Inside the choreography in Broadway’s Beautiful
With a canon that includes “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Carole King is one of rock’s most iconic singer-songwriters. Now her journey from Brooklyn girl to Grammy-winning superstar is being shared onstage in the new Broadway musical Beautiful, which is in previews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
And while you might not automatically equate King’s style with dancing, her music was indeed produced amidst a swirl of movement (think of the pony, the twist, and those gentle side sways during ballads). As they developed their material for Beautiful, choreographer Josh Prince and associate choreographer Alison Solomon worked to create moves that would both honor this era and make sense on the Broadway stage.
“The story of Carole is that of a composer at the piano, so the dance is clearly about singers who move well; the dance needs to support their vocals and be, most importantly, true to the period,” says Prince. “I wanted to avoid anachronistic aspects, but still explore a romanticized, theatricalized version of the era.”
Before rehearsals began, Prince tested a variety of moves through his own project, The Broadway Dance Lab. (Founded in 2012, the Lab offers choreographers time and space to bring in dancers and create work without the pressure of looming deadlines.) “The more you practice, the more you can explore different elements, like timing, vocabularies of movement, and patterns,” he says. “You learn your own sensibility, and then when you’re working on an actual project, you have a technique and perspective you can rely on. I’m a big fan of simple gestures making a strong statement. I was able to investigate that at the Lab, and I’ve used that repeatedly in the show.”
To manage Beautiful, Prince needed an associate choreographer like Solomon. Responsible for everything from writing the “bible” (a written record of all the movement in a show) to giving dancers notes and training the dance captain, the associate is essentially the choreographer’s right hand. “The best associates get into your head and guess what you want,” Prince says. “For instance, during [one performance], Ali and I went into the lobby during the show and re-choreographed a number in the mirror. She adds ideas and also reminds me, for example, everyone on stage right is on a different foot. Sometimes I can just look at her and know it’s not right from her input. That’s invaluable.” [Read more →]
December 3, 2013 No Comments
In How I Learned What I Learned, Ruben Santiago-Hudson conjures August Wilson’s past
Late in his life, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson added a grace note to the ten symphony-like plays that he penned about the 20th-century African-American experience. It was a solo show, How I Learned What I Learned, starring the writer himself.
Alone on the stage of Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2003, under the direction of co-conceiver Todd Kreidler, Wilson told stories about the real people and events of his 1960s coming-of-age as a young poet in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. In essence, he was revealing the personal building blocks that had helped form the characters, tensions, and histories that play out in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Fences, Jitney, Two Trains Running, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf. (These are the plays of The American Cycle, as his main body of work is now known.)
The playwright died in 2005, at age 60, never experiencing the 2006-07 slate of Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre, which had earlier named him the season’s Playwright-in-Residence. But Wilson had foresight about his one-man script: He entrusted its future to collaborator-director Kreidler, and he asked actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson to assume the role of “August Wilson.”
“August knew that I was an old soul like he was,” says Santiago-Hudson, who has stepped into the poet’s shoes for the New York City premiere of How I Learned What I Learned, now extended through Dec. 29 at Signature Theatre’s Alice Griffin Jewelbox on West 42nd Street. “Even though we were in young men’s bodies, we were old souls. We had similar backgrounds. The lessons we had been taught were taught by the same storytellers, the same people in the black community, though he was from Pittsburgh and I was from Lackawanna, [NY].”
Santiago-Hudson earned the writer’s friendship and respect for his performances in Broadway’s Seven Guitars and Gem of the Ocean, to say nothing of the actor’s own self-penned solo play Lackawanna Blues.
In fact, Santiago-Hudson’s mother was from the Pittsburgh area, so there was a kind of shorthand and common ground between the men. He spent 18 summers visiting the setting of most of Wilson’s plays, the African-American Hill District. He had breathed the air of the Crawford Grill and other landmarks of the Steeltown milieu. [Read more →]
December 2, 2013 No Comments
Faith and Family Shine in a New Musical Revue
At a recent matinee of the new musical Stars of David: Story to Song, now playing a limited engagement through Dec. 15 at Off-Broadway’s DR2, actor Aaron Serotsky spoke the Hebrew words “l’dor v’dor” as he played billionaire businessman Edgar Bronfman, Sr., who ruminates on the importance of sharing Jewish identity, rituals, and history with his grandchild.
