The Story Behind the Theatre; Musical Comedy Director & Choreographer
He. Was right. But New York City the theater capital of the world Riverside radio WRVO are brings you the story behind the theater. That piano tells us that we're at the rehearsal of a musical comedy. It's a revival of Booth Tarkington 17. Dunya quips go who choreographed the original 1051 Broadway production directs this revival. Today Lyle Di Jr. will be talking with misquotes go and with John Sharp the choreographer for the show as they discuss how drama music and dance are blended to make a musical comedy. Here is our backstage host Lyle Dudgeon here. I Don and John before you get back to rehearsal today and while we've got you here quiet despite you know he says in the background what I'd like to
concentrate on mainly is. Actually the whole area of musicals in that choreographer a musical director a director a state you're getting into this who does what and why. Before we do that however you've been in rehearsal. What about three weeks now for 17 after three 10 with an opening about 10 days away. Where are you now in relation to our dances ahead of the music is booked rehearsals ahead of the dancers. How far you've gone altogether are you still working in three separate rooms. What is happening now we're not we're not working in a separate room anymore. We got a show that's cohesive now all the departments are together they're now looking and saying which department needs the most work. It's about time say in other words you're at a point now where you feel everything is far enough along so if you need to make a music cut here you can do that and go
right ahead I was right. Or if you have to stop for a day or two for just personal. This is the place now where you can. Yes. Now I think probably you have jumped ahead of the gun a bit we're already talking about a book rehearsal and music rehearsal dance rehearsal. But to get back to work not necessarily the show any show so to which comes first the chicken or the egg you pick up a musical you've got the book you're using of who does what first. Well usually it's very important that people. The way I play when I'm doing a book if I come to a musical number and I feel there should be status within the first few days it's important that the people know the music. And the lyrics or have an acquaintance with her. But even before rehearsals. Oh before rehearse John is the choreographer and the writer and someone is the musical director. Yes but your very first step is just
endless talking I suppose hours of conferences conferences discussing the play and which way you're going to do it. There are all different ways of doing one play. And we have decided on a certain kind of creative way of doing seventeen without any curtains at all. We don't have any curtain at the beginning of the show on throughout the show. That of course we had to make certain changes in the script for that and of course that's why we had to have conferences with John as to how to bring on the people. But John has a choreographer How often can you be tied down or do you want to be tied down to be told five minutes for this stance and for the tower he does this kind of thing happen for you. This is completely dictated by the music that is there not necessarily It's highly important. Actually in my thinking at any rate my show is not a committee project. There has to be one person to say this yes
this is no more of this less of that. Now granted that person might take commentary from other sources or put out feelers to see how other people feel. But the decision necessarily has to come from one head and in the case of a musical that person is the director. To an extent the director must dictate exactly what direction the entire show is going and even it will especially your first meeting at say Oh yes yes and if you as a choreographer don't like the direction the director is taking you can finish at the first meeting. This is good for me. OK there I go. Yeah exactly. Yeah but the director does set down the pattern and say this from the choreographers point of view this number should accomplish this this this and this and it should accomplish it in a rather heavy manner or a light manner or the feel of the
entire number should be one of light hearted ganti. Or. A mood of. Romance let's say in other words the basic outlines script wise have to be laid down in terms of where the director is taking the entire show within this framework. The choreographer has a certain amount of leeway are a great deal of leeway actually as to what patterns what people what choices steps and what musical modifications can best accomplish this purpose when it's easily established and the director is there this is the overall head and it certainly you know I heavily commercial venture and Dolly the director working with the producer dev Nevertheless the practical after it's the every day rehearsal it is the director. It should always be yes director telling people his. Staff what to do. But director has conferences with producers. Because after all he's producing a show.
