually, in speaking of it, Sacha was filming his own movie at the same exact time, THE DICTATOR.
PC: That must have been logistically interesting for him - and you - to work out.
CM: It was - he had to split his time between that and us. You know, Sacha told me that he sang live in SWEENEY TODD and that he had insisted on it - he couldn't have done what he did to a pre-recorded track. I thought that was interesting considering how we eventually ended up doing LES MISERABLES.
PC: Would you consider him for Fagin in an OLIVER! someday - onstage or onscreen?
CM: [Pause. Sighs.] I'd have to think about it - though I'm not sure that it is a role that would ever interest Sacha because it is such a Jewish villain part and Sacha is very serious about the parts he plays and what they are about, so I am not sure that he would be interested in doing that kind of thing, even if I was.
PC: I've heard you have developed a particular affection for the editing room in recent months...
CM: Yes. I have, I have. [Laughs.]
PC: Would you like to pursue that newfound love further and get another film in the can immediately - OLIVER!?
CM: One day maybe. But, immediately? It's exhausting making a film - it takes everything. With a film, the big difference between that and my day job is that in my day job I can be organizing ten, fifteen productions and setting them up in different parts of the world for the next two or three years; I can do all of that simultaneously. But, in film, it's so demanding and it's almost that they expect you to throw everything else to the wayside and just concentrate on the film all the time and only that. You know, when you are in the theatre, you can't really do that. So, to answer your question, Pat: I am very comfortable being back in my day job at the moment. [Big Laugh.]
PC: And you've certainly earned a bit of a break from Hollywood after last year!
CM: I think so. But, yes, maybe someday the pieces will fall together again - who knows? At least I now know that I have something to contribute to a musical film - I mean, it's not as far away from putting together a stage musical as I thought it would be; it really isn't. There are a lot of similar aspects to it all - the pulling together of talent and all of that is pretty similar. So, I would perhaps not be so worried about the process - to be honest, I wasn't completely sure what I was really in for this time around... [Laughs.]
PC: It was incredibly risky - particularly with live singing and the manner in which it was all done. A risk that paid off!
CM: It did, indeed! It contribtues so heavily into making the film what it is.
PC: The Blu-ray is exquisite - perfect image and 7.1 sound. The bonus features are excellent, as well. It's clear to see how much influence that you had all along - did you find that kind of specificity and enumeration particularly invigorating?
CM: Well, I think that that's the big thing that everyone found - you make a musical movie the other way 'round from how you make a regular movie; the music drives the pictures. In a normal movie, you add the music after you have the finished, final picture.
PC: What a fascinating observation.
CM: You know, we all were putting our threepenny worth into everything all along - not just me. That's how you do it. The film is as amazing as it is because of Alain and Claude-Michel's score, though, really - that's what makes it what it is in the end.
PC: Do you feel "Suddenly" and its reprise and/or the new musical exchange between Valjean and Javert will find their way into the stage show - maybe the 2014 Broadway revival?
CM: [Pause.] Well, we are sort of enumerating that at the moment, actually. I suspect that "Suddenly" is an entirely cinematic piece at the moment - though I like it very much and I think it adds a fantastic new strand to the storytelling, I think that it may not fit into the stage show. It certainly cannot fit into the stage show the way that it fits into the film - it would have to be re-imagined. It's all about where it comes from and where it's leading. But, there are certain elements of the film that we do feel clarify the storytelling and have changed some lyrics in the film to reflect that - quite a few lyrics are more specific in the film than they are in the stage show.
PC: A thousand tiny tweaks.
CM: There are a lot of little things throughout the film that we changed to relate more specifically to the film - and we will consider them all when we do the show in Toronto, which is the next new production we are putting up.
PC: Would you consider filming the original stage show for perseveration since the new versions will be a bit altered?
CM: No. [Laughs.] After this film and the 02 and the 10th Anniversary and the documentary, there's quite enough LES MISERABLES I think!
PC: But we will be able to see it on Broadway live come 2014 anyway, correct?
