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Cameron Mackintosh on Song and Dance  
How Variations met Tell Me on a Sunday
Cameron Mackintosh

Two years and several cases of Chablis ago, Variations nearly got hitched to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. When Andrew Lloyd Webber made the fateful error of discussing several projects with me, it was first thought that Tell Me on a Sunday might expand into a full-length piece, and Variations and Practical Cats become a Dance double bill. Fate stepped in in two ways. Firstly, Hollywood approached Andrew to develop Tell Me as a film, and secondly, nearly everyone we offered the double bill to either turned it down flat, or only liked Variations, and dismissed Practical Cats. After many abortive transatlantic flights to find a Choreographer, Andrew decided to try some of the songs for Cats at his festival in Sydmonton. Luckily the gods and Valerie Eliot liked what they heard, and Cats opened successfully in London, and may end up with at least nine lives.

On its own, Variations had attracted considerable attention from American dance companies, but Andrew had always hoped to do the piece in the UK first. When we were casting Cats, we went to see Wayne Sleep perform his own dance show with his company, Dash, and we were convinced that it seemed only right to initially stage Variations with him after he had left Cats. With our new star, Stephen Jefferies, we have been fortunate to find another outstanding talent from the Royal Ballet. We then found out that Marti Webb would be free this Spring to recreate her highly acclaimed performance in Tell Me. So the marriage was made.

The title suggested itself some time after the opening of Cats, when Andrew and I, en route to America, found ourselves trapped aboard a floating holiday camp trying to outwit the gastronomic delusions of the chef. Balefully eyeing an almost impregnable avocado mousse, Andrew pointed out that we had two well-known titles, but only one show. In a flash of devastating perception, I pointed out the plainly obvious fact that Tell Me was to be sung and Variations danced. That title seemed infinitely more appealing than the mousse, and so it remained.

The choice of venue was also unanimous. It had to be the Palace Theatre. For eight years it had been the home of Andrew’s triumphant Jesus Christ Superstar, until it was chased out by my revival of Oklahoma! (for which Andrew bears me a terminal grudge).

The choice of Director was never in doubt. We had both met John Caird on different occasions through our Director of Cats, Trevor Nunn. They had been co-Directors of the RSC’s wonderful production of Nicholas Nickleby, and John not only knows more about musicals than I do, but he plays the piano a great deal better than Andrew.

Anthony Van Laast was recommended to us by Wayne Sleep as an outstanding choreographic talent. Once again, Wayne proved to be irritatingly right.

Song and Dance also re-unites us with the brilliant lighting designer of Cats, David Hersey, who on this show for the first time, also designed the set. He is partnered by the Costume Designer, Robin Don, who has the unique distinction of being that contradiction in terms, a dry Scot. Another conspirator from Cats is musical supervisor Harry Rabinowitz, king of the one liners, the Musican’s Union’s answer to George Burns.

Lyricist Don Black rewrote many of the lyrics for Tell Me whilst working in New York last winter. His heartfelt observations of American life under pressure now appear to devastating effect in his rewrites.

We hope you find Song and Dance a uniquely entertaining show. It has once again confirmed the astonishing virtuosity of Andrew Lloyd Webber and very successfully launched several exciting new talents in the musical theatre. Its success has also gratifyingly brought a new audience to the popular theatre who have formerly only been able to enjoy dance in the more restrained atmosphere of conventional ballet venues.

 Cameron Mackintosh, Producer. From the original London Programme.

Posted on: 1st January 1982

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