From theatre-mad youngster to award-winning West End producer, all roads lead to success for Kenny Wax, whose latest production, La Strada, comes to The Lowry.
Kenny Wax tells a wonderful story about when Cameron Mackintosh, musical theatre producer extraordinaire, took him under his wing.
At the time, the West End was booming. Lloyd Webber musicals were all the rage and Cameron’s Les Miserables was defying critics and bringing the house down, night after night. Kenny, aged 20, had moved to London and started out as an usher for the 1989 production of Cameron’s latest project, Miss Saigon, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane: “Cameron Mackintosh was in and around the building a great deal and he very generously agreed to give me to give me, then an usher, an hour and a half of his time. He was the one that really gave me the advice and told to me get out into the industry and learn as much as I can.” Kenny explains.
The youngest of three, Kenny was brought up in Hale and started his education at Altrincham Preparatory School and later William Hulme’s Grammar School, as well as attending the Queens Road Sephardi synagogue in Didsbury throughout his early life. But it was probably his time studying for his A-levels at Carmel College, the predominately Jewish boarding school in Oxfordshire, that he started travelling to London to see West End shows, including seeing the 1984 revival of Me and My Girl featuring Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson in her breakthrough role, three times. Kenny had “caught the theatre bug”.
This was the start of a theatre education, and it catapulted Kenny into an unknown world he would eventually know inside out. Jobs as a runner or “tea boy” and as a backstage tour guide, gave Kenny an insight to theatre production and an insider’s of view of the magical world he had only experienced from the stalls.
“I worked in the box office during the day and with the stage crew at night and in between I would do these back stage tours, so I’d end up working from nine in the morning until 11 o’clock at night, but for me it was just amazing. I was really excited to be there and I’d watch the show every night and I was desperate to meet the cast and get to know everybody – I must have been a real pain!” Kenny jokes. It paid off, as Cameron asked him to join his team as a runner on the Just So musical at the Tricycle Theatre.
Kenny Wax did indeed “work his way up” and since then has produced award-winning shows such as Top Hat, Hetty Feather, We’re Going on A Bear Hunt and the disastrously hilarious worldwide hit, The Play That Goes Wrong, which crash-bangs into the Lowry Theatre from 5th May.
His latest passion project however has been, in his own words, a “labour of love” and first germinated as an idea when the musical composer Lionel Bart, had penned a musical for a potential stage adaptation of Frederico Fellini’s much-lauded film, La Strada. After Lionel died in 1999, another attempt was made to secure the rights to the story from the Fellini estate. Kenny then approached the renowned theatre director, Sally Cookson, to direct, a decision was made to move away from Bart’s vision and go in a whole new direction. The show has now been touring for two months and arrives at the Lowry Theatre on 15th until 20th May, before playing in London for six weeks.
La Strada, – ‘the road’ in Italian – is the soul-searching story and tender tale of wide-eyed Gelsomina who is sold by her impoverished mother to the brutish strongman Zampano, a travelling sideshow performer. Their journey through the Italian countryside leads them to a ragtag touring circus where they meet Il Matto the free-spirited tightrope walker, who tries to rekindle Gelsomina’s broken spirit. The show brings together a multi-skilled international cast of actors and musicians who perform their instruments live as well as display impressive circus skills in an imaginative theatre setting.
“La Strada has probably got the best set of reviews for anything I’ve ever done,” reveals Kenny, “I really believed in Sally and the show and I really wanted to do it and now eight weeks in, the feedback has been amazing.”
As part of his wider theatre operations, Kenny travels the world to see how his constantly moving carousel of productions is doing. Most recently he visited Adelaide to see the Australian production of The Play That Goes Wrong and made visit to the Bristol Old Vic where La Strada has been capturing audiences during its UK tour.
In an industry where is it impossible to predict success, Kenny’s tendency to strike gold is gaining him a reputation in Theatreland for overseeing crowd-pleasing spectacles as well as daring yet rewarding shows . As The Play That Goes Wrong continues to delight the world over with the tale of a comically doomed play, we say ‘break a leg!’ to Kenny and the La Strada team – hopefully it can avoid the same disastrous fate but all of the success.
To book tickets to La Strada, visit Thelowry.com/events/la-strada.