Just as Joseph wore a coat of many colors, musical theatre notable Scott Wise is exploring new avenues of artistic expression. He started as a dancer, leading to a Tony in 1989's Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and more recently received a Featured Actor Tony nomination for dancing, singing and acting in State Fair.
This summer, Wise played the lead in the Goodspeed Opera House's new musical, Lucky In The Rain. He's been tapped to star in Livent's "Bob Fosse Project" for early 1998, but before that, he's going behind the scenes in Nyack, NY. He'll make his debut as a choreographer for the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center's mounting of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Opening Dec. 12, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice version of the biblical story runs to Dec. 28.
Also in the cast are John Sawyer, Michael Berry, Alex Sanchez, Rodney Hicks, Billy Brasea, Billy Burke, Angela Robinson and Lorna Ventura. Gordon Greenberg, former artistic associate of NY's Musical Theatre Works, directs.
* Wise, one of the best-known male gypsies in the theatre, was cast in the pre-Broadway run of Dream but abruptly left the show shortly before it's pre-Broadway engagement in Nashville. The Theatre Development Fund bestowed their 1995 Astaire Award for Best Male Dancer on Wise for his work in countless musicals -- among them Cats, Song and Dance, Carrie, the Guys and Dolls revival, The Goodbye Girl, and the Damn Yankees! revival.
Interviewed at the time of Lucky In The Rain's opening, Wise told Playbill On-Line, "Broadway was never my goal. My career happened on a dare. I was at the Joffrey Ballet School. In 1980, a couple of guys were going to an open call for A Chorus Line, which I had just seen. I was a 'ballerina' and not necessarily ready to move on. They wanted me along. You know, safety in numbers, but I didn't have money for a token. Jeff Amston, who went on to dance on Broadway and teach, gave me one. To this day he feels he's responsible for my success!"
Tom Reed, who was then dance captain, showed Wise what was required. "'No big deal,' I told myself. I did it and they asked me to come back. Tom said, 'You're going to be singing tomorrow.' I went, 'Okay.' He asked, 'Where's your headshot?' I replied, 'Headshot? I don't have one.' He told me, 'You'll need a picture and resume.'"
Wise found a piece of paper and wrote, "From Spokane, University of Idaho, Royal Academy of Dance in London, studying at the Joffrey Ballet School, gymnastics a specialty." He went to Times Square and had a picture taken in one of those four-for-a-dollar booths and stapled it to the paper. He got the job playing Mike Costa and singing "I Can Do That" for a year on Broadway.
Nine years later he was hired for Jerome Robbins' Broadway and found himself in the company of veteran dancers, but he wasn't intimidated. "I wanted to dance and that's what I would be doing. Jerry and I got along great and developed a lasting friendship."
Was Robbins the taskmaster we've heard and read about? "Oh, yeah! He came down hard if you didn't work hard, but he worked harder. He didn't tell you to do something and then throw a fit if you got it wrong. He hardly sat back and pointed. He worked his butt off."
The recognition of winning a Tony was great, but Wise explained people came to expect more. "Don't get me wrong, everyone should win one. But in some ways, it hurt. You win a Tony because you have a facility as an actor or performer to do something that lets you show off. Me winning a Tony was a prize for getting up onstage and doing what I love. Dancing is what I know.
"Unfortunately, the Tony raised me up a notch. I'd go to an audition and they'd whispher, 'Hummm. He can dance but he can't act.' There was a lot of head scratching and I'm sure they wondered 'How'd he win a Tony?'"
Wise chose to continue going up for mainly dance shows. "I never had aspirations so I was fine," he observed. Wise was in demand, at the top of every choreographer's short list. He could be relied upon to do knockout work that had audiences on the edge of their seats. "Unfortunately I relaxed on what came easy instead of working on what didn't. It was a mistake. I should have worked harder on my singing and acting to break out earlier."
With hundreds of applicants for the part of Pat in State Fair, why did Randy Skinner (and co-director James Hammerstein) choose Wise? "Scott read well," said Skinner, "and was right physically. He's at home onstage. He loves to dance and it shows. Having him in the role added dimension. Also, he can carry a solo. With Scott you don't have to worry. He intrinsically understands a role. In real life, he's a a charmer who goes about what he does with ease. It's not often you find a performer who can bring that same essence to his stage persona."
Even after making "the break," Wise has returned to ensemble dance work. After his departure from Dream, he considered returning to Cats, but opted to join the chorus of Victor/ Victoria.
For tickets and information on Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Helen Hayes Center, call (914) 358-6333.