BWW Interview: John Tartaglia Dishes on His Super, New Role as Director of NYMF's CLAUDIO QUEST!

BWW Interview: John Tartaglia Dishes on His Super, New Role as Director of NYMF's CLAUDIO QUEST!Tony Award winner John Targalia may be known for his work acting in the Broadway musicals AVENUE Q and SHREK: THE MUSICAL, but this summer he can be seen behind the curtain directing the NYMF musical CLAUDIO QUEST.

Claudio Quest, a super new musical, receives its New York premiere this July as part of the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival. With a book, music and lyrics Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet and direction by Tony Award nominee John Tartaglia (Avenue Q), Claudio Quest runs through July 14, 2015 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre. Individual tickets can be purchased directly via NYMF.ORG.

Claudio Quest is a new musical comedy that follows a very super hero, his less super little brother, and one butt-kicking princess, as the three embark on a mission to overcome killer eggplants, a love-starved platypus, and their own 8-bit existential crisis.

Check out the interview with John Targalia below!


How did you get involved with NYMF this year and what's it been like?

It's been great. It's been very great. I got involved because of Claudio Quest, the show that I'm directing. I've been working on it for a couple of years now and we are really excited to do it at NYMF because we think there is no better place to workshop a show and experiment and really get it in front of an audience and in front of theater goers and see how people react to the show and you get such a diverse audience at NYMF. We just admire so much of what NYMF does so it was a really exciting opportunity.

Is this your first experience working with NYMF?

This is my first year!

Is it different than working on a big Broadway show like Avenue Q and Shrek: The Musical?

Well it's definitely different because it encourages you to focus the most on the story and the music and the performances because you don't necessarily have the large scale production value you would have on a Broadway show. You definitely don't have a Broadway budget. So, it's really more about, which I think is so important, it's more about the story and the characters and the heart of the show, which I think sometimes a lot of shows get buried in the big production values and the big sets and the big lights and all the glamorous things of the theater piece. It's important to really focus on the story and that is what NYMF encourages and also what they support so much.

So much of the work that they do is about supporting the playwrights and supporting the composers and supporting the creative team. So, NYMF gives us a chance to focus on that. Jen Bender, who is the artistic director of NYMF, one of the smartest things she said to me was that, 'Don't feel the pressure to make this the final production,' which I think everyone does, especially when you are presenting it in front of a New York audience. You want that feeling of finality, but it can't be and it shouldn't be. The point of NYMF is saying, "This is where we are in the process, we feel like this is the best version of the story and version of the characters and the version of the music that we have and what do you think audience?" So, it's really a great platform for that and that's really the support NYMF gives. They do it so well. They really support the playwrights and the composers and the creative team to make the best show that they can make.

BWW Interview: John Tartaglia Dishes on His Super, New Role as Director of NYMF's CLAUDIO QUEST!So can you talk a little bit about the storyline and characters in Claudio Quest and how you go involved with it?

I actually got involved with a reading of it a while ago as a performer and I was working with Marshall [Pailet] and Drew [Fornaralo], the composers, on another project and they said, 'You know, I have a feeling you would like this piece, come and do this reading.' And I did it. And I think all of our senses of humor are really similar and all of takes on the characters mesh very well and then they asked if I would direct it, which I was really flattered by. It kind of made sense because this kind of show is my baby. I keep saying that what Avenue Q was for Children's television, Claudio Quest is for video games. Very much in the same vein of theatre. We are kind of in that pocket of Little Shop of Horrors, Spamalot, or even Something Rotten!

We are definitely parodying and lovingly entering this world of video games, but we're also telling this really beautiful story about these two brothers, Player 1 and Player 2, and how we look at our positions in life and how Claudio is Player 1, he's the star of the game and the superhero and Player 2 is Luis and he's accepted the fact that in his life he's just always going to be Player 2, never going to be the superhero that looks like the God and gets all the girls and wins the game and he's okay with that. Then he unexpectedly thrusts into the Player 1 position and it's really about how you can be a hero no matter what your role in life is and you may not be President but that doesn't mean you can't be a great leader and maybe you're not Oprah but that doesn't mean you can't inspire people. It's about making the best out of what you are able to do. So its got this wonderfully existential and sweet story but at the same time it's a lot of fun. We have a fire breathing platypus whose the bad guy and these ridiculous eggplant characters that are like the little mushroom people in Mario Brothers. Yeah it's very silly and the challenge has been how do you bring this 2-D world to the stage. That's been the most fun, how do you make video games come to life on stage?

