Mackintosh pays homage to the show that inspired his career

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The Independent Online

In 1954, seven-year-old Cameron Mackintosh was taken, reluctantly, to see the "sissy" musical Salad Days . To his surprise, he emerged with a vision that was to launch his hugely successful career in the theatre.

In 1954, seven-year-old Cameron Mackintosh was taken, reluctantly, to see the "sissy" musical Salad Days . To his surprise, he emerged with a vision that was to launch his hugely successful career in the theatre.

Now Sir Cameron is about to pay homage to the production that not only inspired his future but helped launch the careers of hundreds of actors.

So many other people loved Julian Slade's show about a magic piano called Minnie that it became the longest-running musical in Britain, transferred to Broadway, and the Bristol Old Vic bought its theatre school a home with the profits.

The current crop of theatre school students are now marking the show's half-century with a special revival, opening at the Bristol Old Vic today.

And, on Sunday, Sir Cameron, who went on to become the millionaire producer of shows including Les Miserables and Cats , repays his own debt by hosting a gala dedicated to Slade with a cast including Anthony Andrews, Alex Jennings and Joanna Riding, many of them trained in the buildings that the original show paid for.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is even lending the original Minnie the piano for the occasion.

"Anything in your life that gives you that 'Road to Damascus' moment has to be very special," Sir Cameron said yesterday. "How privileged have I been to know at eight what I wanted to do with my life? The fact that I've been successful doing it is a double bonus."

Yet as a seven-year-old, he had not even wanted to go to the Vaudeville Theatre in London to see Salad Days , which had just transferred from the Bristol Old Vic. "I thought it was all sissy. But, of course, I was captivated. A few weeks later, for my eighth birthday in October, I went again and at the end I marched down the aisle, because by that time I knew that Julian Slade was playing the piano, and introduced myself. He said, 'Would you like to go backstage?' and he showed me how the actors mimed on the magic piano," Sir Cameron recalled.

"I thought, 'This is what I'm going to do when I grow up.' I used to write plays for my puppet theatre and my uncle in America used to send me cartoons with 'Cameron Mackintosh impresario'."

Sir Cameron, who is also requisitioning Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee, the stars of his forthcoming Mary Poppins , for the gala, said it was the "perfect moment" to pay tribute to Julian Slade, who is now 74 and a close friend.

"A lot of people don't know him outside Salad Days and maybe Free as Air but he has written 40 or 50 musicals, more than most people." Many of them were written when Slade was musical director in Bristol in the 1950s. "The Fifties have come back into vogue and it's amazing how fresh the music seems," Sir Cameron said.

Chris Denys, the principal of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which will receive the proceeds of the gala evening, said they were immensely grateful to Sir Cameron for all his support.

Original photographs from the first production, which starred John Warner, Eleanor Drew, Norman Rossington and Eric Porter, are going on show at Bristol University this week as part of a display of rare material from its theatre archives.

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