Remembering Tony-Winning Directors/Choreographers -- Part 2

Tony Awards   Remembering Tony-Winning Directors/Choreographers -- Part 2
 
From the Special Tony Playbill:

From the Special Tony Playbill:


Remembering some of the great Tony winning directors and choreographers.


TREVOR NUNN

Trevor Nunn, one of the busiest and most influential directors in British theatre for more than 30 years, was recently named to succeed Richard Eyre as artistic director of the Royal National Theatre. Between 1968 and 1986 Nunn served as artistic director of Britain's other glorious repertory troupe, the Royal Shakespeare Company. Among the plays he directed during his tenure at the RSC were The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, All's Well That Ends Well and Othello. He is perhaps best known in this country as the director of several Andrew Lloyd Webber shows, including Cats (which earned him a Tony Award), Starlight Express, Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard. With John Caird, he co-directed two of the greatest triumphs of his career, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and Les Miserables, both of which earned them Tony Awards. Nicholas Nickleby was one of the major theatrical events in contemporary theatre history. It wasn't just the sheer scope of the play performed over two evenings that made it unforgettable. It was the play itself, along with superb acting and the kind of stagecraft that makes people fall in love with theatre. As Otis L. Guernsey Jr. wrote in an essay in his Best Plays of 1981-1982: "What made Nicholas Nickleby a bargain at $100 and up . . . was its reaffirmation of basic stage values . . . For example, we could swear that we saw a stage coach loaded, hitched and setting out on its journey with passengers . . . but on second thought it must have been merely an illusion created with a few common objects and a group of uncommon actors under the direction of Trevor Nunn and John Caird . . . The suspense was not in what was to happen, but in how it happened in episode after episode whose every detail was worth watching carefully."
Tony Award Winner: Best Director of a Play, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, 1982. Best Director of a Musical, Cats, 1983; Les Miserables, 1987.

ARTHUR PENN
Although Arthur Penn is best known as the director of such films as Bonnie and Clyde, Alice's Restaurant, Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, he was originally a man of the theatre. During the 1950's he wrote and directed television dramas for "Philco Playhouse" and "Playhouse 90." In 1958 he directed his first Broadway play, Two for the Seesaw, which earned Anne Bancroft a Tony Award. Penn and Bancroft teamed again a year later on The Miracle Worker: This time both of them won Tonys. Penn's theatre career continued to thrive with such plays as Toys in the Attic, All the Way Home and the musical Golden Boy starring Sammy Davis, Jr. His gift for bringing out the best in actors is underscored by the fact that in each of the aforementioned straight plays, he inspired a Tony Award performance by an actress. He produced similar results with the film version of The Miracle Worker, which earned Oscars for Bancroft and Patty Duke. Penn's appreciation of actors is such that when asked to describe his most vivid memory of working on the stage version of The Miracle Worker, he chooses to salute his leading ladies. "It was a daily wonder to me that Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke were able to reach such heights of acting communication where only one of them was able to speak," he says. "Their interaction was a testament to the grace of great acting."
Tony Award Winner: Best Director of a Play, The Miracle Worker, 1960.

HAROLD PRINCE
During his remarkable career Hal Prince has won more Tony Awards than anyone else, earning 20 as director and/or producer. But it is not quantity that makes him one of the most influential artists in the history of musical theatre. It is the uncompromising quality of his work. During the 1970's Prince and Stephen Sondheim collaborated on some of the freshest, most innovative shows ever to appear on Broadway, including Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and Pacific Overtures. Together they transformed musical theatre. With or without Sondheim, Prince has always been interested in staging musicals with a strong social or political content, in musicals that reflect the way we live, in musicals that make us think as well as feel, in musicals that jolt us out of our complacency. His eight directing Tonys were awarded for Cabaret, Company, Follies, Candide, Sweeney Todd, Evita, Phantom of the Opera and the current production of Show Boat: Those shows provide a microcosm of the type of musical theatre that galvanizes him and, ultimately, Broadway. Garth Drabinsky, producer of Show Boat, talked about the Hal Prince he knows, the man behind the director. "The thing that touched Hal most about Show Boat was the aspect of the family," says Drabinsky. "Increasingly, over the last seven or eight years that I've known him, I've seen how family has become more and more relevant in his life. I think he wanted this production of Show Boat to be very much an expression of how he perceives the importance of family. It's apparent by the warmth that's exuded in every facet of the show. The other thing about Hal is that he is extremely generous, and generosity of spirit is not always evident in the arts. He writes memorandums to artists about how he was affected by their performance. Taking the time to show that kind of consideration is very becoming."
Tony Award Winner: Best Producer of a Musical, The Pajama Game, 1955; Damn Yankees, 1956; Fiorello!, 1960; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 1963; Fiddler on the Roof, 1965; Company, 1971. Best Musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1965; Cabaret, 1967; Company, 1971; A Little Night Music, 1973. Best Director of a Musical, Cabaret, 1967; Company, 1971; Follies, 1972; Candide, 1974; Sweeney Todd, 1979; Evita, 1980; The Phantom of the Opera, 1988; Show Boat, 1995.Special Award for Fiddler on the Roof, 1972; for Chelsea Theatre Center (shared with Ruth Mitchell), 1974.


