PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Kathleen Marshall

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Kathleen Marshall
 
On Nov. 5, with the first preview of Wonderful Town, Kathleen Marshall will enter a rarified club peopled by Susan Stroman, her own brother Rob Marshall and just a few others; she will become a Broadway director-choreographer.

Up until now, she has only choreographed Broadway shows, including Kiss Me, Kate, Seussical and Little Shop of Horrors. Her ticket to hyphenated glory is the first-ever Broadway revival of Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden's 1953 musical about two sisters finding their way in 1930s New York City. The new show began life in 2000 at City Center's Encores!, where Marshall received some valuable practice at the helm as artistic director of the musicals-in-concert series. Her first Broadway directing assignment will be followed next spring by a revival of The Pajama Game, another musical she first directed at Encores! At a recent press preview of Wonderful Town, Marshall talked about her new responsibilities.

Playbill On-Line: What did you do toward expanding Wonderful Town between the Encores! staging and the Broadway production?
Kathleen Marshall: We decided to leave the orchestra on stage, because Leonard Bernstein's score is one of the stars of the show. And, to me, Leonard Bernstein's music is New York. We really wanted to leave that front and center as one of the city's showcases.

PBOL: How do you do that practically?
KM: Well, [set designer] John Lee Beatty has built a beautiful, representational set, where the orchestra is part of a cityscape and things float in and around [the orchestra members]. The apartment floats in around them, and windows and things like that. But you always have their presence, which I love, because they represent the energy of New York.

PBOL: Is the 24-person orchestra something you fought for?
KM: Oh, yeah. We reduced it a little bit from the City Center orchestra. But it was really generous of these producers to give us the 24-piece orchestra. It's one of the few orchestrations written for trumpets, and it's a thrilling sound. It's the original orchestrations.

PBOL: About the score, are there any cut songs or interpolations?
KM: It's all the original score. We haven't made any changes. We haven't interpolated any songs or cut any songs. What's so brilliant about the score is it's so integrated into the story, you can't take the songs out. They don't work out of context. It's such a sophisticated score, but a joyous score as well. PBOL: You get to do the first Broadway production of Wonderful Town in 50 years. What personal stamps have you put on the show?
KM: I think the main thing that makes this show contemporary is this cast. We're not trying to reinvent the show, not trying to deconstruct it, but to do it with great affection for these characters and for this story. These actors have such vibrancy. They understand doing a period style, but do it with contemporary energy and edge. They basically make it modern without us having to put a new stamp on it.

PBOL: You are directing and choreographing for the first time on Broadway. Is that nervous-making?
KM: Yes. It's terrifying. Which is why I've surrounded myself with as many friends as possible. This design team and this cast—most of them I've worked with before, so it's very comforting. They're giving me complete support.

PBOL: Your career in that area is growing. What's the progress of The Pajama Game, which you will also direct and choreograph?
KM: We're in development with that. Peter Ackerman is writing a new book—or, an adapted book, I should say, because we're still working with the same characters. Hopefully, it will be ready in December and we'll get it rolling in the spring. That's what we hope.

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