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BWW Interviews: The Multi-Talented Marcia Milgrom Dodge on RAGTIME and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

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Michael: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me and Broadway World today.

Marcia: Sure, I'm a big fan of BroadwayWorld.

Michael: Thanks. Have you been to Denver before?

Marcia: Yes, I was hear a year ago when we did the workshop in the summer for this show, this musical has been in development for a few years. I came on board in fall of 2010, then we came to the playwrights summit in Feb of 2012 and we had a 2-week beautiful workshop. But I was also here 17 years ago, directing a Jeffrey Hatcher play that I had conceived. Donovan Marley, then the artistic director of the Denver Center, gave me this amazing production. It was a play called One Foot on the Floor Jeff adapted from Georges Feydeau's Le Dindon.

Michael: So you have collaborated with the Denver Center company before?

Marcia: There were some company members, but I was able to bring some New Yorkers, some of my favorite actors, so it was a really terrific and crazy production actually. We used a lot of the students...it was set in Hollywood in 1939, so we had an Art Deco-ey feel to the set. In the second act, there was a costume ball at the Hollywood Hotel. I got fourteen students to show up in some crazy costumes, which was really fun.

Michael: Have you ever thought of revising that?

Marcia: Well, you know, Jeffrey Hatcher and I have talked around it and we've kicked it around, but it's big. There's only a few theaters that would do it. Maybe we should have Denver Center revisit it again.

Michael: Absolutely! So what do you think of our fair city of Denver?

Marcia: Oh, I am enjoying Denver, but the weather is very confusing. We're all getting a little sick. One day we're bundled up, and the next day we're wearing t-shirts, so we're trying to figure out how to balance that out. But I love Denver. I think it's fun, and I especially love Larimer street.

Michael: So what are your thoughts on your cast of this new production?

Marcia: Oh, they're amazing. They're beautiful and incredibly talented...and amazing musicians. I think it's going to be a very romantic evening in the theater.

Michael: Can you tell me a little bit more about this new musical, Sense and Sensibility?

Marcia: Are you a Jane Austen reader? [Yes, I love Sense and Sensibility...I read the book and saw the movie] Jeff Haddow & Neal Hampton put together one of the most romantic and original scores to come along in a long time, and I think the musical, I think on one level we have to appeal to the Jane Austen groupies, they call themselves "Jane-ites". So they're going to come and see and hear their favorite characters sing their hearts out. And, then for the people who aren't Austen groupies, they're going to be in for the treat of the most romantic musical theater experience that they can possibly have. It's rooted in classical, but there's jazz, original rhythms and harmonies that you think are familiar, but it's new. Jeff Haddow took a strong novel and pared it down to the key characters and the most active events that we have this unbelievable mix of drama and playfulness because we have created an ensemble of society people who inhabit the play in different guises and at times kind of like twitterers, you know, gossiping about what's going on in all the different households and then at times they become characters in playful more fantasy guises. So it has really something for everybody. It's a musical where you're never going to settle in and know what's going to happen next. It's so exciting structured. We also have this amazing music team led by David Loud and Paul Masse and Kim Scharnberg & Neal Hampton are doing the orchestration, so it's just delicious.

Michael: So, in this day and age of movie musicals and more original works, how do you think this adaption of the Jane Austen novel will set itself apart from the other productions?

Marcia: If you're comparing it to the film, then you can't because they are completely different. We have a scene in Regents Park with statues, that I don't think was in the movie! We're authentic without being slavish in terms of our dialects and in terms of design. We have a beautiful design team. Emilio Sosa is doing the costumes, and he's bringing beautiful sense of texture and color that may not necessarily be what we read in books, we're not trying to do a museum piece. Were creating flesh and blood characters living at the height of their emotion and desperately grasping at relationships and figuring out how they function in the world. So it's visceral and physical and emotional, but presented in a regency style. But our sets are not literal. Allen Moyer's scenery takes us to the country, we go to the city, we go to London, we go to Norland Estate we go to a cottage in Devon, in Barton, so we're all over the place, and Allen has come up with a beautiful vocabulary for identifying all these locations. Jim Ingall's lighting creates mood and beautiful pictures throughout. And my background as a choreographer always comes into play, in that I try to keep the show moving and all the transitions will be interesting, and getting from one place to the other will be a lot of fun. It is a winning ticket.

Michael: I so look forward to this. I'm really fascinated by it. What do you hope the audience will take from this production?

