BWW Interview: Director/Choreographer Daniel Pelzig Returns To Musical Theatre West With Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN!
Daniel Pelzig brings his own perspective to Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn
Ballet, opera and musical theater director Daniel Pelzig helms the musical version of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, playing at Musical Theatre West. This is Pelzig's fourth production with MTW, after My Fair Lady in 2015, Mary Poppins in 2017 and The Little Mermaid earlier this year.
"Paul Garman [executive director of Musical Theatre West] asked me to do Holiday Inn. It would be a difficult schedule since I just recently had been made a professor at Boston Conservatory at Berklee and this would mean taking time off. However, I love this theater. Paul gets an incredible talent pool and they're able to create musicals on a large scale. One of the things I learnt directing opera is [the ability] to move 70-100 people around the stage. It's just an adrenaline rush to work on a large scale.
"Many times in regional theater you're working with a pared down orchestra or a company the size of 15-17. Paul manages to cast large ensembles that match the weight and scale of the music. Therefore, I jumped at the opportunity."
Pelzig started his career as a ballet and musical theatre dancer. He had gone to the New York School of Ballet and had been hired as a swing for the 1980 Broadway revival of West Side Story starring Debbie Allen, directed by Jerome Robbins.
After a time, he moved into choreography and then direction. "I had worked with some extraordinary directors and some who couldn't read music. Whenever there was a dance or musical transitions, those directors would look to me to move people around the stage. I learned along the way that if I was going to stage part of a musical, I may as well direct the entire thing."
Pelzig found himself influenced by such directors as Larry Carpenter, who he worked with at Boston's Huntington Theatre, Molly Smith, who he worked with at Arena Stage on an earlier production of My Fair Lady, Francesca Zambello, director of Glimmerglass Festival and the Washington National Opera, and Mary Zimmerman of the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington DC.
Of course, there was much to learn from his first director back in 1980, Jerry Robbins. Working with Robbins was "a lesson to me in how to merge storytelling, musical theater staging, and choreographic development of character. Robbins [mastered the] synthesis of story, character and gestural movement and being able to create a frame and shape for a musical. [To Robbins], every principal and member of ensemble is important to tell a true emotional story [to which] the audience can respond.
Though Pelzig saw Holiday Inn on Broadway, he and choreographer Christine Negherbon have chosen their own path towards bringing the musical to life.
"When I work on a show, I want to tell the truth of these characters to give the story an emotional weight. Even though [Holiday Inn is] framed with a very familiar song book, they're all put in a context to propel the story forward.
"Often I choreograph on my own, but the rehearsal schedule didn't make it feasible. Enormous kudos for Christine [who perfected the choreography during a] 7-day rehearsal period. We have extraordinary dancers and tappers. [Christine is] my right-hand person. For any director/choreographer relationship, the most important part of the process is that colleagues share opinions and step into each other's work. This show wouldn't have been able to work without Christine."
Pelzig thinks of several questions when embarking on a new production. "How do you tell the best story possible? How do you keep the actors emotionally connected on stage to connect to the audience? How do you make it worthwhile for an audience to get off their digital devises and tv for live theater?
"Live theater is so important. I think there's something extraordinary, special about a shared experience that happens in theater whether play, musical, opera, ballet. There's nothing like live performance. I think in this day and age, people have become so used to viewing [media] through the tv screen or iPhones. They lose that shared connection of being in a room and feeling the hearts and souls and spirits of fellow theatergoers connecting with each other and those in stage. It gets people out of the bubble, and isolated and gives a shared experience which is what I think the world needs now."
Holiday Inn will be playing at Musical Theatre West at The Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach from December 6th to the 15th. Tickets can be purchased at http://musical.org/shows-tickets/
Photo Credit: Caught in the Moment Photography