Cameron MacKintosh’s first 50 years, patronage of Filipino talent

January 13 ------ If Cameron MacKintosh were a movie or singing star, these are some of the titles that would be found in his resume. Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Miss Saigon. Not that he starred in those blockbuster musicals or wrote the script or composed the songs. He did none of those. What he did was put those shows together for the theater for the world to enjoy. If you are curious about others he had done, then you can throw in the London West End stagings of Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Follies, Kinky Boots, Oklahoma, Carousel, Oliver, Avenue Q, Five Guys Named Moe, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Godspell, Little Shop of Horrors, etc., and others.

MacKintosh is a British theater producer who is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest, most respected, most successful and as a result also, the most powerful of the past 50 years. Why not? He has made theater into big business. He does not only put shows together, he turns those musicals into franchise titles in big demand in many parts of the world. No wonder he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to the theater in 1996.

MacKintosh’s beginnings, his first theater job was as a stagehand, and how he got to where he is today are the theme of the documentary, Cameron MacKintosh: The First 50 Years, which aired last Dec. 27. It came out a few months late as it was intended to be a celebration of his 75th birthday last Oct. 17. The film takes a look at the man and his career as seen through the eyes of his friends and colleagues and MacKintosh himself. It is an illustrious line-up, led by no less than Stephen Sondheim of Sweeney Todd and Follies, a close friend and business associate to whom the documentary is dedicated. The theater legend passed away 10 days after he was interviewed for the film. His Side by Side was one of MacKintosh’s early productions. There are also Alain Boublil and Claude Schonberg, the men behind Les Miserables and later Miss Saigon; Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of Phantom of the Opera, Cats and others, actor-singers Julie Andrews, Michael Ball, Patti Lupone, Giles Terrera, Jonjon Briones and others.

Take note of that name, Jonjon Briones. The Filipino actor starred as The Engineer in the 2016 revival of Miss Saigon in London and then also played the part on Broadway. He has since then been seen in shows like American Crime Story, Ratched and Designated Survivor. Briones had already attained some degree of success before Miss Saigon came along. Still, it cannot be denied that his stint in Miss Saigon is his career defining moment. And that is thanks to MacKintosh.

I do not know if the Philippines has some sort of award for foreigners who accomplish a lot towards the betterment of the Filipino people. If there is one, then MacKintosh should be among the recipients. His discovery of Lea Salonga in 1988 introduced the Filipino performer to the West End and later Broadway in a big way. Lea won both the Tony and the Olivier for Kim and then went on to Les Miz both as Eponine and Fantine and remains a big star on Broadway and in London. Now, stardom abroad would have happened to Lea or to Jonjon eventually, given how talented they are, but it was MacKintosh who opened the doors and got them out there on the global stage that first time.

And he did the same for many others. Think of all those Kims. Among them Monique Wilson, Jamie Rivera, Maan Dionisio, Cornelia Luna and Joanna Ampil, who went on to Les Miz, Jesus Christ Superstar and now has a great career going in London. Leo Tavarro Valdez was an Engineer. So was the late Junix Inocian. Isay Alvarez was the original Gigi.

The revival of Miss Saigon had three Pinoys in the major roles, Briones, Eva Noblezada as Kim and Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi. Rachelle continued on to Les Miz and was Hamilton’s Eliza in the original London production of the smash Broadway musical, produced, of course, by MacKintosh. Sir Cameron Anthony MacKintosh deserves all the accolades he has been getting for his first 50 years in the theater. Here is hoping for more in the next 50 years. Here is hoping, too, of his continued patronage of Filipino talent.