b. 17 February 1941, Enfield, Middlesex, England. An actress, singer, and director, Julia McKenzie is one of the most accomplished leading ladies in the British (and occasionally Broadway) musical theatre. She started to perform at an early age, and attended the Sylvia Spriggs Dancing School. She was about to begin training to become a French teacher when she was offered a scholarship to study opera. After spending four years at the Guildhall School of Music, she performed in provincial theatres and toured in operettas and musical comedies for a good number of years before coming to prominence in 1969 in the London production of Mame, which starred Ginger Rogers. In the early 70s she had her first introduction to Stephen Sondheim’s work - with which she has since become indelibly associated - when she took over one of the leading roles in Company. She also replaced Patricia Routledge in Cowardy Custard, and, in 1974, appeared in Cole, another of the Mermaid Theatre’s excellent anthology productions. McKenzie’s biggest break came two years later when she co-starred with Millicent Martin, David Kernan, and Ned Sherrin in yet another celebratory revue - Side By Side By Sondheim. A surprise hit in London, the show was also well received in New York where it ran for 384 performances. During the 80s, McKenzie gave a ‘dazzling performance’ as Lily Garland in On The Twentieth Century, won Variety Club and Laurence Olivier Awards for her portrayal of Miss Adelaide in Guys And Dolls at the National Theatre, and resumed her association with Sondheim in Follies (Sally Plummer) and Into The Woods (Witch). The composer played a major part in her life during the 90s too, beginning in 1993 when she played Mrs. Lovett in the Royal National Theatre’s highly acclaimed production of Sweeney Todd. The performance earned McKenzie another Olivier Award. In the same year she directed the New York premiere of Putting It Together, a revue based on Sondheim’s songs, which tempted Julie Andrews back to the New York musical stage for the first time since Camelot (1960).
Julia McKenzie has also worked extensively in the straight theatre, and on television where she was voted Favourite Comedy Performer three times in the 80s for her appearances in situation comedies such as Maggie And Her, Fresh Fields, and French Fields. In 1994, she devised (with Kit Hesketh-Harvey) and directed the well-received Mercury Workshop Musical Revue at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre. Since then she has directed the 1996 Danish Musical Of The Year competition, the West End musical Stepping Out (1997), re-created her Sally for BBC Radio 2’s special concert performance of Follies (1997), as well as staging (with Bob Avian) Hey Mr Producer! (1998), the all-star Cameron Mackintosh charity gala at London’s Lyceum Theatre.