Mackintosh, partners set 'Les Mis'-en-scene

China version to open in Nov. '08

British theater impresario Cameron Mackintosh and the government-run China Arts and Entertainment Group are teaming for a Chinese-language "Les Miserables" that will premiere at Beijing's new National Theater in November 2008.

The localized version of the musical will be staged by the show's original directors, Trevor Nunn and John Caird, Mackintosh said Monday, adding that investors from countries including China, South Korea and Australia see China as the next great market for musicals.

"Shanghai and Beijing want to be the next London and New York for musicals. If either even becomes as successful as Chicago in my lifetime, I'll be immensely satisfied," Mackintosh said.

The Chinese version of the long-running "Les Mis" will be an encore of sorts as Mackintosh first brought it to Shanghai's Grand Theater in 2002, to "test the waters."

"None of these traveling productions make money," Mackintosh said, citing the cost of moving sets and the incidentals for a traveling cast and crew. "We all recognize you have to expose the audience to see if they like these kinds of shows, and we found that they do."

Mackintosh and Nunn will travel to China later this year seeking musical talent for the production, said Mackintosh, who today will revisit the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, where he first got to know some of the students five years ago.

"Les Mis" will take its first bow here in the smaller of the National Theater's auditoriums. Mackintosh said the theater is right for the show but that he is looking at several other theaters as the potential home for future shows.

Like the Shanghai Grand, where Mackintosh has staged "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera" in the past few years, the National Theater, now under construction, will not make it a custom to run a single production for long stretches, as is common at many West End and Broadway theaters.

"That's not what they're designed to do," Mackintosh said, adding that he and his Chinese partners believe that, within a decade, there could be two to four musicals playing in China's big cities at the same time.

Another musical import, "42nd Street," kicked off a seven-city tour of China with a two-week stand in Shanghai, the first China production by Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment, whose president, Robert Nederlander Jr., said he plans to bring three shows to China each season (HR 9/5).

Following "Les Mis," 2009 will see the return engagement of "Mamma Mia!" The ABBA-driven musical just completed an 11-night run in Beijing.

"I don't think the Chinese knew the music, but they loved the story and found it infectious," Mackintosh said.