Mackintosh, the producing dynamo behind such smash hits as Les Miserables, Mary Poppins and The Phantom of the Opera called potential casting of a transgender woman as Mary Poppins “gimmick casting,” and said doing so would be “trying to force something that isn’t natural” in an interview with British outlet The Telegraph.
Billings, never one to hold back, took to Instagram to issue a harsh rebuttal.
“Sir Cameron,” Billings wrote, “I am playing Madame Morrible in Wicked on Broadway. I am Trans and began my transition in 1980, when it was illegal to do so. I am now a very small part of a very powerful moment, every time I set foot in the land of Oz. This is not lost on me. Especially at 59 years old and having now survived this, my second viral plague. The first, took most every Trans family member I had in the 1980’s. AIDS smothered our survival for generations to come. And it resonates to this day.”
“I am an actor,” Billings continued. “I am Mame and I am Madame Rose. I am Miss Hannigan and I am Annie Oakley and I am Fantine… although if that ever happens, I’ll be singing it in the key of Elaine Stritch, and everyone needs to be okay with that… But I am these stories because I am part of the human fabric and no one has the right to take any this away from me. Not the police who arrested me, not the society who shunned me, …and not you, who labels me. I am an actor, Mr. Mackintosh, not a gimmick.”
“And just so we’re clear;” Billings went on, “you don’t have to make room for me. I take up my own space and that was given to me by a power much greater and far more powerful than you. Suggesting there needs to be more roles and more plays for transgender artists, doesn’t make you a revolutionary. It makes you human. It is simple common sense. We will create that space with or without your consent.”
“And please try and remember,” Billings added, “that Trans people have been in theater for as long as there has been theater. We have been playing these musical roles in the theater for centuries. The only difference is, now we are becoming visible. And that’s frightening. That’s upsetting. This is about you and your fear and the fear of many others, but it is not about the Trans community. And whilst I understand this, my job on the planet is not to hold your hand through your years of societal conditioning. I’m busy. I have lines to learn.”
“Instead of proclaiming all the things that cannot be done,” Billing concluded, “how about filling the music of the universe with things that Can be done. What is possible is always divinely blessed. See us. Honor us. And hopefully, you will discover your own story in a newness you never knew existed.”
Following the backlash, Mackintosh took to Twitter to clarify his comments.
“I was recently asked by a journalist if I would consider making the character of Mary Poppins (not the actor playing the role) a transgender woman,” Mackintosh explained. “Unfortunately, my answer has been misinterpreted to suggest I’m opposed to casting a transgender performer to play the role. This is absolutely not true. I meant only that I would not as a producer disregard the author PL. Travers original intention for the character. To be clear, whether a person is trans has no bearing on their suitability for any role of any of my shows including Mary Poppins as long as they can perform the role as written. I’m very sorry for any distress caused by my remarks being misrepresented.”
“Trans actors,” Mackintosh concluded, “are welcome to submit an audition for any of my productions what matters is what as always matters: the talent and storytelling. I have long been and will continue to be a proponent of diversity and casting for my projects around the world.”
Alexandra Billings has become one of the world’s most prominent transgender actors on stage and screen. In 2020, she became the first-ever openly transgender actor to get star billing on Broadway when she took on the role of Madame Morrible in Wicked. She followed up with a recurring role on the ABC sitcom The Conners, where her role proved so popular the producers expanded it beyond its original two-episode run.