CM: Yes. 2014. Broadway. The most ardent fans will have a new production of the stage show then and they can see the movie again and again now that it is out on DVD and Blu-ray.
PC: The concert versions are ideal companion pieces, too.
CM: Yes, they are - the 02 is a spectacular version of it. I think that the stage show should take place in the theatre, anyway - that's where its specialness is.
PC: What are your thoughts on Fathom's movie theater presentations of special events? Would you do another one in the future following the gigantic success of PHANTOM 25 and LES MIZ 02 recently?
CM: Well, we certainly would do it again if we felt it was appropriate. Certainly, PHANTOM and LES MIZ worked spectacularly well and both were resounding successes with Fathom. But, you know, you can't put on occasions like that more than once in a lifetime for any show, I don't think. What makes them special is that you are doing something unique - I am not saying that we could not create another event as good, though, someday...
PC: Looking ahead...
CM: [Laughs.] Oh, God, imagine: I'll be nearly 100 by then, but in 25 years maybe, if it is still running, we will do another PHANTOM or LES MIZ like we just did with them. Honestly, I can't imagine anything better than what we did with LES MIZ at the 02 and I couldn't have done PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at the Albert Hall any better than I did it - they are uniquely brilliant, I feel. I think they are as uniquely brilliant onscreen as they were seeing them live and actually being there in the same room for them. I really do.
PC: They are the new gold standards for special events.
CM: [Pause.] Why risk perfection? [Laughs.]
PC: PHANTOM 25 was beyond reproach - an unforgettable event.
CM: Yes, yes - I agree. Those type of things you just cannot repeat, I don't think.
PC: Andrew Lloyd Webber told me that you were completely responsible for PHANTOM 25 - he had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Is that really true?
CM: Yes, it is. [Laughs.]
PC: I'm glad we could clear that up, then! Why did you want to do it in the first place?
CM: Well, it was my present to Andrew - we have enjoyed doing so many shows together and it was an act of gratitude.
PC: PHANTOM is coming back to the US in a new guise, as well - a new tour with a whole new look! What can you tell me?
CM: Yes, we have just done a new version of the show on tour in England and we are going to be doing a new version on tour in America, as well, coming up shortly. It's had phenomenal reviews and done incredibly good business in England, so I am very much looking forward to bringing it to America at the end of this year.
PC: What exciting news for phans!
CM: Again, it's a completely new production - a completely new staging, new direction, new lighting, new scenic elements. I just saw it again recently at its stop in Birmingham and it was just fantastic - a much different, but equally fantastic production, I think. It's one that the phans - the PHANTOM fans; as you well know - love enormously and they have embraced the new production totally. So, I am excited now to see how it is received in America.
PC: When Hal Prince did this column we talked about the white doves and horse originally considered for PHANTOM. Have you considered anything along those lines this time around?
CM: [Laughs.] No, no, no - we've all gone through the horse situation and the white doves situation once and that's enough for one lifetime! When we were at Her Majesty's Theatre we all agreed that we would keep that memory to ourselves.
PC: That's hilarious. Speaking of "Memory" - what about a CATS film someday? Steven Spielberg almost made it once a while back, correct?
CM: I have no idea - you'd have to ask Andrew about all of that. That's never been something I've been involved in, really. I wouldn't even know how to go about it to be honest.
PC: People or animation? That's the essential question, it would seem.
CM: Yeah, you see, it's just not something that I could see there would be any need for me to be directly involved in. I mean, I just don't know how I would contribute anything to it. But, it's a wonderful stage show and it still goes on and on. [Pause. Sighs.] Who knows? Someone might come up with a really great new stage version someday. But, at the moment, the old one is still the one that is being done and people still seem to really enjoy it.
PC: A big MISS SAIGON revival is coming up, as well, is it not?
CM: Yes. That is on the cards - we have done a new version of MISS SAIGON that has been very successful; it's a huge hit right now in Japan, actually. We are planning on bringing it back to London next year as soon as I find the right theater for it. That's all we are waiting for - the right theater for it.
