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, 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.

RA: I think everybody wants to see that, for the dancers do that of course, but everybody wants to see the leading man and leading lady do it too, to see those characters they spend two hours with do it too. That's one reason why I think people respond to the License Plate number, because there's Cry-Baby at the center and there is Dupree, these characters that you know, there are some great dancing guys up there and they're amazing, but you've got your lead guy there so it's invested in a different way. And when we do the chase which is the part following when they escape, we have all our principals there, Allison's there, Leonora, you have to keep that fabric of the storytelling going, or I think you just tire of some things, I think probably without the principals involved and without the storytelling I think that number maybe could of held one third what it is, as far as length and as far as time, but because you've got your principals in there, because you have him and you have her, you can stretch it a little bit.

EV: The dancing in Cry Baby also lends itself to the story as far as what's at stake dramatically, in this very John Waters world. His characters while extreme, have always seemed real in his work. I think that is why they have translated so well to the stage.

RA: I agree with you, his characters in his movies are very extreme but they are also very real.

EV: Which is true in real life in many way

RA: It sure is, it sure is.

EV: This season it does strike me that there are many extreme characters gracing the Broadway stage!

RA: Absolutely, well, look, Patti LuPone, Mama Rose, that's an extreme big personality, but it's potent.

EV: You've been working on a number of other "big" projects too…

RA: We just finished the Leap Of Faith workshop, and then coming up I'm making my directorial debut with Brigadoon, a total new revised idea on it, a new book, a whole different kind of take on the show,we start that this fall in Boston, at the Colonial in the fall.

EV: That's very exciting, as always things keeping busy and creative!

RA: Yes, keeping busy!

EV: Congratulations again on your well deserved nomination!

RA: Thanks so much.

Based upon the Universal Pictures film written and directed by John Waters, Cry-Baby is playing at Broadway's Marquis Theatre (1535 Broadway)previews started Saturday, March 15th and opening night was Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Cry-Baby has songs by David Javerbaum, the Emmy-winning executive producer and former head writer of "The Daily Show," and Adam Schlesinger, Grammy-nominated for his work with the band Fountains of Wayne and Oscar-nominated for the song "That Thing You Do" from the film of the same name.Cry-Baby's book is by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan who received the Tony Award for best book for their work on the hit musical, Hairspray.Cry-Baby is directed by Mark Brokaw, who is perhaps best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, How I Learned to Drive, and choreographed by Rob Ashford who received a Tony Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie.John Waters serves as creative consultant.

For information about Cry-Baby, visit
Photo by Walter McBride/Retna Ltd

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