Laird Mackintosh has dazzled audiences on Broadway as both the Phantom and Monsieur André in The Phantom of the Opera. He has also appeared as John Utterson in Jekyll & Hyde and George Banks in Mary Poppins, which marked his Broadway debut. Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Mackintosh began his career as a dancer in the National Ballet of Canada, which allowed him to perform across the world. He’s now traveling again as Professor Henry Higgins, the linguist who makeovers Eliza Doolittle, in the national tour of Lincoln Center Theater’s acclaimed production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady. The production is currently playing Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre through March 8, before heading to cities like Columbus, Milwaukee and Madison. Broadway.com recently chatted with Mackintosh about why he’s loving the opportunity to tour the U.S. in this iconic musical.
What excites you most about playing Professor Henry Higgins? How does playing him challenge and reward you?
Higgins is a very big role: big in terms of text, stamina and range, both vocally and emotionally. Bartlett Sher, our director, let me know that this role was going to demand all of it, all the time. It’s exhausting, but in a good way. The reward comes from trying my best to give audiences a rich experience with this iconic show. It’s a big mountain to climb, and on double performances weekends I have to take a deep breath before each show. But the opportunity for any actor to play Higgins is a gift, and I’m very grateful for it.
What’s your favorite moment to play in this show?
It’s hard to choose, but I definitely love all the book scenes that I get to play with Shereen [Ahmed], our Eliza. As an actor in the musical theater world, it’s very rare to be able to play big, long text scenes like that—it’s one of the characteristics of My Fair Lady that makes it so extraordinary. So much of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is intact in the show, and the writing is superb. And it’s all such a joy to play opposite Shereen, who is such a smart, funny and intuitive actor. Those scenes are also great because one can really get a sense of the audience listening and responding, and there are times in the show when they really respond audibly, which is terrific. You know they’re with you when you hear them gasp or laugh or applaud in the middle of a scene.
How have audiences been reacting to this show?
My Fair Lady gets an enormous response from audiences. They respond to it because they know it so well and also because we give them something different in our production. Audiences love the show and have a natural sense of ownership of it, and our production satisfies that and also challenges the perceptions of what the story is about—who Eliza and Higgins are to each other and what they represent for audiences. This show really means a lot to people.
What about this experience has surprised you the most?
That My Fair Lady can push buttons even more deeply than I would have expected. You will have to see our show to draw your own conclusions, but this is a show that leaves people talking and thinking. It’s a beautiful, big production of an iconic classic: unquestionably one of the great musicals of all time!
Who or what continues to inspire you most as an artist and why?
I was very inspired by Bart Sher. It was a great journey working with him, and I was always amazed at how perceptively he saw things. I learned a lot, which I intend to take a way with me! And I’m inspired by my cast mates who are all so good in the show. I feel lucky to be working with such great actors.
Of the many things you do, which one makes your heart beat the fastest?
Performing onstage definitely makes your heart beat fast! Although, after all my years on stage, I’ve somehow learned to live with the “nerves” part of it. Our opening a few months ago at the Kennedy Center [in Washington, D.C.] was a pretty thrilling evening. I still pinch myself a lot in this business.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read, seen or listened to recently?
My partner, Polly Baird, is in My Fair Lady with me. She is a ballet dancer, and I was a ballet dancer years ago. We just watched the Sergei Polunin documentary Dancer and we found it very moving.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love painting! On tour I’ve had to limit myself to drawing, as everything on the road has to be pared down. I’ve been sketching a lot lately.
What city have you enjoyed the most, so far, and why? What city are you most looking forward to?
I enjoy all the cities we’re in but I would be lying if I didn’t say I love Washington, D.C. The museums are so good there. I went to the National Gallery of Art alone six or seven times. One of the benefits of touring is being able to visit museums all across America!
What is one message you’d like to give to your fans?
Thank you for all your support. We love seeing you at the show and it’s always great to meet you afterwards! I hope everyone gets a chance to see My Fair Lady.
Visit BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com to find out when My Fair Lady is headed to your city.