And this isn't your first time directing, right?

Yeah no, I've been directing for about four years now. And I'm glad Claudio Quest has come now because I get to use a lot of tricks that I've learned the hard way over my directing time. This is probably my biggest NYC directing gig I've gotten though. I've done a lot of regional and stuff like that.

How is it working with the small cast of CJ Eldred, Andre Ward and Lindsey Brett Carother?

I'm in love with this cast! There is something really special. I think comedy is a tough thing and often times when you, we have a cast of eleven, and sometimes when you put 11 really fun people in a room it can be competitive or it could be difficult. The amazing thing is that this cast is nothing but in love with each other and everyone is so appreciative of each other. I've never seen a cast rally around each other like this cast does. I think what that has allowed is that it has allowed a room of play and a room of what if? And I kind of work from the prospective of that the best idea wins and it doesn't matter where it comes from and because of that and because we are all super creative, like I think we really had fun putting the show together. I think it's more laughable as well.

They are all super creative and we keep saying Shannon Lewis, my amazing choreographer, and I keep saying that we are watching all of these people on the brink of their superstardom. Like all of them are right at that moment where they are going to break out and be huge stars and that's really exciting to see. It's exciting to let them have a platform to come show what they do because they are all super talented.

BWW Interview: John Tartaglia Dishes on His Super, New Role as Director of NYMF's CLAUDIO QUEST!You mentioned that you all throw around ideas for the show so did you have a big hand in the creative process and coming up with some of the ideas? It sounds like a very free-form environment.

Yeah I mean I think that working with Jeanine Tesori on Shrek, I learned SO much from her and I'm such a fan of hers, and one thin that she said to me one day when we were talking I don't know what process we were in during Shrek and there was an idea that came up and I mentioned to her something about, what has been you experience with best idea wins or other people getting into the process? And she told me, 'I've had ushers give me incredible advice on how to fix a show.' And Jeanine said, 'I listen to that because they're the people who are in the theatre every night watching the audience and they're right.' She said, 'I'm so thankful for that.' That was such wonderful advice from Jeanine. It was such a wonderful thing to here because that's the way theatre is.

Theatre is a big collaboration and everyone is coming at it from different points of view. I've been in rooms as an actor before where it's only the director who has the final idea and no other ideas are welcome and I don't believe that. I think the best ideas just come from everywhere and that we are all trying to make the best art that it can be and we are all trying to make a great show. It doesn't matter where the idea comes from as long as it's coming from the right place. So, that's how I like to operate. There have been many moments where someone who isn't even in the scene watches it and says, 'Oh my God! What is he did this or that?' And you are like, 'Oh my God! Great idea! We are putting it in!' That makes the show work. I think it's fun to do that because everyone is operating on the same wave length as the show.

What's it been like being on the other side of the process?

Well it's exhausting. It's funny because in one case it's to me something that is more satisfying than the actor because you really get to shepherd the creative vision and you get to tell the story and the ideas that are in your head you get to put on stage. It's about getting this incredible creative team together from the costumes and the sets to the lighting and everything and getting everyone to tell the story together. That's my job as the director, to tell the story and keep a clear vision, which is so much fun because if you can dream it you can see it on stage and make it happen. That's the good part.

The hard part is when I'm acting you are really responsible for yourself and you get to go home at the end of rehearsals. Being the director is exhausting. It's the hardest job, but it's so rewarding and it's wonderful when you get to sit back and see everything come to life. I said to Marshall, one of our composers, the other day that there is nothing more exciting to me than seeing something in your head and thinking, 'I wonder how we can do that?' And then actually getting a chance to do it with all of these moving parts and the performers on stage. And then going, 'Oh my God! It looks great! It works.' Seeing that and bringing it to life it amazing. It's very different, but I think that definitely the actor is also a self director, you have to be. So it's just applying it in a different way, but yeah there is definitely less sleep!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski/Claudio Quest

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