PC: And Ellen has a new song in the second act, does she not?
CM: Yes, Ellen has a new song - a beautiful new song by Alain and Claude-Michel that is just gorgeous. It's in the Japanese version - in Japanese, unfortunately for Alain and us! [Laughs.]
PC: Maybe a MISS SAIGON film someday soon, too?
CM: People are talking to me about that right now and that might happen someday. We'll see.
PC: Would you consider Hugh Jackman for the Engineer or would you probably tend to skew more authentically Asian for that part?
CM: I think that for the film, with something that was originally a European/Asian role - that's what the lyrics are about - you would need to have someone not be straight Caucasian. Whether it's Asian, whether it's Mexican, whether it's Spanish - whatever; they would need to have an exotic mix, though, I think, for it to work for that role.
PC: The casting for LES MISERABLES is absolutely perfect, so it is an impossibly high standard to meet in casting, at least.
CM: Thank you for saying that.
PC: Taylor Swift was among the candidates considered for LES MISERABLES, yes? What was her audition like?
CM: Yes, yes - Taylor Swift! Wonderful - she was wonderful. A really sweet girl. Actually, I think she may have come in a couple of times, now that I think about it. She was hard-working and did wonderfully in the role. Again, as with all things like that, in the end - as always with that show - the chemistry of the trio is the most important thing to get. You can't cast any of them individually. In the end, the chemistry with Sam [Barks], Amanda [Seyfried] and Eddie [Redmayne] turned out to be the right chemistry for us and for the movie we were making.
PC: You can say that again!
CM: They all worked out just exceptionally. But, to answer your question, though: yes, Taylor was a real trouper for putting herself through the whole process and doing as wonderfully as she did, along with a lot of other famous people. I have a lot of respect for her - for them all.
PC: Tom Hooper says in the documentary on the Blu-ray that the film of LES MISERABLES would not have been possible without Hugh Jackman - would you agree? It seems to me that the film couldn't exist without Cameron Mackintosh, but...
CM: [Laughs.] Yes, I've become a very busy catalyst on this one! But, anyway, the great thing about LES MISERABLES is that it is bigger than any one single person, though Hugh is definitely one of them; so is Tom - it's a big piece that can sustain all of us. It all began with Claude-Michel and Alain's vision, though.
PC: Truly, the LES MISERABLES film has changed movie musicals and set a new standard for a new generation. It will be hard for other movie musicals to measure up.
CM: I happen to totally agree, Pat - I'm just sorry I can't give you any better quote than your own! [Laughs.]
PC: On that note: THE FIX is one of my favorite musicals of all time - the original production was so daring and edgy. Do you have fond memories of that little show?
CM: It's funny you mention that to me, actually, Pat. As you may know, it has just had a rather good production Off Off Off the West End, in a small pub, in London - and it's got great reviews. The audiences just loved it, too.
PC: How great is that?!
CM: It is - so, you never know, it may get revived again. It was interesting, because the reviews were all about, you know, "Oh, my God, how has this show never seen the light of day for fifteen years since then?" and so on.
PC: It was so ahead of its time.
CM: It was. Particularly with that show, its attitudes and ideas were very much ahead of the curve, I think. It was very special and so was what Sam [Mendes] did with it.
PC: Dana Rowe and John Dempsey are so talented - you have produced two of their shows so far, quite famously. Let's hope another, soon.
CM: They are. I'm not sure if they got to see the most recent THE FIX, though - I hope one or both of them made it over and saw it because it was quite good. I saw Dana not long ago. I do know that someone is interested in doing it in New York, because I spoke to them at the twenty-fifth anniversary of PHANTOM in New York earlier this year and that's what they said.
PC: No way! What did they say?
CM: It's true. They came up to me and said that this was a show that obviously meant a lot to them, just like you were saying how much it meant to you, so they were trying to get it on in New York. I hope that they do and I hope that New York gets to see it because I think there is some terrific material in it and it is a show that deserves to be seen.
