TONYS 2008 Q&A: Rob Ashford
One of the most inspired moments you'll find on a Broadway stage this season is in the musical Cry-Baby, the inmates of a prison utilize the license plates they are making to aid in a very memorable jail break number titled "Jailyard Jubilee", it's one of those "this is why I love musicals" moments. The man who dreamed up that rockin' and rattlin' choreography is another reason why people love musicals, he's 2008 Tony nominated choreographer Rob Ashford.
Rob Ashford has proven to be a force of joyous nature since he made his Broadway debut dancing in the 1987 Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes with Patti LuPone. Soon after he found himself lending his dancing feet to Crazy for You, My Favorite Year, The Most Happy Fella, Victor/Victoria and the Hal Prince directed Parade.
As a choreographer his first show to shape dance wise was a production of Kiss of the Spider Woman in Buenos Aires. His return to New York City found him teaming with Kathleen Marshall to co-choreograph the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate. His reputation firmly in place, Ashford's next gig was Thoroughly Modern Millie, for which he won the Tony and earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography. He also was nominated for both awards for The Wedding Singer and the Tony for Curtains. Across the pond in London one of his many credits was his celebrated work on Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor and Jane Krakowski. He also staged the musical numbers for the film Beyond the Sea starring Kevin Spacey.
This awards season, his work on Cry-Baby has brought a number of accolades to his crowded mantle, including both the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Choreography. He's been nominated for a 2008 Tony for Best Choreography, BroadwayWorld.com sat down with him for a few moments at the Meet the Nominee's breakfast to check in
Eddie Varley: Congratulations on being nominated, your Cry-Baby choreography is one of the highlights of the season.
Rob Ashford: Thank you so much! We had a ball doing it, I have to say, though our story was set in a certain way, how the dancing fit in, and how much dancing there was kinda left up to me so trying to find where can we dance, where can't we dance, where is it too much, where can it help tell the story as always, you have to do, but the big excitement was "What would John Waters choreograph if he was were a choreographer?" That what I kept saying to myself-I tried to get inside his head in a sense, and go like, what would be the moves that he would make, if he did what I did? And that was my missive, that was always in the back of my mind. AndI think that helped, I think trying to channel a little John Waters helped it be, you know a lot of people have said original, or different or edgy, or whatever, and think that's why, because he's original. You know when you try to go through a different doorway than normal; you end up somewhere more interesting.
EV: It captures his spirit, the dancing and its energy. It springs out of that world in a very twisted, yet joyous way.
RA: Thank you, that's a huge compliment.
EV: The number behind the rocks, "Girl, Can I Kiss You..." is one of my favorites, such great storytelling movement.
RA: Oh good, that was the first one I did, because I understood that, it was so clear, with those great lyrics, "Girl, Can I kiss you with tongue?", that was so John Waters, it was so clear to me, it was the first number we did. Because I knew what that was in a sense, and we took it from there. Then we realized, if that's how they did that, then how will they do the opening, how will they do "Watch Your Ass", and the Prison scene, that was such a signature in my head, such a flag of John, I knew that was the place to start.
EV: What I felt while watching was that while the dancing and physical narrative was channeling John Waters, it was still serving each character and their personalities. It really felt like that was exactly what should have been happening at that moment in the story.