A Conversation with Choreographer: Warren Carlyle
Ted Sod: Can you tell us about your background?
Warren Carlyle: I was born in Norwich, Norfolk, on the east coast of England. I went to a regular high school and I went to a ballet school in London. I appeared in ten shows in the West End. About thirteen years ago, I moved to America. I moved here to be an associate choreographer to Susan Stroman on The Producers.
TS: Let’s talk about The Mystery of Edwin Drood. How did you get involved as a collaborator on this revival?
WC: I’ve been friends with Scott Ellis for a number of years. Scott and I have the Susan Stroman connection. That’s The Common link between us. Scott and I have done television together but never theatre. We worked on ABC’s Hope and Faith with Kelly Ripa. It was really fun. He and I have a great time. I’m a big fan of his. I was so happy when he called.
TS: What’s the first thing you have to do on a show like Drood?
WC: The first thing I do is read everything that’s available. I read the Charles Dickens novel, and I read every version of the musical that Rupert’s written. I’ve read every article that’s available to read. I’ve watched almost everything I’m able to watch. I try and do that early on so I’m not influenced close to my process. I’ll go and watch things six or nine months ahead of time and forget about them. And then, of course, I listen to the music. I’ve spent many hours in a rehearsal room with a rehearsal pianist playing through the score again and again and again and again.
TS: Tell us about your process.
WC: Scott and I do it together. We discuss everything. We’re trying constantly to develop the story through dance. We talk about each number at length, how we think it needs to be, how it fits into the story, what it needs to achieve in the scheme of things, whether it needs to stop the show or needs to be about the number. Sometimes movement and dance is used to just keep the ball in the air. Or it is used to help with character development. It can also be an opportunity to tell the story. For instance, we’re developing the ballet into much more of a story piece. We’ve been writing a little outline for it so it will help develop character. We want to use the ballet to show the pursuit of Rosa Bud, having her appear and disappear. Scott and I always talk first and then I’ll go into the studio and start to work on the vocabulary and the style.
TS: What would that style be for this musical?
WC: I have a feel for it but I haven’t started to develop the very jaunty, very English, almost straight-legged style that we will be using. I have some ideas and some sketches and some outlines for things but, beyond that, I don’t have steps because with me they’re always the last thing that comes. The first is the story and then when I really start to know the characters, I’ll fashion how they move.
TS: This is not a dance-heavy show, would you say?
WC: I don’t think that it’s dance-heavy. I do think that it’s movement and style- heavy.
TS: Did you study any vintage photographs?
WC: I’m somebody who likes to learn. I am really curious. I’m doing Chaplin now and I’ve immersed myself in that world of early Hollywood. When I did Finian’s Rainbow or Follies or whatever, I immersed myself in that musical’s specific world. I try to transform into what is needed for each show every time.
TS: How did you audition people for this show? What did you need as the choreographer from the performers?
WC: When casting, I like to do something from the show. I like to do something that has the style of the numbers. We were looking for amazing character actors. With Drood, it was very important that they were all able to act through dance, not just perform dance steps. They had to have something going on inside them. They had to be a barmaid or they had to be a boy that was chasing a girl through the dance. They all had to be able to tell the story though the choreography and on top of the choreography.
TS: I’m wondering if you would talk about your response to the show when you first experienced it. What did you think it was about?
WC: That’s an interesting question. I really don’t know if I got that deep in my first impression. I thought it was very funny and original. I was quite taken by this group of players, this group of actors who are all reaching. They’re putting on a show that is a little beyond their means. It was Rupert who said to me that he thought this band of players he created was being a tad overzealous. I’m going to give them some dance steps that are a little beyond them. I think their choreographer was a bit ambitious. Truly, I don’t think there is one word or phrase that can accurately tell someone what this show is about. It’s magnificent! If I can bring to life even a quarter of what Rupert has written, I will be a very happy man.
TS: Is there any question you wish I had asked you about your work or the show that I didn’t ask?
WC: I am excited that The Mystery of Edwin Drood is being revived on Broadway. It hasn’t been produced in New York for a very long time and it’s going to be a great show. When you see Anna Louizos’ set, you’ll understand why I feel this way. She’s created a magical world. From the moment you walk into Studio 54, you’re going to be transported to a completely different place and time.
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