Good morning, Gillian - how are things going?
They're going wonderfully well, because it's such an interesting piece. Very difficult. I can see why it didn't work.
Yes, it's not the most obvious choice for a London revival...
Aficionados of musical theatre know it, because of the score. The score is so ravishing. People who have heard it harbour it, they hang on to it in their bosom, as a remembrance. It's amazing the number of actors and actresses who have come in to audition and say, "Oh, I've loved that score for years." Young, old, they all said the same, so that's interesting.
Were you approached to direct?
Yes, I was approached. I listened to it, I read it, and I thought, "I have to do this."
Hal Prince, who is a great friend of mine obviously, when I knew I was going to do it and said I must be mad taking on something that nobody's made work, and he said, "No, no, you and Dear World are the perfect wedding. I saw it, it didn't work, but I've never been able to forget it." I think I've now found out why it didn't work.
Why did Hal think you were the perfect person?
I am! I'm raving mad, and everyone who works with me knows that. I'm 86 with the energy of somebody of 25, so I know the whole span [of the show's chronology]. I've had such vast experience directing and choreographing so many genres of theatre and television. I think it needs someone who's struggled through all that to do this.
But you're most well-known for your bigger productions.
Not if you really know my career, though, and look at what I've directed. I directed the first working-class musical, Match Girls -I've been doing it quietly all the way through, I just happened to do two huge ones!
And they're the ones that get the attention.
And I'm told your cast are getting on beautifully.
Yes. I can't work unless we have fun. I insist on a class every day, of course, from Betty [Betty Buckley] down. Betty and I - I was doing Cats on Broadway, and she was my original Grizabella, and she and I adored working with one another. When she won her Tony, she thanked me, which was very sweet. We've tried ever since, on and off, to work together, and we've always just missed out. As I got this into my soul, I could really only think of Betty - her age, her voice, her prettiness, she's a remarkably unusual woman. So I approached her, and here we are.
And you've got Paul Nicholas...
Paul Nicholas was my original Rum-Tum-Tugger in Cats at the New London!
And you've got a fantastic supporting cast of West End talent.
They're all soloists. There are only 13 people in it. I've seen so many musicals recently where nobody can sing properly, and I thought, "No. We are going to have this sung brilliantly." I would not take anyone who could not sing superbly well. So when you hear it, it is fantastic. For the villains, I wanted three drop-dead gorgeous-looking men, like 007, based on my friend Sean [Sean Connery] - Sean and I used to go to class together. And I got it. They're all over six foot two, and they all have huge voices. The boy playing Julian [Stuart Matthew Price] I found in Mack and Mabel just recently - he's got a god-given voice, exceptional, he can go anywhere, he's a highly intelligent actor. The little Nina [Katy Treharne], she was one of our alternate Christines. So I have got a really exceptional cast.
You mentioned people not singing properly - why is that so frequent now?
It's all this ghastly reality television. Instant fame. Make a big sound and have them twiddle the knobs and make you sound better. Everyone's impatient now because of that. You can't do that. You've got to train the voice properly. It's fashion. But we still need people who sing beautifully.
I've got a wonderful arranger - Sarah Travis, who works a lot with John Doyle. I've worked with so many of our top arrangers over the years, who started ringing me up, and I thought, "No, I want to strike out afresh." I've got an entirely new young team with me on this - when you're as old as I am, you need youth.