But the directive to that how important as far as the musical director is concerned again in this kind of thing that should be established at the first meeting I first meet a suspicion that seldom is but never the less of a sudden the musical director has an entirely different idea for a number. But again it comes back to the director. Yes the director is responsible in a musical production especially there are problems that you don't run into in any other form of theatre really. Yes exactly. And that's that you have three separate areas and. It's rare. If I'm not even sure that I've ever met a person who is equally qualified in all three areas would you would you really almost say for because in musicals The design is almost as important to you as a choreographer I respect it's true. If a certain designer shows you this is going to be the set and you realize you've only got three square feet in which to do a dance with 14 couples but the designers and sister you know I've got to have the porch and the backyard here and the
fence coming here. Then you take it up for arbitration you director there. And the producers there are much more like life. That's why as you said at the very first meeting for us it's a meeting of minds actually and if the mines don't meet then you look for. Someone that does something I'd like you to defend them. Ms a while undoubtedly the choreographer does create and dance may come from a combined idea but nevertheless it's a choreographers creation. Yes but if the director is the overall head the choreographer in a sense then is the director's assistant in a sense. Yes towards the play but not in his own creative. Power like a delegation of authority sets as the fellowship because he really does create his own work once he does. But he should stay to the outline of the play that the director house in other words there is a specific law you know
already there are some times I feel the choreographer might disagree with the director but the choreographer should be talented enough to see what the alive the director is taking to be able to do as good a job. Before the end of the line the director wants to take it as they would in their mind they want to take him. The emergence of choreographers and what would you say the past 10 years has been tremendous. I think frequently if there are no big players in the show that's a almost the stamp itself the names of the staff can carry the director of the Korea over a desk and that's becoming quite the thing actually. Yes so that they're getting around to the point that I'm sure that almost a power struggle must take place again. It's a Broadway show let's say with hers. Fantastic. Her emotional pressure and even such things as a billing question with you that probably the choreographer and the director. Perhaps in those cases would even work more closely together. They should. Which brings up the
point. Then you frequently see musical numbers staged by or the show has been directed by someone choreographed by someone musical number staged by someone on the overall stage by that are these terms as specific as they'd like to make them sound or not. I brought up the point to Liles while we were talking about this which was very funny I just remembered your original subject. Choreography by and overall staging. I know there were dances and musical numbers that was happy just to the general public coming in looking at the program. What should. They know me a good thing when someone does overall stagey. Yes the top director sounds. Very
confusing and it's a terrible spot for a director to be at. I would want to direct a show with that because. Then you are just in the system really. Direction is just an assistant to the overall production right. What is left for a director I do really like. If numbers have been staged and the choreographers done the dances and the general state actors left to coordinate the only way. Yes that's what the only way that I feel that might be fair would be the director felt it was a tremendous show and had an assistant and the assistant was so able gave him a title. But you know the merchants really almost book shows they're called musical or to play music. Wholesale seemed to be gaining in popularity perhaps again because of the strength of the director's position whereby he has a lot more to do with the show that show stuff than something like this important anymore as it used to be in the follies and now you have a
book and the director has a lot more to concentrate on coaching. Actually staging scenes working with the actors so that a play with music would concentrate more heavily with the director and it should really not only that there's a brand new person in the American theater that's only about 10 years old roughly 10 years old. And that's the choreographer director. It wasn't an unheard of unknown person 20 years ago there was no such animal. But with the turn that musicals are beginning to take and that's a closer amalgamation of music dance and the written word but a usually very talented choreographer will have a very able assistant that is an excellent director who is probably an unsung hero. Absolutely. I still have to say that. Well the really the good right.
You'll always find that the assistant is a brilliant young director. Well so many of the fantastic names among the choreographers are just a joke. So now the choreographer director. Right down the road today there to show. The only problem they find and I think this is pretty generally true. And that's with the time limits imposed exactly on getting a production on in a given amount of time. That combined job of choreographing and directing. Yes that's what I say in this really thoughtful directors can persist past that very strong when you realize it was with a straight play. One rehearsal hall is usually enough. Musically you need three someplace for the dance and sometimes for the musical director and music grizzled and then book rehearsals with the directors of the John you were talking about a new character in the staff or a new person that's been added that you yourself know are dance captain for subways are for sleeping which I imagine
is as unknown a job as to if you did nothing about politics you would know the party with it as the dance captain is. Sort of the party whip of the show. Right. Well yes to an extent your heart is the dance camp to go when the choreographer of the show opens a choreographer is gone. Working on three other shows is the dance captain. There is for replacements for rehearsals as his artistic word the last word yes and no it depends on a variety of factors it depends upon the choreographer and the director. It also depends upon the producer. It actually I think grew out of the idea of a dance captain grew out of the the old days in the Ziegfeld Follies and one thing in another where there was a line captain for a line of girls who came out with their 16 tap steps and left. Gradually Yes with the time gradually.
