Today, it is rare to find a female choreographer is working at the highest level in musical theatre. Susan Stroman says, there is always a male-dominated profession, but you love them anyway.
Susan Stroman, is in London to choreograph a new version of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and now she is pretty much on the concept of the tea break.
The last half-century is the winner of the Broadway’s annual Tony award for the choreography, only 10 were women. The most successful of four winners Stroman.
Her first Tony was in the year 1992 for the Gershwin show Crazy for you. But you will go down in Broadway history, as choreographer and film Director Mel Brooks’ The producers in 2001 – one of the biggest stage musicals date.
She went on to direct the Film version, and in 2007, Brooks asked them to bring, of his film Young Frankenstein ” to the stage. It is the success of The producers did not repeat, and you have been hard at work in London, carving a new and intimate version.
Stroman says she enjoys working in a smaller Theater.
“On Broadway we were in the Hilton theatre, as it was then called, is one of New York’s largest houses,” she says.
“He created problems for the cast in the Comedy that you have to hear to be able to make the audience laugh in a precise and surfing – but that was hard. On the other side of the huge stage was really a spectacle to bypass.
“So, in London we have jobs to under 800 to go from about 2,000 a seat at the Garrick: this requires that certain changes, such as feeling the show. But I was here three years ago, the Director and choreographer of The Scottsboro Boys, and I know what can be a fantastically intimate space.
“So Mel has written two new songs and we have changed-lines – are there to bubble, a new reference, and squeak, what does not mean much on Broadway. The card is shorter than it was and there is still more focus on the Comedy.”
Pacific Northwest Ballet/Angela Sterling
Stroman own journey to Broadway began in Wilmington, Delaware.
“We were a theatrical family, but my father was a wonderful piano player and I was the little girl who dances around the house to the sound of the piano. I took dance lessons for boys. And at that time when a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie came on the TV in the family would stop and look at you: it was an event.
“I was always fascinated by Film, Musical and dance numbers, which are used to advance a story, and how the words and the music were in harmony. I studied ballet, but I was always mainly interested in the stories you tell, even at a young age.
“All these years later, I worked with the great ballet companies and I’ve enjoyed it – but still, what touches my heart, is a story to tell. Now my favorite dance images would probably be Fred and Ginger in top hat or Swing time.”
As a teenager, Stroman dance jobs act locally in Wilmington.
“I ended up being a big fish in a small pond. I would choreograph and direct a local musical or the half-time show during the football game at the high school. I studied ballet and jazz, but from the first day I what has me really excited and knew me, the kind of dance that you got on Broadway. I took every opportunity to be involved in the staging and directing.
“When I went to New York, it was like a song and dance girl, because I knew I could do it. But it was always on the other side of the table, not the performer.
“When I created the stand on the back of a house now and I feel the audience respond to something like this, it inspires me – whether it’s something to show for the laugh-out-loud like Young Frankenstein or a much more serious, such as The Scottsboro boys, the racism in the southern States in the 1930s.
“The audience is the last element that you add, if you build the musical – the breath of the audience is important. There are certain actors who have an instinctive feel for it, and you know when to go and when to stop. And it is the audience and tell them what to do.”
From the beginning of the 1990s, Stroman directed and started showing completely, rather than limiting itself to the dance numbers.
25 years later, there are still a few Directors working in the commercial theatre, musicals and comedy.
“It is difficult for a single reason, but it is dominated by a world that is becoming very men. It is a tough world and you have to be brave.
“Mel Brooks always says that in this business you have to ring the bell, not only will you touch the bell. You need to do it with confidence and love what you do and you feel comfortable in your own skin. It is a lot of hard work, but I love it.
“The first show I as the Director of a Broadway was to have a revival of the 1950s show The Music Man. At the end of the show, we had the largest American flag ever and it was played when 9/11 happened. Finally, when Broadway back on its feet after the attacks, this was an extraordinary moment, the people cheering and sobbing at the same time.”
Stroman has now re-enacted in several US productions in London – so she has noticed differences in how the two Nations?
“Also, the process of the sample is different, certainly. Here, you take your large tea-breaks, sometimes only when I try to bring home a number. But now I have a half dozen shows here so I can plan appropriately for the tea-breaks.
“Young Frankenstein is a leaner, meaner show than it was in New York, but the detail is still abundant: the British occupation was so excited about learning the dance numbers such as Puttin’ on The Ritz.”
It is obvious that love after 30 years on Broadway Stroman is still your job, even if something is not running, such as their stage version of the Woody Allen film Bullets over Broadway in 2014. “It’s not a huge disappointment if something doesn’t work, but you will have to move and you can dive in the next time and place with them.
“And, of course, Young Frankenstein immerse yourself in the world of Mel Brooks. What has given Mel to me, is to be respected and in the theatre is so important. He has always believed in me: he was the one who knocked on my door and said, you need to direct and choreograph The producers.
“But he is also demanding. Mel started out as a drummer and he still has an unbeatable sense of timing. He is very rough sometimes, not about line-readings… but because it’s Mel Brooks, we all accept it. I think Mel is unique. How happy I am to say that he is one of my best friends in the last few years?”
Young Frankenstein plays at the Garrick theatre in London.
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