Leading figure in British theatre who served as Society of London Theatre president, steered Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful companies through a decade of change and championed leading comedians
André Ptaszynski was a leading figure in British theatre over the past 40 years who brought a fresh, contemporary approach to staging musicals, helped steer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful companies through a decade of change and championed the careers of star comedians.
He was also an innovative president of the Society of London Theatre from 1996 to 1999, broadening the Theatre Tokens scheme, restructuring the Olivier awards and campaigning for greater theatre coverage on television.
News of his death prompted a wave of tributes, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Gregory Doran recalling “His irrepressible charm, humour, laser instinct and clear-sighted business sense [that] made him one the most successful and admired producers of recent times”.
The National Theatre remarked: “At a time when theatre is in great peril, it has lost one of its greatest champions.”
Ptaszynski was born in Ipswich to Anglo-Polish parents. His father was a Polish pilot who fled to England after being released as a Soviet prisoner and his mother a local businesswoman.
He read English at the University of Oxford, where his interest in theatre began. An active member of OUDS, he took control of the student Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, showing early entrepreneurial flair by mounting six-month tours of British and American universities in 1977-78.
Returning to the UK, where he had spent time with Peter Cheeseman at Stoke’s Victoria Theatre in 1975, he joined Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre under Peter James as a production manager and subsequently associate director at the end of the decade.
Early successes included Griff Rhys Jones in Charley’s Aunt and Larry Shue’s The Nerd, starring Rowan Atkinson
In 1981, together with Peter Bennett-Jones (who was to become a lifelong friend), he formed Pola Jones Associates and went on to produce more than 40 major shows. Early successes included Griff Rhys Jones in Charley’s Aunt at the Aldwych Theatre (1983), Dario Fo’s Trumpets and Raspberries, which transferred from the Watford Palace to the West End’s Phoenix Theatre, and Larry Shue’s The Nerd, starring Rowan Atkinson at the Aldwych in 1984.
Ptaszynski went on to enjoy long and fruitful partnerships with both Atkinson and Rhys Jones while also promoting other rising stars of the alternative comedy scene including Rik Mayall, Rory Bremner, Eddie Izzard and Mel Smith. He produced The Gambler, starring Smith and co-written by Bob Goody and Peter Brewis, at the Comedy Theatre in 1986.
He also worked with established mainstream comics such as Dave Allen and Victoria Wood, whose Up West show he brought into the Strand Theatre in 1990.
He earned his first Olivier for Bob Carlton’s rock’n’roll jukebox musical Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Cambridge Theatre in 1989, which caused a minor sensation when it beat firm favourite Miss Saigon to lift the best new musical award. He revived it with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1995.
Ptaszynski would go on to win six other Oliviers with Pola Jones, including for the 1997 revival of Chicago which achieved then record ticket sales of £3 million in its first four days at the Adelphi Theatre.
In 1998 he revived West Side Story at the Prince Edward Theatre. The following year, Spend, Spend, Spend – Steve Brown and Justin Greene’s rags to riches story of football pools winner Viv Nicholson, at the Piccadilly Theatre – picked up the Evening Standard award for best musical.
Ptaszynski’s contribution to the West End was marked by his taking up the presidency of the Society of London Theatre in 1996. Holding the post for three years, he made much of the 1998 Wyndham Report, the first economic-impact study of Theatreland.
The musical Fosse with Pola Jones followed at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2000, the same year Ptaszynski joined Lloyd Webber’s Stoll Moss Theatres (soon to be renamed Really Useful Theatres) as its chief executive. Over the next decade he became the virtual power behind the throne, overseeing new productions, international transfers, revivals and the day-to-day running of the company.
With Lloyd Webber and Stephen Fry, in 2002 he created Theatreshare, an innovative project designed to raise investment in new plays and musicals and the following year led the expansion of Really Useful into the English regions.
In 2005, as the newly appointed chief executive of the Really Useful Group (which combined the venue operation and production arm), he oversaw the sale of the Garrick, Duchess, Lyric and Apollo theatres to the Nica Burns-led Nimax Theatres as he streamlined the company to focus on musicals.
Ptaszynski’s partnership with Lloyd Webber proved to be was one of the most successful in theatre in recent times. Among his successes were the Bollywood-inspired Bombay Dreams (Apollo Theatre, 2002), Michael Grandage’s revival of Evita (Adelphi Theatre, 2006), Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Palace Theatre, 2009) and The Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies (Adelphi, 2010).
Ptaszynski oversaw the sale of the Garrick, Duchess, Lyric and Apollo to Nimax Theatres as he streamlined Really Useful to focus on musicals
He continued to programme Really Useful’s West End theatres including Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the London Palladium until 2019.
Recent successes included the Olivier award-winning Madness musical Our House (Cambridge Theatre, 2002) and Tim Minchin’s Matilda the Musical for the Royal Shakespeare Company which was a commercial and critical hit at the Cambridge Theatre in 2011. It went on to win seven Olivier and five Tony awards.
More recently, he produced Minchin’s Groundhog Day, a double Olivier-winner including best new musical, at the Old Vic in 2016.
Ptaszynski produced four television series with Pola Jones, including Tygo Road (1989), starring Kevin McNally, as well as Steven Moffat’s sitcoms Joking Apart (which won a Bronze Rose at the Montreux Television Festival, 1993) and Chalk (1997).
His board memberships included SOLT, the National Theatre (2001-10), Bowness Theatre Festival in Cumbria and Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
André Jan Ptaszynski was born on May 7, 1953 and died on July 29, aged 67. He is survived by his wife, Judith, and four children.