Warren Carlyle interview: ‘The Music Man’ choreographer
“We had the chance to make something truly joyous,” explains Tony nominee Warren Carlyle of “The Music Man.” With Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster as the stars in this revival, the stage was set for the choreographer to craft a show where “you can leave all your troubles outside the doors.” He credits much of that joy to a new approach, one focused on character. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“I have two stars who can really dance,” notes Carlyle, referencing Jackman and Foster. “So there was an opportunity there to make the show dance in perhaps a way it hasn’t done before.” Golden Age musicals of the 30s and 40s are this choreographer’s bread and butter, as seen in his efforts with previous revivals of “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Hello Dolly!” But these classics often contain giant ensembles (“The Music Man” is no exception, with a cast of 50 performers total, including the swings), so the large group numbers often become the focus for him. But the process was reversed for this show.
SEE Can Sutton Foster (‘The Music Man’) parlay her Drama League upset into Tony Award #3?
“I actually got to build it from the heart outwards,” describes Carlyle. The pandemic-induced industry shutdown produced this silver lining by allowing the Tony nominee to work closely with Jackman. The pair got together several times every week to work on the choreography, even though Broadway was completely shut down. “I got to know the character of Harold Hill and I got to know his point of view very clearly,” reveals Carlyle, “and from that I built the rest of the show.” As a result, he believes that his work in this show is more “story-based and character-based” than any of his previous productions.
Carlyle believes creating dances for the Wolverine star is “like a writer who writes for an actor… I know the way he moves, I know how his ankles work, I know which is his stronger side.” The longstanding collaboration between these two men means that this Harold Hill pulls off some fancy footwork that is all tailor-made for Jackman’s unique skill set. “That’s 25 years of working with someone and knowing someone,” suggests Carlyle.
As for the ensemble that swirls around the leading man, the choreographer admits that it is a “painstaking” process to solidify those massive moments of dance. “It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge,” he exclaims. That’s because in songs like “Rock Island,” “Shipoopi” or “Marian the Librarian,” the dancers are in constant motion. Each musical phrase is packed to the brim with quick, small movements on seemingly every beat. Harold gives the gift of the performing arts to the stubborn Iowa townspeople, so it was important that while they embark on a satisfying emotional journey during the show, his choreography also provides them with a “physical journey.” It all culminates in a jubilant finale that lifts the audience out of their seats. If Carlyle’s mission statement was, as he says, “to bring joy,” then mission accomplished.
Carlyle won a Tony Award for his choreography in “After Midnight.” He was also nominated for his direction of “After Midnight” and for choreographing ‘Kiss Me, Kate.” He earned an Emmy nomination for the “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.”