By Hanna Rantala
LONDON (Reuters) - London and its famed West End entertainment district are "coming alive again" after months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, veteran theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh said on Thursday as he reopened a staged concert of hit musical "Les Miserables".
Mackintosh, known for producing shows like "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats", welcomed audiences back to his Sondheim Theatre three days after indoor entertainment venues reopened their doors in the latest lockdown easing in England.
"Several of our shows already have got back the advance that they had before the pandemic hit. So I am very encouraged in the public interest, which I think will only get stronger," Mackintosh told Reuters.
"This is the first week London's reopened with the restaurants. You can see, you can feel it in the street, London is coming alive again. And it's pleasantly busy and buzzy now."
About a third of London theatres have reopened this week but with strict social distancing measures, meaning they have to operate at 50% capacity. Big musical productions are only planning to reopen in the summer after the last phase in the roadmap out of lockdown, scheduled for June 21.
Mackintosh, 74, owns eight West End theatres and is behind the London productions of shows such as "Hamilton" and "Mary Poppins". "Les Misérables - The Staged Concert" is smaller in size.
"When the entire rig of the theatre lifted up in the air, there were gasps and cheers as well," he said.
"It really is a proper show because there are over 50 people on stage there. And I don't think in these COVID times anyone was expecting that."
Mackintosh said he hoped the rest of his shows would start opening towards the end of July and August.
"Not everyone has been able to come back to our business... but the ones that have come back, they've come back with such passion and they are so thrilled," Mackintosh said.
"There's been tremendous camaraderie between all the producers because everybody understands that their colleagues are having problems. So I think there's been more cooperation, collaboration between producers and theatre owners, both sides of the Atlantic and around the world than I have ever known."
(Reporting by Hanna Rantala; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)