BWW Interview: Douglas Carter Beane Kick-Starts the Rockettes' Summer Adventure
Douglas Carter Beane had no idea he would be courted to write the upcoming NEW YORK SPECTACULAR STARRING THE RADIO CITY ROCKETTES when he gave a reading of a new work, FAIRY CAKE, before an audience in London. Fairy cake is an English term for cupcake.
"A Scottish man came up to me afterwards-Colin Ingram-and asked to have lunch with me," Beane recalled. That Scottish man was the executive vice president of Madison Square Garden Company productions. Ingram was scouting for a creative team for an upcoming show. Beane assumed the lunch agenda would focus on producing Fairy Cake. Instead, he was offered the opportunity to write Radio City's Rockettes summer show.
Beane, a Drama Desk award-winner for 2008's XANADU, was given carte blanche to write a story that would engage tourists and native New Yorkers alike. "I wanted to create a contemporary fable about New York," he said. The tale follows two children who become separated from their parents while visiting the city. Beane was inspired by the myriad statues peppering Manhattan and incorporated them into his fanciful tale.
"I was fascinated by the idea of two children lost in New York with statues coming to life that help them get back to their parents," he said. "It's a simple city story but I love that kind of magic-a folk legend for people who are visiting Manhattan." Beane received Tony award nominations for 2013's RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA, 2012's LYSISTRATA JONES, 2011's SISTER ACT and 2007's THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED. He also wrote THE NANCE, which premiered on Broadway in 2013.
"The most fun has been opening my mind to the possibility I could do anything with the story," he said. "I could write that two children are in Grand Central Station and Mercury would fly down from the roof and help guide them. At first I was baffled as to how to do this, but after a couple of weeks I got Mia's vision," he said, referring to Mia Michaels, the three-time Emmy Award-winner director and choreographer of this year's show.
Michaels contributed choreography to the 2015 production, infusing the legendary Rockettes choreography with pop and contemporary music. Alain Lortie is lighting designer and Moment Factory is video designer. Set design is by Patrick Fahey, costume design by Emilio Sosa and sound design by SCK.
"I'm learning so much about how theater can be beyond just the steps and numbers of being on a stage," Beane said referring to the various locations alluded to. "We're constantly reminding the audience they are all in on the adventure. Mia thinks in big gestures, it doesn't have to be just two people in a room talking."
Working with the Rockettes has a challenge and a thrill. "Man, I was in rehearsal with them today and to be so close to them doing that precision dancing is amazing," Beane said. "When you're far away you don't realize how precarious and dangerous it can be with all those scissor moves. All you need is one person to turn left and it could be a disaster.
"They are all so mentally focused, they're like machines, like cogs. The only near mishap was when one girl had her wrist the wrong way. That was it! I'm used to seeing Broadway dancing all my life, which is more loosey goosey," Beane said. "It's really a thrill. The tradition of it is historic. Vincent Minnelli was one of the original directors."
Michaels, renown for her work on the television show SO YOU THNK YOU CAN DANCE, has collaborated with artists including Madonna and Celine Dion. She most recently choreographed FINDING NEVERLAND.
"The numbers she wanted to do was something like Gulliver's Travels meets The Wizard of Oz," Beane said. "She wanted to create a really big event, an urban fable that you would tell to a kid on a rainy night. We keep them moving, from the top of the Empire State to Grand Central. It's not exactly like visiting a New York studio apartment," Beane joked. The children, 9 and 14 years old, learn about the history of the city including Broadway.
Beane's favorite sequence is when the kids meet George M. Cohan in Times Square. "This is a story that will appeal to regular theatergoers, visitors, kids and adults," he said. "It's exciting, not frightening at all. Well, the Wall Street bull is a little scary but generally they are very happy statues."
Beane hopes the story encourages audience members to explore the city's history on their own. "I miss the places that are no longer here," he said. "I love a good old-fashioned coffee shop, I love Lincoln Center plaza, I love the Chrysler building, where my agent has his office. I love noisy places like PJ Clarke's, the Algonquin lobby where you can almost hear the sarcastic things people used to say there. You can feel the ghost of Dorothy Parker, drunk as a skunk," he said.
"Gentrification brings a lot of good stuff," Beane said. "But I miss the wooden telephone booths. I even miss the old Howard Johnson's and I mourned the Polish Tea Room"-the nickname for the storied Edison Café. "When it closed, that was a crime."
Beane recalled a perfect New York story. "I saw a man strangling a woman on a subway and it was pretty alarming," he said. "Then I realized they were speaking in iambic pentameter. They were doing Desdemona's death scene from Othello. Shakespeare on the subway."
Beane is certain the new Rockettes' show will spark passion for all things New York for all audiences, he said. "Even a jaded New Yorker who hasn't smiled in four or five days can have a great time."
New York Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, a production of the Madison Square Garden Company, will run June 15-August 7 at Radio City Music Hall, 50th Street and Avenue of the Americas.
Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel/MSG Photos