From the third row, an aging woman with experience etched on her face replied with the English translation of the phrase: “From generation to generation.” Serotsky heard it, nodded to her, and spoke her words, which are also in the script. Generations—parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren—are at the core of the four-actor revue based on Abigail Pogrebin’s best-selling 2005 book of interviews Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish.
Tony Award-winning producer Daryl Roth, who is producing the current five-week developmental run of Stars of David with the goal of a future regional licensing life (and perhaps another Manhattan production), was pleased to hear about that bit of audience participation. “That is, for me, the reason that I wanted to do this,” she says. “Now, as a parent and a grandparent, I think the most important thing is passing on what’s important to us—tradition, how you feel about your place in the world, your identity.” [Read more →]
November 27, 2013 1 Comment
Patrick Barlow finds rich texture in the holiday classic
From a certain angle, A Christmas Carol is a story about storytelling. After all, the ghosts make Scrooge listen to stories about his own life and the lives of the people around him, and when he finally wakes up on Christmas morning, he’s relieved he can rewrite the tales that upset him most. As a changed man, he wants to create new stories that people can tell about him after he’s gone.
This aspect of the Charles Dickens classic is the driving force behind playwright Patrick Barlow’s new adaptation, which is playing through early January at Theatre at St. Clements. The entire show is performed by five actors, most of whom play multiple roles. Every time they switch characters, we’re reminded that we’re watching a live story unfolding in front of us. Certain characters, like Tiny Tim, are even portrayed by puppets, which only underscores the fact that A Christmas Carol is a fantastical tale, not a slice of life.
Plus, Barlow’s script ends with a revelation that makes Scrooge himself realize he’s in a play. It would be unfair to spoil what happens, but suffice it to say that in this production, it’s actually quite liberating to realize we’re in a theatre and that most of us understand our lives as dramas in which we’re the main characters.
For Barlow, this is familiar ground. His best-known work, a Tony Award-winning adaptation of The 39 Steps, also highlights the nature of the theatre, since it has four actors create an entire world with simple props and various accents. “I use the theatre as a metaphor in nearly every play I write,” he says. “It actually makes me laugh when I see a play that ignores the fact that there’s an audience watching. Why not acknowledge there’s a story? This is my own opinion, of course, but stories are what can guide our lives.” [Read more →]
November 26, 2013 No Comments
Charles Fuller’s One Night confronts sexual assault in our armed forces
Last year, the military prosecuted approximately 300 cases of sexual assault or impropriety, but that’s nothing: Roughly 3,000 cases were reported, and it’s estimated that 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual conduct actually occurred.
“If you don’t know anybody in the military, do you really care about that?” asks playwright Charles Fuller. “We really don’t want to look at the fact that people are being mistreated. Or if we do look, we don’t look long.”
That’s partially why Fuller wrote One Night, which is now at the Cherry Lane Theatre in a co-production with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The play follows an ex-servicewoman named Alicia who’s forced into a seedy motel room after a fire consumes the homeless shelter where she lives with a troubled fellow veteran named Horace. In the midst of her present crisis, she’s also haunted by flashbacks of what happened when she served: After being sexually assaulted by three fellow servicemen, she pressed charges against them, only to have her case mishandled by her commanding officer.
Fuller knows this is not an easy story for an audience to hear, but that’s his point. “The play was written in my heart of hearts because somebody had to say something about this in a way that would make us understand [the problem] easier than we do when it’s simply statistics.”
When Fuller first heard about the mounting nightmare of sexual assault in the military, he was astounded. This was a different army than the one he knew when he served in Korea. “When you serve with somebody, that’s your buddy, that’s your comrade,” he says. “You look to that person to save your life if your life is in jeopardy. How dare you think that you can rape them? How dare you think you can mistreat them in the matter in which these women and men have been mistreated since they’ve been in the military? That’s horrifying. To me that goes against all the values and rules of what soldiering and what being in the military is supposed to be about.” [Read more →]
November 25, 2013 No Comments