As a matter of fact I think it was in one thousand fifty five or fifty six that the term actually crept in to the union contracts. Where in a dance captain was provided a minimum which was slightly higher than that of the dozen but. At the moment for instance the show I'm on is a heavily staged show musically and because the average stage manager in a dramatic show would take care of the staging. Of the average stage manager is not familiar with music and not to stage a re stage musical numbers. The dance captain is not only given the responsibility of. Rehearsing and keeping dance numbers up but also of caring for all the musical staging. And in a heavy musical this often involves everyone of your principals all the singers and all the dancers and then a few. For instance it would hold the understudy rehearsals in terms of everything that is done to music right. And that requires movement right which
sometimes is phenomenally large or about the right area are responsible for replacements and lessons and oh yes Morton one. Now Apple editions but you'll be the one that will get someone new into the show. Exactly and assume the responsibility of teaching them their formations their steps the things they will be doing and where they're going. You're responsible responsible. Actually the number who say is getting sloppy. We had talked to UBS together despite the plaintiffs and everything they sacrificed there exactly but I'll tell you what I think of most of them have to have is when there's a virus going around and everyone's got it and all of a sudden that 10 people out of the shop and then you're so we have to rewrite P.S. to rearrange the whole number practically to accept it. It was not so that some nights there might be fewer people and sometimes as many as six or seven people were out of the bars number that are usually contains 18 people and it does require a great deal of juggling. However I must say that the dance captain probably could never do it alone if
you're working with wonderful professional people gypsies. It's a marvelous thing to sell someone at the spur of the moment there's a big hole on stage right right between us and such a section in this section. Go Philip. And it happens somehow and you hope that now however he's an ass that's a last resort. For instance now that you're reviving 17 both of you worked on originally Donnie having done choreography and then John being in it in revivals How often do you try to recreate the original choreography or using any of your you do the first job is doing it now as you know the original being you know not to the best of my knowledge. There's a I don't really remember the choreography in detail. I remember a vague ideas of what numbers were but I couldn't go back and recreate any one of them. No but they're been a number of shows in between. Yes exactly. To the extent that there are only so many ways
that you can put one foot in front of another and move across a stage. I'm sure there are dozens of steps that are being you just. Well they're not. Exactly. But isn't the original choreography quite frequently copied for instance. Yes the inevitable name comes up courses. Agnes DeMille because that's a. Stunning impact. Her dances me. The pattern of movement that she uses. I'm sure I'm not sure but I would imagine it's been copied hundreds of times right. I'm sure. It's very difficult because that was created in the ballet. The byline the story of the ballet tells us very important in the second. So that actually the choreographer has to use the elements that go into the ballot I mean the love story and the judge coming in and like in a nightmare in a dream you know the opposite
happens to what actually does happen in real life that has to be done you know. But as to people using her original dance steps you know some people do. Which is wrong and other people don't. But there's no one like in ballet you have what you call dance notation. Yet the way you can write down on paper ballet except for your car somewhere to learn how to read X and there's nothing like this let's say for popular choreography so how. How closely can they follow to MIL's original choreography simply by remembering isn't it. Well people who've been in the show with us or sometimes leave it and break it do they hire people where Anna. Asked them to do it. Recreate and recreate it and she never knows and that's very wrong. But any of her dancers even some of her most famous a scene with Peter Wang action Janus. Now here's another never actually been written down. Therefore she has absolutely no protection as two people copying her work
almost dancing kind of plagiarism. There's nothing that can be done. Her someone came to see 70 John took every one of your dancers for a package this summer recreated. There's nothing that you can do legally. Well say or even artistically do they're checked. There's only one thing you can do. You're not the person I did Oklahoma California Fred Lester and I said I'm not using any of the dances like he's going to use but I must use the bow. Alan I insist that you pay her royalties must be heard. Dance steps the whole valley was entirely different but still and all she created the scenario was about. And it has to stay. So I'm interested to hear what the idea is to where coming to join in the struggle. I didn't even use that. But the main scenario was the law that it's read into the script as it is written into the script but the most important thing
is that the dancing lorry and the cowboy are the two lovers and the judge enters into it and must be killed. Yeah now I don't you know even though the whole rest of the ballet was entirely different it still gives her scenarios her idea. Yes and so I insisted that she get kind of royalty by right of an author has an idea and writes a play and gets his royalty of course there are unions and leagues and societies almost everyone except your director your choreographer. There is one starting up in the society of stage directors. Korea thank heavens and I hope so. But they're not getting very far right. Well I'm glad you brought it up because I don't think the general public realizes how many plays a director has made. Into famous play through his ingenious ideas of how to direct it the kind of people that should be in the quality.
