PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with John Rando

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with John Rando After years of working his way to the top, director John Rando achieved his place in theatre history as he received a Tony Award win for Best Direction of a Musical for his work on Urinetown. However, the story doesn't end there, consider that show merely a benchmark for the helmer who continues to keep busy on project after project. Lined up at the moment: turning San Diego's Globe into northern Italy for Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, building his Urine Nation with the Urinetown national tour and London premiere, outfitting Broadway's Minskoff as a Transylvanian graveyard for the upcoming musical Dance of the Vampires and directing yet another David Ives new work, Polish Joke, at Connecticut's Long Wharf and possibly at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The actively employed Rando spoke with Playbill On-Line's Ernio Hernandez amidst a final tech rehearsal for Shrew — whose logo bears a resemblance to that of Dance — about Shakespeare, the whereabouts of his unseen Tony, his mother — whom he acknowledged in his acceptance speech by saying "Mom, you can take the oxygen off. It's okay now" — and his evolution as a director.
John Rando garners a 2002 Tony Award and two of several upcoming projects.
John Rando garners a 2002 Tony Award and two of several upcoming projects. (Photo by Rando photo by Aubrey Reuben)

After years of working his way to the top, director John Rando achieved his place in theatre history as he received a Tony Award win for Best Direction of a Musical for his work on Urinetown. However, the story doesn't end there, consider that show merely a benchmark for the helmer who continues to keep busy on project after project. Lined up at the moment: turning San Diego's Globe into northern Italy for Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, building his Urine Nation with the Urinetown national tour and London premiere, outfitting Broadway's Minskoff as a Transylvanian graveyard for the upcoming musical Dance of the Vampires and directing yet another David Ives new work, Polish Joke, at Connecticut's Long Wharf and possibly at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The actively employed Rando spoke with Playbill On-Line's Ernio Hernandez amidst a final tech rehearsal for Shrew — whose logo bears a resemblance to that of Dance — about Shakespeare, the whereabouts of his unseen Tony, his mother — whom he acknowledged in his acceptance speech by saying "Mom, you can take the oxygen off. It's okay now" — and his evolution as a director.

Playbill On-Line: You're currently working on a production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre. That sounds like a nice summer gig...
John Rando: That's true, it is my summer gig. We've been having a lot of fun working on it. It's actually a terrific comedy and I love working on Shakespeare and working at the Globe Theatre. San Diego is one of the great places to work on Shakespeare, such a great outdoor facility they have. This play, which I started working on in October, of all times, just after Urinetown opened, has just been a delight to actually be in rehearsal now with it. We're actually in the middle of tech [performances began June 23].

PBOL: Why the decision to go back to Shakespeare?
JR: Shakespeare is really where I started my career. It's such a challenging and yet delightful [venture], it's such interesting writing. And his work is so informative to anyone interested in theatre, play construction, use of language, all of that. It's just extremely theatrical and therefore, like going to the gymnasium and getting a really great workout.

PBOL: Let's talk Tony. The standard question seems to be, "Where do you keep your Tony Award?"
JR: The thing about that is that they had to engrave it and then they send it to me and I'm not quite sure where it is right now. [Laughs.] So, I haven't seen it yet. I arrive back in New York City in a week and a half after we open here and hopefully it'll be waiting for me there. And so, I assume right now it's in a little box with all the rest of our mail. So that's where it is! "Where it will go?" That's the other question. We live in a very small, of course, New York apartment and there's not a lot of choices.

PBOL: I imagine it might fit above the toilet somewhere...
JR: Yeah. [Laughs.] In the bathroom I guess is the right place for it, considering the play. PBOL: What were the moments after the win like? Has your mom settled down?
JR: That's very funny, my mom has had heart trouble and she is actually on oxygen. She was watching in Houston Texas, with my sister who lives there. And my mom was really really amazed and thrilled and couldn't talk. Right afterwards, they called me on my cell phone and mom tried to talk but she couldn't. It was very emotional. Really, really quite wonderful. I'm just so sad she couldn't be there. My father came, which was really nice, that someone could come from my family. And, of course, my wife was there and she was thrilled. And then, it all was so sudden. I didn't realize how fast it would happen and before I knew it, we were at the party and I of course hadn't eaten all night. [Laughs.] So that's basically all I did, was just go and get some food and eat and then go home. The Dodgers had a party over at Laura Belle and I was there afterward briefly. So that was that and I had to turn around the next day and I had a full day of production meetings and auditions for Dance of the Vampires. Then, on the next day, I flew back out to San Diego and went into rehearsal. But, when I arrived here to go into rehearsal again, I walked in and the entire staff of the Globe, which is about 200 people or so, were in the rehearsal hall and they totally surprised me. They were shouting "Tony, Tony, Tony" It was really quite wonderful.

