BWW Interviews: Rocco Previews BROADWAY SONGBOOK and Upcoming Tour
The Ordway Center for Performing Arts and the brilliant James Rocco are presenting the next edition of their BROADWAY SONGBOOK series. Usually they focus on a composer and that artist's songbook, taking a deep dive into the best and little-known songs by that person. This time, Rocco & Co. will present THE FIRST 100 YEARS OF BROADWAY. Ambitious? You betcha! So I had to ask the obvious:
How on earth do you squeeze 100 years of Broadway into a couple-hour show?
Good question, Kristen. When I started creating the list of music we might do I had over four hours of material. We are still whittling it down to a controllable length. Truth is, there are so many iconic musical theater moments and I want to tell a complete story and keep it moving.
Are you choosing to go with more popular and well-known numbers or add in some little-known gems?
Real musical theater buffs will recognize some of the material like the gorgeous melodies from SHOW BOAT and WEST SIDE STORY. We are trying to include the pieces that are most often cited as influencing the evolution of musical theater. It's such a fascinating story because musical theater grew out of the experience of the diverse people living together in America in the late 1800s. There will be a few surprising lost gems, too.
What have you learned about the American musical in writing this show?
Working on the show has reconfirmed my belief that art keeps evolving and different people influence each other and create new and surprising ways to communicate. I am dumbstruck by the collaborative and peaceful power of telling stories to each other.
Give us an example of a show/song/lesson from this production that will help readers know what to expect.
Well, did you know that tap dancing was born when Irish clogging and African step dancing met each other? You can see the seeds of tap dancing in both of those forms, and yet tap dancing is a form onto itself.
No, I did not! I am already learning something. So, who's in your cast for this show?
- Gary Briggle
- Dieter Bierbrauer
- Jennifer Eckes
- Kendra McMillan
- Aja Parham
- Randy Schmeling
- Erin Schwab
You're touring this show throughout Minnesota in the fall -- how did you choose the cities you tour to?
We knew on this first outing that we should tackle a tour that was doable, so that's how we settled on a five-city tour. We contacted every arts center we could find around the state and it evolved from there. The Minnesota State Arts Board really made this tour possible. If all goes well we will expand to more cities next year.
Do you expect your tour to attract distant audiences to the Ordway in the future? Are you planning to tour more shows if this is successful?
Our goal at the Ordway is to demonstrate the power of live performance experiences. Of course we'd love people to come to the Ordway as often as possible. We'd also like to encourage them to take advantage of as many artistic experiences as they can because art reflects and shapes our culture.
As for touring, the Ordway has a long history of touring nationally, and of course, we hope to keep touring within our own state.
Are you looking for ways to attract more or younger audiences to these shows?
It's been very interesting to see young people at the shows. We have done performances for school groups whose teachers have told me that after the students see a show, they are hungry to see and hear more about musicals and how they have reflected the various periods of American life. That has been rewarding. Then, at the evening performances we often see young people go from looking like they wish they were somewhere else to beaming and laughing and discovering that musicals really are entertaining. People have a preconceived notion of musicals that they are corny and hackneyed. When you look at the material in the context of the time it was created, you realize that often the musical was revolutionary and pertinent within its historic time frame. OKLAHOMA! reflected the times, just like RENT and WICKED reflect our times.
Will this SONGBOOK be in the same format as past editions? Are you adding any staging elements?
Each SONGBOOK is unique. Some have had dancing, some have had more lighting. This one will be its own thing.
Anything else you want readers to know about this production that I have not asked?
I want more and more people to come to the SONGBOOKS. It's a joy to see audiences so happy. It's a relaxed yet engaging experience. I wish I could spread the word that musicals are about all of us. They are about thoughts that are in the minds of all people. It's like experiencing world philosophy through song and dance.
BROADWAY SONGBOOK: THE FIRST 100 YEARS OF BROADWAY plays at the Ordway Aug. 7-10, 2014. Tickets are available online at http://www.ordway.org/performances/14-15/broadway-songbook-the-first-100-years-of-broadway/ and by calling 651.224.4222. The tour in Minnesota begins in October 2014.
More info on the cities/theatres and more from Rocco are available here: /minneapolis/article/BWW-Interviews-A-Little-Education-from-James-Rocco-on-BROADWAY-SONGBOOK-COMDEN-GREEN-20140613#.
Photo: Raymond Berg and James Rocco. Courtesy of Ordway Center for Performing Arts.