PC: Philip Quast gave an unforgettable performance in the Donmar original.
CM: He was amazing, as was John Barrowman - I think that is the best work he ever did, actually.
PC: "Upper Hand", with them both - what a powerful scene!
CM: Indeed - it was something special. That whole production was.
PC: In speaking of John & Dana, is it true that Patrick Swayze was approached to do THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK?
CM: No. Well, I mean, his name might have come up - but, no. I will tell you, though, since you asked: I did talk to Alec Baldwin about doing it.
PC: What a great choice he would have been to play the devil!
CM: Yes, I think so, too - but, unfortunately, it didn't work out.
PC: Will there be a future for that show someday - maybe even on film? It is written very cinematically, of course.
CM: Absolutely. I was actually just looking at a poster for somebody who is doing a new production of it in England - they are doing it in a couple of months.
PC: What are your thoughts on the final version of that show? It has gone through three distinct versions, at least. The most recent Signature production added a few new songs.
CM: Well, it wasn't rewritten too much - we added a couple of new songs, too, originally. It was tightened up along the way. But, it's only really had a couple of makeovers. John and Dana have played with rejigging the end of it quite a bit. The production that we license now has been the same, really, for the last three or four years, though.
PC: Which version is that based on mostly?
CM: There was a very successful British tour we did of it and that's the one that we license around Europe at the moment.
PC: That score is truly marvelous - filled with melody and wit and charm.
CM: It is, it is - I agree. It's baffling to me that that show is not done more in America. It's really got everything - fabulous melodies, very skillful and smart lyrics and an absolutely wonderful adaptation. John Updike himself liked it very much - he told me so. And, it's a famous title!
PC: What a stacked deck.
CM: I just don't understand - regardless of whether it's ever gone to Broadway or not - why regional theaters who are looking for new material don't do it. It's got such fabulous parts.
PC: The three leading female roles are all superb - it's ideal for community theaters.
CM: Yes, they are... well, it's four really - counting Felicia!
PC: Of course, of course.
CM: She's the real scene-stealer! [Laughs.]
PC: Rosie Ashe was sublime in that role.
CM: Oh, she was - she was. In PHANTOM, too.
PC: The magic tricks in that show were beyond compare - the tennis racket?!
CM: [Laughs.] Yes, yes. Indeed, they were. It was and is a very entertaining show. I hope it is done more in the future, I do.
PC: So, what's next for you as far as new stage musicals go?
CM: We are doing BARNUM with Chris Fitzgerald as PT Barnum and I think he is going to be just fantastic in the role. I am really looking forward to it.
PC: Who are you considering for the female lead?
CM: That is one role we have not yet cast for it yet. We are still working on it. You see, we actually have some new numbers in the show, too - we have reconstructed it, specifically the second act. It's a very important part to cast, especially now.
PC: Cy Coleman passed away years ago, so how can you have new numbers?
CM: Ah, yes, he did - but, listen, Pat: I have my methods! [Laughs.]
PC: What great news it is that BARNUM will live again.
CM: Yes, I am working with Mark Bramble on it and we have invented a lot of exciting new stuff for the show. It will be fabulous.
PC: "The Colors Of My Life" and the rest of the score will stay intact, then?
CM: Oh, yes - "The Colors Of My Life" and all the great original numbers will stay, but we have added some new ones that I think will add a lot to the story and enhance the experience even more. I am very much looking forward to it.
PC: Last question: would you ever appear on GLEE if you were asked? Are you a fan?
CM: Aww, I don't want to be on GLEE. [Laughs.] No.
PC: You're not necessarily a fan then, I take it?
CM: I prefer living in the country and getting shows on - I like my job and I don't want to do anything else, so sometimes it's nice not being too well-known, you know? Does that answer it? [Big Laugh.]
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Cameron - I could not have asked for a more informative and enjoyable chat!
CM: Yes, it was very nice indeed to talk to you today, Pat! Thanks to you, too. Bye bye.
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, Universal Pictures, Dewynters, Gareth Poxon, etc.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro