Theatre producer Kenny Wax is renowned for bringing some of the best shows to the West End. Having just scooped his fifth Olivier award- winning best new comedy for his show The Play That Goes Wrong– he tells Suzanne Baum how patience has played a key role in his success
Having started out as an usher at Miss Saigon in his early twenties, 45-year-old Wax has come a long way in the theatre industry. Instead of showing people to their seats, he is now the reason why they show up at all; thanks to his incredible talent of turning a show into a top-class performance.
With celebrities including Simon Cowell, Ellie Goulding and Harrison Ford having been spotted in the audience of The Play That Goes Wrong, Wax seems totally unfazed by his success. And it is the fact that he is so grounded that has no doubt led to him making a name for himself in an industry where only the most talented make it.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as clever,” explained Wax from his Covent Garden office, that is conveniently located next to the West End theatres. “I’ve got where I am today not through my academic qualifications but more the fact I have good people skills, have taken opportunities and risks and have a creative flair.”
And then there is the fact he has a huge amount of patience…so much patience it seems as Wax jokes: “My wife Daniella could never do this job; you need the patience of a saint.”
The father of three, who lives in Hadley Wood, has followed an impressive career path; one which he describes as “adding layers on top of one another.” As well as The Play That Goes Wrong– that tells the story of a drama societies attempt to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery where everything goes wrong- Wax has won four other Olivier awards, most notably that of Top Hat that won best musical in 2013.
“Although I’d won other awards, my work on the musical Top Hat proved my biggest break,” pointed out Wax.
Having known from an early age that he wanted to produce shows rather than act in them, Wax was fortunate to have a lucky break that only others can dream about. When working as an usher he came across Cameron Mackintosh – producer of hit musicals such as Cats, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon- who he approached for advice.
“He was like a mentor to me,” recalled Wax-who now runs his own production company, Kenny Wax Productions. “Cameron encouraged me to throw myself into every part of the industry to get as much experience as possible and that’s basically what I did.”
From a box office assistant to working with stage crews and the lighting team, Wax learnt on the job and in doing so made some great industry contacts. This led him to start up producing some of his own amateur concerts which gave him the confidence to realise he not only loved his job but was good at it too.
As well as making a name for himself in musical productions, Wax has worked a lot in children’s theatre, producing some of the best loved shows around including The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Room on a Broom and The Gruffolo. Such is his love for these classic favourites; Wax has recently developed a separate arm within his own production company to focus purely on children’s theatre.
“Kids shows are great fun to produce, especially when I get to work alongside fantastic authors like Julia Donaldson,” enthused Wax.
Having been up against top shows including Disney’s Shakespeare In Love, I ask Wax why he thinks The Play That Goes Wrong took the Olivier award?
“There is so much fun to be had with the show, it is great entertainment for all ages and real laugh-out-loud comedy,” explained Wax. “Right from the start of the show, the audience just knows that pretty much everything about it is going to be wrong.”!
With eight other productions on the go this year-including a twist on the kids tale The 3 Little Pigs that will showcase at the Finchley Arts Depot theatre before transferring to the West End in the summer- I am wrong in presuming Wax has little time to relax.
“I work hard but I enjoy what I do and my family always come first so every spare moment is spent with my wife and kids at home, playing tennis and watching Manchester City.” And for someone who could easily be at the theatre watching a different show each night, Wax is not interested in the glamour and limelight of his job.
“I don’t make it my business to be seen with the A-listers who come to my shows. That’s never been my style. The fact they enjoy my work is enough.
“Cameron Mackintosh told me to never produce a show because you think it’s something people want to see; you’ve got to produce something that you want to see.” With those parting word, Wax is most certainly a man who knows exactly what he’s talking about.
The Play That Goes Wrong is showing at The Duchess Theatre, 3 – 5 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5LA
For more details, visit www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com