In the first stages of his Broadway career, Jeff Calhoun had an almost Siamese working relationship with Tommy Tune. After all, Calhoun subbed for a vacationing Tune in My One and Only, staged the revue Tommy Tune Tonite!, and was working with the tall Texan on the out-of-town disaster, Busker Alley. Now, with a 1994 Tony nomination under his belt (for the Grease! revival) and a credit at the acclaimed Encores! series (for choreographing Strike Up The Band), Jones is ready to embark on a new collaboration. He's co choreographing Broadway's Annie Get Your Gun revival with Graciele Daniele. In our phone conversation, he had glowing words for his colleague and his leading lady -- and some enjoyable memories of his early years in show business.
Playbill On-Line: What was your first live theatre experience?
Jeff Calhoun: I saw three Broadway shows on Easter weekend in 1976: Grease, A Chorus Line and Pippin. And Chorus Line was the most thrilling because my parents could get just one ticket; I was 16 and went all by myself. The bad side was I was shocked that the theatres on Broadway were so small and dirty. I came from seeing shows at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall, so I thought all theatres were that big and beautiful.
PBOL: Once you'd built up a portfolio of work experience, what credit couldn't you wait to get off your resume?
JC: I was a dancer in the Miss Universe pageant. It was so long ago, I hardly remember. But I wore something spandex... and too tight.
PBOL: Who is your favorite person in theatre today?
JC: As a performer, it would definitely be Bernadette [Peters]. She's the greatest musical comedy star we have right now. That wonderful mix of being an incredible professional, but just as sweet and kind as anyone I've ever worked with. Behind the scenes, I'd have to say it would be Graciela Daniele. This has definitely been my favorite collaboration that I've ever had. And she's the most generous collaborator I've ever worked with.
PBOL: Have things ever been so bad, you considered giving up the theatre entirely? And what happened to make you change your mind?
JC: After the Busker Alley fiasco, I kind of thought about giving up theatre. Not really, but really. I was so depressed by the repercussions of Busker, I pretended I didn't want to do it anymore. But it was a knee-jerk reaction to the depression that followed. PBOL: What pulled you out?
JC: Time. And Kathleen Marshall asking me to do the Encores! series.
PBOL: What was your most embarrassing moment doing theatre?
JC: It was back when I was 16 -- Jeez, 1976 was quite a year! It was my first show as a dancer, and I was with the Kenley Players in Columbus, Ohio. We were doing Anything Goes, and I was dancing with Ann Miller. I tripped her. She fell, but no one got hurt. Still, It didn't help create a friendship between us. I don't think she talked to me for the rest of the run. But hey, it was a very slippery stage.
PBOL: What changes or refinements have you made to Annie Get Your Gun for the Broadway opening?
JC: Well, we're going to continue working on it through the last week in February [the show opens March 4]. Just recently in Washington, Daniele and I have done a new opening number, and a new dance number in act one on the train. We've cut the traditional opener -- "Colonel Buffalo Bill" -- and instead brought "There's No Business Like Show Business" to the front. That's the thing about the prologue to a show; most of the time you don't know what to do with it until you've done the whole show through. Then you go back and get it right. I think it took Michael Bennett eight tries to get Follies right. We've also brought back the parts of Tommy and Winnie, which Ethel Merman cut had cut from her production. Their first number wasn't really working, so we put in "I'll Share It All With You." Once we hit New York, though, we won't add any more numbers, we'll just do cleaning and refining.
PBOL: And your favorite moment in the show?
JC: Bernadette... singing "I Got Lost In His Arms."
-- By David Lefkowitz