BWW Interviews: Director Josh Rhodes Dons Sherlock's Cap for Old Globe BASKERVILLE
Multitalented choreographer and director Josh Rhodes has lent his unique brilliance to productions from Broadway to Chicago and the New York Philharmonic stage. His breathtaking choreography was recently seen in San Diego in the Drama Desk Award-nominated Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella (/san-diego/article/BWW-Reviews-Broadway-San-Diegos-CINDERELLA-Gallops-Its-Way-Into-Hearts-20150508#).
Known for his bold, fearless style, Rhodes switches caps this week to direct the west coast Premiere of Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. Rhodes directs a talent-filled cast for the award-winning playwright's comedy-filled mystery featuring Conan Doyle's ever-popular and beloved literary characters Holmes and Watson.
EM: Josh, your choreography for Cinderella was stunning. I was captivated.
JR: You are so sweet to say this. I am so thrilled that you loved CINDERELLA. It was a real treat to work on. It was also happy to get to turn to ballet for the inspiration for the romance. I have always loved classic corps de ballet but had never used it as a choreographer. It was so much fun.
EM: You have choreographed some of our most beloved and best-known musicals. Please tell us about the journey that led you into that world.
JR: Why thank you! I danced for many years in seven different Broadway musicals. Throughout those incredible projects, I watched some of the greatest minds in theater work in the rehearsal room. I was able to observe the process from the inside as an actor, understudy, swing, dance captain, and assistant. It was after I assisted Casey Nicholaw on THE DROWSY CHAPERONE that I began to get work on my own as a choreographer and my career on the creative side began.
EM: Crossing over from choreographer to director is somewhat rare. Clearly you are multi-talented. How do you manage to wear both of these caps?
JR: I have worked on many shows with actors that call for "musical staging." There are certain shows that need heightened behavior, as opposed to steps. These shows are usually written for actor-singers, as opposed to dancers. I developed a language for staging shows where the director's work and the choreographer's touch feel the same.
As a choreographer, I have also been blessed with incredible directors who have taught me so much about staging and structure. These wonderful collaborators have given me the opportunity to stage moments of a musical that are not always the place where a choreographer uses their touch. Having these opportunities has taught me so much about direction that it has given me the confidence to venture out as a director.
And theater really comes down to story. What story are you telling? How are you going to tell this particular tale to the audience? The job is the same no matter what position you fill. The lighting designer, the set designer, the music arranger, has the same issue as the choreographer and director. How does my department highlight the story? I believe there is a great sameness to the two jobs.
EM: What brought you to the Old Globe? Is this your first foray - dare I say, leap - into directing there?
JR: Yes, it is indeed my first leap directing at the Old Globe and my first time directing a play. I am here because of the work I did last season on the new musical BRIGHT STAR. Barry Edelstein, the artistic director here at the Old Globe, was a part of the long process of readings and workshops that crafted the show before it arrived in San Diego. Barry took notice of my effort to give BRIGHT STAR a sense of poetry and style in the way it moved from scene to scene. The director, Walter Bobbie, allowed me to make the most of a very simple set provided by the great Eugene Lee. Luckily for me, Barry and the staff took notice of my contribution and asked me back to create something else for them. I am thrilled that they did.
EM: How daunting is it to direct a rendering of one of literature's most iconic stories and its eminently recognizable character, Sherlock Holmes?
JR: At first it was extremely daunting! Everyone has his or her own demands for the characters. When I first got this job I asked everyone around me to quickly tell me three things they remember about Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I quickly realized that I didn't want to disappoint certain iconic images that people really hold as their version of Holmes. But what I was happy to hear is that people tend to hold a memory for certain props, costume pieces, and deductive reason. They all have a different idea of how he behaved. This was very liberating to me. There is no way to recreate everyone's favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery when there are so many wonderful takes on the duo.
What makes it easier is that Ken Ludwig, the master playwright, has done such a brilliant job of honoring the classic Holmes, but placing him in a theatrical scenario unlike any other version you will ever see. Because of this, I felt the need to honor certain iconic props and costume pieces, but let the rest evolve into something unique for this production.
EM: Playwright Ken Ludwig has said, "I think Hound is the very best of all the Holmes stories." Would you care to weigh in on that?
JR: It is certainly safe to say it is one of the best. The writing is spectacular, and the way Arthur Conan Doyle crafts the puzzle to slowly lock into place is spectacular. I think people love this story because it has action and fascinating sleuthing all mixed together in an adrenaline filled plot with a mythical killer beast. Who doesn't want to read that?
I also find that people have a special love for the FIRST Sherlock Holmes book they read. It holds a special place in their hearts. So the subject is debatable. But I am in agreement with Ken on this.
EM: Holmes has fascinated to readers and audiences for an extraordinary amount of time. Do you think the character will ever lose his mystique or his appeal?
JR: I think of Holmes and Watson as our super heroes for intellectuals, and just as we never tire of Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, we never tire of seeing our sleuthing heroes face another villain with a brilliant mind. These characters take a dark and terrible situation and analyze the facts from every angle until they find reason and truth. It is always inspiring to reach the end of one of these mysteries with every question answered. It satisfies a deep human need for order. This appeal will last a very long time I imagine.
EM: Literary experts say that mysteries are "very hot" right now. Would you agree?
JR: Again, I think mysteries are always "hot" for people because of our brain's need to solve puzzles. However, the Sherlock Holmes mystery is hot because we love seeing an old friend come back into our lives and make sense of the chaos. There is comfort in that. And hopefully a great night at the theater!
Baskerville opens July 30 and by popular demand the run has been extended through Aug. 30. (http://www.theoldglobe.org/)
Photo Credit: Old Globe Theatre