Theatre News

Tributes pour in for Bill Kenwright from across the theatre community

Kenwright’s death was revealed this afternoon

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Bill Kenwright, © Dan Wooller

The news of Bill Kenwright’s passing was announced this afternoon, sparking a huge outpouring from the theatre community.

The theatre producer and football club chairman was responsible for some major productions across the years, including Blood Brothers, Evita, Cilla, Cabaret, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Heathers the Musical, The Calendar Girls and more.

Producer Sonia Friedman said in a statement: “Bill Kenwright was a force of nature. One of the theatre industry’s biggest and most passionate personalities – almost an institution. He was a friend and supporter, an ever-witty ally, always full of banter and pearls of wisdom, who would lift my spirits whenever we spoke.”

Ian McKellen, who currently stars in Kenwright’s production of Frank and Percy at the Other Palace in London, said: “Like many grateful actors  I am in debt to Bill Kenwright for employment. Frank and Percy will be his last theatre production. And The Critic will be his last film. We were young together, when he was in Coronation Street and I was dipping a toe into Shaftesbury Avenue.  Since then, I have admired the resilient way in which he encouraged theatre to thrive in London and in the regions, whether it was yet another tour of that wonderful musical Blood Brothers or sponsoring the Peter Hall Company in the classics.

“In private, Bill relished gossip and loved to reminisce. He seemed to have known everyone in the business and to care about them. Yet every chat would vere round to his equal passion – Everton football. The city that gave us The Beatles and two major football teams, also bred a unique impresario. Whether the West End lights will be turned off in his memory, certainly our business will be dimmer now he has gone.”

The Wizard of Oz Press Night 1st March 2011
Kenwright with Michael Crawford, Danielle Hope and Andrew Lloyd Webber at The Wizard of Oz press night, © Dan Wooller

Comedian Jason Manford said: “Saddened to hear Bill Kenwright has died. Met up with him several times over the years as we attempted to work together so very sad that will now never happen. Was always funny and honest and with a deep love for theatre and football. Will be sadly missed.”

Cameron Mackintosh said: “The world of British Theatre without Bill Kenwright seems impossible.

“Bill, Paul Elliott, Duncan Weldon and I all started our careers about the same time in the mid 60’s. We were very different producers, but equally passionate, carving our careers out of collaborations with all the leading regional theatres where we started our tours, then the occasional West End production and eventually, rather a lot of them.

“Bill was fearless, prolific and irresistible – he couldn’t bear to see any theatre empty, so he’d conjure up a production almost overnight to fill it!

“His enthusiasm knew no bounds, employing over his long career tens of thousands of actors – occasionally, including himself – a tireless broadcaster, often also a director and above all, a champion of the people he believed in. And the theatre wasn’t even his day job – his real profession was running Everton!

“In my lifetime, there has never been anyone like Bill. He’s totally irreplaceable and we will miss him so.”

Julian Clary tweeted: “I’m forever grateful to him for giving me the chance to play the Emcee in Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue in 2007. After the first night he said to me ‘You’re so brave…so brave!'”

The RSC’s co-Artistic Director Tamara Harvey reflects on her work with him: ‘Bill Kenwright loved theatre and made it happen over and over again, often against the odds. He came straight from hospital to the read through of Home, I’m Darling, determined to say hello in spite of severe ill health, brimming with enthusiasm, clearly overjoyed to be in the room. The world will be a duller place without him.”

Playwright David Eldridge said: “Very sad to hear the news that Bill Kenwright has died. I got to know him a bit between 2004 and 2006 when he did the transfer of and produced Festen in the West End, on tour and on Broadway. I liked him hugely and he always greeted me “alright kid” which I loved.” 

Rufus Norris, the National Theatre’s director, said: “I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear today of Bill’s passing. He was utterly unique in our world of theatre – the absolute manifestation of the self-made producer – and the stories of his indomitable spirit and energy are legion. His knowledge of theatre, music and of course his first love football were second to none, and his
tireless energy (often against impossible odds) defies overstatement.

“I worked with him closely for years on Festen, Cabaret and The Country Girl, and my debt to his support, rigour and ever-candid advice is huge. His legacy and contribution in providing much-beloved theatre to the whole country, to London and internationally is beyond measure. Rest in peace, Bill – we will not see your like again.”

Antony Costa tweeted: “Just heard the news my friend, and mentor and the person who gave me the chance to perform on stage Mr Bill Kenwright has passed away. You were one in a million Sir…we loved talking football.” 

The Dominion Theatre social media team shared: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of theatre giant Bill Kenwright, whose shows – including Evita and The War of the Worlds – we had the pleasure of hosting at the Dominion. Our thoughts are with his family at this time. He will be greatly missed.”