Marcia: We've talked about it with marketing department. We feel like it's a real date musical for everybody to come hear and watch people fall in love and break their hearts and get them mended. I think it's a really exciting piece of theater to come and feel romantic and want to sort of snuggle up to your loved one. And also talk about these men and the suitors and the women and how they go about it and the conversation of sense and sensibility. Sensibility in its original definition means emotional, and the word sensible exists within it. So we have adapted that and I believe that Jane Austen believes that you can't have one without the other, just like you can't have cities without country, and everything works sort of collaboratively, men and women, black and white, and light and dark, and there are opposites in the world, and its a matter of figuring out how to work both of those to your best effect and flourish. And I think that it really presents all the stuff to talk about and know passionately about the emotional Marianne and logical Elinor and putting them together with the others characters and finding their relationship as sisters. I think that if you have a sibling or parent, or have a child, are a child, or were a child I think really its a story for all human beings. I want to make sure that it doesn't feel precious or profound or at all like a museum piece that it's really living now that the characters are breathing and hearts are beating and it all feels very visceral and modern even though it's being presented in a period design.

Michael: You're coming off a much celebrated production of Ragtime, how was that experience for you?

Marcia: Oh my gosh, well from the moment the authors called and asked me to do it, through the journey to the night of the Tony Awards, this was just an unbelievably blessed event on so many levels. It was beyond my dreams, to get to work on material like that it's so beloved and deservedly so and to meet E.L. Doctorow and understand the differences between the novel and the musical and do all of that digging and finding the beautiful company that we had in Washington and then the transfer to New York, it was an amazing couple of years of my life and I feel very lucky that I got to do it and that it ended up on Broadway. The only hard part was that it didn't run longer. I'll never really understand why that happened, it kind of breaks my heart a little. But I will always keep it as one of the most treasured experiences of my career.

Michael: So a couple of interesting questions for our readers. One of them is if you're not doing theater, in a parallel universe what do you think would be your profession?

Marcia: If I wasn't doing theater? Oh my goodness, that's the kind of question that James Lipton would ask on Inside the Actor's Studio. I love teaching, so maybe I'd be a teacher.

Michael: Interesting and thank you for the compliment. Is there a play or musical that you absolutely adore that you would direct over and over again?

Marcia: Yes, On the Town. It's not produced often. The thing that I love about On the Town is you know, obviously Leonard Bernstein's music is gorgeous. But it does do a little bit of what's happening here in Sense and Sensibility without the dream ballets. There are a couple of sequences that would be constituted as fantasy, but my favorite thing about On the Town is that it is so many different styles produced under one roof. So you've got the Comden & Green musical-comedy scenes, then you've got passionate, beautiful romantic ballads and ballets. To me, every ingredient of that show is something I'd love to dig into and take a bite of. I had the privilege of doing it a couple of times once as a choreographer, at the Arena Stage back in the 80's, and then I directed and choreographed a production at Goodspeed Opera House in the early 90's. It was just rising to the challenge of working of that kind of material.

Michael: I do feel like its one of his most unappreciated works. It's just so wonderful and so rarely seen.

Marcia: Yes...I just don't understand why...it should be an annual summer, 4th of July show. It's an American classic, and a war musical. We need to be reminded that the boys who go and fight the wars are BOYS...18! These boys in On the Town have 24 hours and then they get back on the ship and who knows what happens to them. There is a deep heartbeat to that musical-- the pursuit of young love and the great ticking clock of 24 hours. It's a beautiful, beautiful structured show, and I'm always looking for an opportunity to do it or to find a material that moves me the same way. I believe that Sense and Sensibility did that. It's definitely shares a kind of passion and romance...deep sort of heartbreak, that is essential in a musical.

Michael: I always find parallels of On the Town with Parade by Jason Robert Brown because of its amazing music and story.

Marcia: That's a beautiful show that I haven't had the opportunity to work on.

Michael: So what is next for you after this?

Marcia: Next for me, I'm actually directing the Kennedy Center's Spring Gala. It's a concert staging of My Fair Lady with Jonathan Pryce, Laura Michelle Kelly, Michael York, Greg Jbara, Cloris Leachman, Max von Essen and Florence Lacey as our principals.

Michael: Oh my goodness, can I come? That sounds amazing!

Marcia: Jim Moore is conducting and we are reunited for this one night event at the Kennedy Center. And then I have a whole bunch of summer stuff planned... I'm doing Really Rosie at Bucks County Playhouse ... A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with one of my favorite theaters, Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, NY. Then I'm doing a co-production with Cincinnati Playhouse and St. Louis Rep of Cabaret. And I directed Cabaret a couple of years ago in Los Angeles, and I'm getting to work on it again in this co-production. And then I'm going to collapse.

Michael: You deserve a break, you definitely do. Thank you so much for speaking with me and Broadway World today. It's so interesting to talk to you, and your very talented career. And I can't wait for Sense and Sensibility.

The Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC) has assembled an all-star group of award-winning Broadway veterans to bring one of Jane Austen's beloved romances to life. A runaway hit at the 2012 Colorado New Play Summit, SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL runs now through May 26th in The Stage Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 14th and Curtis Streets, Denver. Casting for SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL will begin shortly in New York. For tickets of more information, contact the Denver Center Box Office at 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.

Photo Credit: www.sneakpeekphotography.com

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