The West End has suffered its fair share of woes recently, but never fear – superstar producer Cameron Mackintosh is reviving his 1989 blockbuster ‘Miss Saigon’. Everyone look busy. The guv’nor is back.
A musical about the Vietnam War still sounds faintly insane. Was it a gamble at the time?
‘It wasn’t a gamble that would have caused me any grief if I’d lost it. It came at the end of the mad ’80s, Thatcherism and all that, so the public, who hadn’t booked tickets upfront for “Cats”, “Les Mis” and “Phantom”, thought: We’re not going to be caught out this time. So it took enormous advance sales.’
In the US there was huge controversy over Jonathan Pryce playing the Eurasian character The Engineer. How do you look back on the incident?
‘I didn’t have a problem with what they were complaining about [casting a non-Asian in an Asian role], but to barricade this show, which has given opportunities to Asian performers on a global scale, seemed completely idiotic to me.’
So no regrets? The actor playing The Engineer this time, Jon Jon Briones, is Filipino. Would you dare cast a white guy again?
The point is the role clearly states he’s Eurasian not just Asian. If you really want to be pernickety, it was the wrong thing to do. But luckily we found some terrific Asian performers to play the role subsequently. However, at the time, we couldn’t. I still think Jonathan Pryce gave one of the great performances of all time. Even if he couldn’t dance.’
This is a new production. What has changed?
The original was a great big operatic box full of great big pristine set pieces; this is the seething dirty streets of Bangkok and Saigon.
Your work now revolves around your old blockbusters. Do you ever want to rip it all up and start again?
‘Darling, when you’re as old as I am you cherish the very few musicals that have come your way that you know are great classics. You become their guardian.’
Since the Apollo Theatre roof collapsed last year there’s been concern about the physical integrity of the West End. Do you have full confidence in the seven theatres you own?
‘I’ve spent more money on my theatres since I bought them than I did buying them. I’ve renovated this one [the Prince Edward] three times in the 15 years I’ve had it. It used to horrible. I love architecture almost as much as I love my musicals. I know that after I’m gone the buildings I leave behind are going to last another hundred years.’