Sometimes it's entirely different from what the author has written beyond the reach of benefit money. I've heard many a very famous director say that they asked how often an author doesn't realize what he has written so good and I don't think he'll live. We're just talking about the emergence of course which is the same thing I'm sure is beginning to happen over and over and over again with a brilliant idea crystallises an entire dance party which almost has to be written and I think as you list probably in every company and every stock company with no not even credit given to original. Oh you do see this again. Credit Yeah. Yes originally. Choreography by selling solo after solos which is done quite frequently in ballet program but there are some very wonderful producers like I had less to do that night and City Center the both of you actually are involved. Ginger sometimes you were on the governing board of the society yet eight years ago and John
you just count solo Actors Equity But also I think again this year the emergence of musicals. Not many people realize what a big part chorus equity that used to be separate and there's no one plays in running the actors union itself simply because so many of your professional performers no longer singers are losers. Things are all separate you know the risks the dancers have to take in California for pictures started the extra benefits for the dangerous work they do. People don't realize what happens in rehearsal trying new things. What is an exceptional risk or dancer falling to his knees or jumping over a bar. What do you classify very difficult to define abstractly you'd you'd have to take into consideration the set the flow or the number of people on stage that it will be what isn't an example let's say Well in any show you can be original.
Cole Porter can't count. That Michael Kidd did there was no passion no where it was fun. But some tricks that they did were really very very dangerous and it was done at a very fast tempo and if you missed your timing. I take three people really far off stage right into clumpy were you not. Are even sensing I suppose if something is that quickly tying to the danger of being kicked or being knocked over I broke my leg on that show just by thinking that you know we were doing acrobatics. And a girl just missed her placing. Just a few matches and just just as my leg was going over at her other leg my bro. Tell me that what what is the most important as far as you're concerned with the choreography. Brilliant choreographer brilliant ideas originality and just good old plain experience.
All in the world today. You would have to be I think if you found the person with one of those qualities to the exclusion of the other. You would be running into something less than a well producing Korea. Well how about this then. Does a choreographer I have to be a good dancer himself or herself. Absolutely sure. I feel it's Are there many working choreographers who I haven't danced my head dance but not say haven't had a part of their career as a dancer then turned to choreography. Everything hurts me to start out as a choreographer. With that I wonder if it would be possible if you no longer dance. To choreograph. Assuming that perhaps you're for some physical reason you were prevented from actually dancing. But I would think it would be almost essential for a choreographer to be able to weave so there's no dance notation for choreography but to teach a chorus of dancers a
dance it's purely repetition right. Yes repetition enters into it explanation is a large part of that also. When the bags used would be just to get a chair right to stand on except that they're there one or there is one area that said it's a glaring exception which I think should be made. Men never put on pointe shoes. And yet. In the ballet world many of the great tall variations for women have been choreographed by men. And you cannot say that the men. From having done all the problems that a woman putting on pointe shoes goes through and yet much of great choreography has been done but so much of it would have to be even more than staging a dramatic show almost trial an error. You have an idea let's say you executed in front of a mirror and then you have four dancers doing that idea. All of a sudden it just write it off and I think that's your personal quality involved also and that's the realisation that what feels good and looks good on an individual. Let's say
the choreographer is not necessarily good for either the people that are doing it or will have to be doing it for the show. This has to be the protection of you know the objectivity is awfully important to to discover what they will of what will benefit the show the sense of this is going to go on and on about and you're doing rehearsal downstairs right now ready right. All right thank you. So thank you for your time and good luck with the show and thank you like what. The. The Story Behind us is today the musical comedy director and the.
Wildlife Julia has been talking with the actor of the musical comedy and with John Sharpe the choreographer for this one. The production eventually stands or falls on the performances of the actors. The casting directors such as the agent seeks to supply and on the next programme will meet the casting director and the agent join us next week when from New York City the theater capital of the world. As you know the story behind the theater. Produced and recorded by Riverside radio WRVO are in cooperation with the Equity Library Theater in New York under a grant in aid from the National Association of educational broadcasters WRVO Lara's the Metropolitan FM station of the Riverside Church
- The Story Behind the Theatre
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- The Story Behind the Theatre is a twelve part program produced by WRVR Riverside Radio. Each week, Lyle Die Jr. of the Equity Library Theater addresses a specific aspect of theater production and interviews two people working in the New York City theater industry. The series seeks to explain the many factors involved in producing a piece of theater by talking with playwrights, producers, directors, and other industry professionals.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-15-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: The Story Behind the Theatre; Musical Comedy Director & Choreographer. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-qf8jjr55