PBOL: Why do you think Urinetown didn't win?
JR: Well, in my eyes, Urinetown won in many ways. It was so great for Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis and myself. I mean, we're so completely honored by this, and, for us, that was enormous. The fact that Urinetown even arrived on Broadway was such an achievement, especially for the downtown New York theatre scene. So, the fact that the musical didn't win "The Big One" doesn't really matter. What matters is that we're there and that we're doing well and that we were acknowledged in ways that we were very honored to be.

PBOL: Will there be any changes for the national touring production?
JR: We don't know yet. We're going to have to adjust because of this surround thing in the theatre and I've staged it to where it really surrounds the audience. I'm not quite sure we'll be able to do that theatre to theatre in the country, but we'll find something that will be will be unique to that.

PBOL: Moving on to Dance of the Vampires, you're not into rehearsals yet...
JR: No, we're really knee-deep in pre-production. Well, joining me on the show for the choreography is John Carrafa and he did such amazing work with me on Urinetown, I insisted he come aboard with this. So, we've been working physically and conceptually on the show. Then, David Ives has been doing revisions on the book. He and I collaborated on numerous shows at Encores! So, working with David has really been special and really helped focus the play.

PBOL: How different will it be from the German production of Tanz Der Vampire?
JR: It is going to be different than it is in Germany. I think the biggest difference is that, in Germany, it's a sung-through piece without any spoken word or just very few. Here in New York, it's going to be a book musical. We've also done a lot of changes in the construction of the play. Jim Steinman has also changed the music in many places. So, we all are really excited because it feels like a new musical and has really grown from where it is in Germany right now.

PBOL: How different will it be from the source material, Roman Polanski's movie, "The Fearless Vampire Killers"?
JR: It has the characters and the story and the kind of humor of it. But, the way we get through the story is different.

PBOL: Would you say the new work is a spoof in the sense that Urinetown is?
JR: It's very tricky. I like to call it a "funny scare" which I think is what we're really going for: something that's a lot of fun, that is amazing rock 'n' roll music, but that is funny and also scary at the same time. Where you could have a really good time and yet you are spooked. It's a remarkable piece because it has this wonderful [Roman] Polanski ending, which I won't go into too much detail, but I think the genius of his writing and his movies is how sometimes they can turn on themselves. And we very much embrace that with this piece. It's an exciting event, it should be a lot of fun. It's really amazing to be working with Michael Crawford because he's such a consummate professional and a real thrill to watch him create and develop the character over the course of months, a year really.

PBOL: Have you been workshopping with him?
JR: We've been doing little sessions and meeting with him. We're building a terrific cast around him, Rene Auberjonois, Max von Essen and Mandy Gonzalez — we're so thrilled with our young part of the show. And then we're still filling out the cast completely.

PBOL: This endeavor has been composer Jim Steinman's "baby" — he's been working on it forever — how involved is he in the current production?
JR: Very much involved in the quality and tone and ideas of the play, obviously the music. He's very much a part of it. It is, as you say, "his baby." He's such an amazing songwriter and loves the theatre. I'm so impressed by his knowledge and love of the theatre, especially because one associates him, almost entirely, with this amazing rock 'n' roll songwriting career. One forgets that he's done a lot of musical theatre and I had no idea for his love and affection for that. It's encyclopedic almost, in terms of his knowledge.

PBOL: What was the first show you ever directed?
JR: In high school, I did a play called The Butler Did It, which wasn't the [Joe] Orton play [What the Butler Saw]. It was this silly comedy spoof not unlike Neil Simon's "Murder by Death."

PBOL: How has directing changed for you since?
JR: Wow. [Laughs.] Well, I feel like I've developed...over the course of so many years...going through the UCLA graduate program, going through the University of Texas for my undergraduate, studying in Europe under a Fulbright fellowship and then developing my work as an assistant director for over five years, working with people like John Tillinger, Jack O'Brien, Lynne Meadow, Joe Dowling and numerous others. I really felt that I had this amazing incubation as a director in American theatre. And then, sort of sprouting my wings Off-Off Broadway to doing classical work Off Broadway at the Pearl Theatre Company and working in Primary Stages and really developing my work there. And in the musical theatre too, I had this enormous, huge opportunity at City Center Encores! to begin my career in musical theatre there, which is like doing summer stock with the A-Team as Walter Bobbie once said, and have really my first professional musical theatre experience there was just an amazing, important breakthrough in my career. The kind of restraints you have there, in terms of only having a week to put together an enormous musical, yet working with some of the great musical theatre performers, was really key to my development in musical theatre.

PBOL: Any parting advice for budding directors out there?
JR: Assist if you can, work with the great ones and trust your vision and find your way.