Alexandra Billings, a trans actor who made Broadway history when cast as Wicked‘s Madam Morrible in 2020, has issued a strong rebuke to Cameron Mackintosh over comments the British theater producer made opposing the casting of trans performers in classic roles.
In the post addressed to “Sir Cameron,” Billings writes, in part, “I am an actor. I am Mame and I am Madame Rose. I am Miss Hannigan and I am Annie Oakley and I am Fantine…I am an actor, Mr Mackintosh, not a gimmick.” (Read the full post below.)
Billings’ comment was a response to an interview Mackintosh gave to UK’s Telegraph last week, in which the producer of the West End’s Les Miserables, Phantom Of The Opera and Hamilton said he would not be in favor of casting a transgender actor in the lead role of his Mary Poppins West End musical because the tale is “not about that, that was not the story of that family.”
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“You can’t implant something that is not inherently there in the story or character, that’s what I think,” Mackintosh said when asked about casting trans performers. “Just to do that, that becomes gimmick casting. It’s trying to force something that isn’t natural.”
Mackintosh later said his comments had been misinterpreted. “I meant only that I would not as a producer disregard the author P.L. Travers’ original intention for the character,” he said in a statement. “To be clear, whether a person is trans has no bearing on their suitability for any role in any of my shows, including Mary Poppins, as long as they can perform the role as written.” He added, “Trans actors are welcome to submit and audition for any of my productions.”
The producer’s original comments have caused significant backlash on social media, with Billings’ Instagram post among the more forceful.
Billings writes, “I am playing Madame Morrible in Wicked on Broadway. I am Trans and began my transition in 1980, when it was illegal to do so. I am now a very small part of a very powerful moment, every time I set foot in the land of Oz.”
Billings, who will resume the Wicked role on Sept. 28 (Kathy Fitzgerald will play Madame Morrible when Wicked returns to Broadway’s Gershwin Theatre Sept. 14 until Billings rejoins the production), continues, “And just so we’re clear; you don’t have to make room for me. I take up my own space and that was given to me by a power much greater and far more powerful than you…We will create that space with or without your consent.
“And please try and remember that Trans people have been in theater for as long as there has been theater,” Billings adds. “We have been playing these musical roles in the theater for centuries. The only difference is, now we are becoming visible. And that’s frightening. That’s upsetting…And whilst I understand this, my job on the planet is not to hold your hand through your years of societal conditioning. I’m busy. I have lines to learn.”
In addition to appearing in Wicked, Billings starred in Broadway’s 2018 production of the play The Nap, and has appeared on TV in Transparent, The Connors and How To Get Away With Murder, among others.
Among the responses to Billings’ Instagram post were comments of support from Stephanie J. Block, another Wicked alum, who wrote, “You are always so eloquent. This is emotionally elevated, clear, honest and right,” and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the Modern Family star who will appear on Broadway next Spring in Take Me Out, who wrote, “Well, shit. Now all I can think about is you playing Mame. Now THATS good casting!”
— CameronMackintoshLtd (@CamMackLtd) August 30, 2021
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