The Spice Girls UK tour has begun, reuniting Ginger, Baby, Scary and Sporty (minus Posh) for those who sought ‘girl power’ in 1994. But great as this reunion is, for anyone who has laid out for an overpriced ticket there’s another, if not better, girl band with real history currently performing at the Arts Theatre.
Six have created quite a buzz singing about their royal ex-husband and get standing ovations every night. It was the same vibe prolific impresario Kenny Wax felt when he first saw Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ musical about Henry VIII’s wives – Aragon, Boleyn, Seymour, Cleves, Howard and Parr – and the songs they perform were enough to convince him that he “had unwrapped a golden ticket”.
Kenny saw Six at a small venue in Cambridge with his daughter, then 16, who also loved it and, realising it crossed the generations, he decided to follow his instinct.
Manchester-born Kenny, who went to Carmel College, has an ear and an eye for knowing what will work for an audience. He isn’t always correct – “but who is?” – the Olivier and BAFTA awards on his shelf suggest he is more right than wrong – even when titles suggest otherwise, such as The Play That Goes Wrong.
“I saw a studio production of the play seven years ago on a set that writers Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer built themselves,” he recalls. “Now it’s an industry with productions translated in 15 countries.” Israel has had it and, in New York, it’s a co-production with Star Wars’ Jewish director, JJ Abrams.
“It’s a hit in Russia and I’ve seen it in French and Hungarian, although my family and I just missed it in Argentina when we were there on holiday in December,” he explains.
With his support, the same writers at production company Mischief Theatre have penned a six-part BBC series to be shown in December. “It will be on at prime time – 7pm,” notes a chuffed Kenny, who is also the president of the Society of London Theatre Producers (SOLT). This honourable position is deserving as he has done every job in the theatre apart from performing.
With no desire to be on the stage, he was content to just be around it, firstly as an usher at Theatre Royal Drury Lane when he moved to London aged 20. Miss Saigon was on then, and it was producer Cameron Mackintosh who advised him to learn as much as he could, hence his multiple roles as tea boy, in the box office, backstage tour guide and, finally, producer.
Kenny’s office on Shaftesbury Avenue, which overlooks the Queen’s Theatre, is a splendid place for a curious theatre fan, as there are framed posters of Top Hat, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and Hetty Feather to name but a few of his hits for audiences of all ages, and the cuddly Gruffalo by his desk reminds one of his dedication to bringing Julia Donaldson’s books to the stage.
There’s always a lot happening at Kenny Wax Ltd, and the boss – an active member of Hadley Wood Synagogue – is happy to run through a list that includes Mischief Theatre taking over The Vaudeville Theatre until August 2020 with new comedy Groan Ups, The Gruffalo at The Lyric for summer, a kids’ play, Oi Frog, and a big new musical that is very hush hush. And Six, which just opened in Chicago, with hints of a film with Beyoncé.
The Tudor girl band will remain at the tiny Arts Theatre in Leicester Square because Kenny feels the show belongs there and likes to keep ticket prices low. As SOLT president, he has also told members to think about offering better prices. “ Theatre can be a very expensive night out and it would be nice if there were more affordable tickets,” he says. “It should not be about how much we can get, but how much we need to make it all work.” Even though Kenny Wax doesn’t sing, this is music to our ears.
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