JOSE QUINTERO
This is what Brooks Atkinson had to say about Jose Quintero's celebrated revival of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten in the book Broadway: "When A Moon for the Misbegotten was first produced in 1951, it looked verbose and tired, as if O'Neill were worn out. In 1974 it looked pertinent. In Jose Quintero's production Jason Robards' tired, battered, deep-voiced dipsomaniac became a tragic figure; Colleen Dewhurst's slatternly farm girl became an earthy Madonna; and Ed Flanders' mocking father lifted that character out of its former obscurity. Amid the mediocrity of a depressed theatrical era the revival proved that three professionals with a quarter of a century of experience could create great theater out of a great play." For contemporary theatregoers, the names of Quintero and O'Neill are inexorably linked. It was Quintero who generated renewed interest in O'Neill with his 1956 production of The Iceman Cometh at Circle In The Square, which also marked the beginning of his frequent collaboration with Robards. Quintero was a co-producer of that production, and it was through his tenacity that O'Neill's widow, Carlotta, agreed to grant him the rights to the play. Quintero and Carlotta O'Neill forged a friendship that would last for the rest of her life, and that same year she gave him permission to direct the world premiere of Long Day's Journey Into Night. For that landmark Broadway production Quintero won a Tony Award as co-producer, and O'Neill was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. Subsequent O'Neill plays directed by Quintero include Desire Under the Elms; Hughie; Strange Interlude; More Stately Mansions; Anna Christie with Liv Ullmann in the title role; and A Touch of the Poet, working again with Robards. Quintero was one of the founders of Circle In The Square, and it was there that his career took off with a much-acclaimed revival of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke, starring Geraldine Page. He has directed more than 50 plays on and Off-Broadway.
Tony Award Winner: Best Play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, 1957. Best Producer of a Play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, 1957. Best Director of a Play, A Moon for the Misbegotten, 1974.


LLOYD RICHARDS
Lloyd Richards, Professor Emeritus of the Yale School of Drama, was Dean of that school from 1979-91. Since 1968 he has also been artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center. Both of those institutions played a significant role in one of the theatre's most venerable collaborations, that between Richards and August Wilson. The two met at the O'Neill, which had accepted Wilson's script for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom after rejecting his first five drafts. And it was at Yale that Richards first directed a full-scale production of the play, which eventually made it to Broadway. Since that time, Richards has directed Wilson's five other Broadway plays: Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running and Seven Guitars. He won a Tony Award for his work on Fences and recounts one of his most vivid memories of the show: "I was always surprised at how stunned people were when Troy Maxson was discovered to have another woman, by the sense of what that betrayal meant to the audience. It really was a measure of how much the audience had invested in those two people, and had invested in them together. The coming apart of this couple was hurtful in a very personal way." Richards, a 1993 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, has had a long and distinguished career acting and directing on and Off-Broadway, as well as on radio and television. He received his first Tony nomination for his direction of the original Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.
Tony Award Winner: Best Director of a Play, Fences, 1987.


JEROME ROBBINS
Between 1944 and 1964 Jerome Robbins choreographed and/or directed 15 musicals and show-doctored another five. Beginning with On the Town and continuing through such memorable works as The King and I, West Side Story, Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof, Robbins's unerring sense of movement did more than entertain. It helped define character, express emotion and enhance the text, so that dance no longer stood apart from the words and music but became very much a part of the show's development. Take the dance sequences out of West Side Story which Robbins conceived, choreographed and directed and there would be no West Side Story. The landmark 1957 show was staged with a fluidity of movement that imbued the entire piece, extending the possibilities of dance and galvanizing musical theatre. Robbins has won six Tony Awards: for his choreography of High Button Shoes and West Side Story, for his direction and choreography of Fiddler, and for his direction of Jerome Robbins' Broadway (and as Best Musical), the 1989 retrospective that featured many of the best numbers from his various shows. Jason Alexander, the Tony Award-winning star of Jerome Robbins' Broadway, shared his thoughts on what it was like to work with this Broadway visionary. "At 72, he was able to dance every part in Jerome Robbins' Broadway better than anybody else," Alexander said. "He was amazing. But he would get very frustrated, because no one else could do it exactly the way he saw it in his head. No matter how much you think you have the right line and the right step, it's an interpretation of what somebody else is showing you and telling you. He thinks actors are magical. But his vision is compromised every time he works."
Tony Award Winner: Best Choreographer, High Button Shoes, 1948; West Side Story,1958; Fiddler on the Roof, 1965. Best Director of a Musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1965; Jerome Robbins' Broadway, 1989.
GENE SAKS
Gene Saks is one of Broadway's most masterful directors of comedies of all kinds: farce, serio-comedies, musical comedies and everything in-between. He won his first Tony for the musical I Love My Wife, and also displayed his stylish touch on such shows as Enter Laughing; Half a Sixpence; Mame; and Same Time, Next Year. But Saks is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Neil Simon, having directed eight Simon plays, including Broadway Bound, Rumors and Lost in Yonkers, and winning Tony Awards for Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues. (He also directed four Simon films.) Why does he connect so strongly to the playwright's work? "Neil Simon and I share similar backgrounds and a common perspective," he says. "We find the same things funny and the same things touching. We are both quite insane, but pretend to be quite normal." Asked to share a scene that affected him most deeply in one of the plays that earned him a Tony, he recalls this moment from Brighton Beach: "The first-act curtain comes down as Eugene admits to his brother, Stanley, that he has seen their cousin Nora naked as she stepped from the shower. He describes her body with such innocent, yet ecstatic, admiration that I've always thought the moment should be preserved in amber. The first time I read the play, alone at my desk, I cried out in joy and began applauding."
Tony Award Winner: Best Director of a Musical, I Love My Wife, 1977. Best Director of a Play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, 1983; Biloxi Blues, 1985. ALAN SCHNEIDER
In 1956 Alan Schneider directed the American premiere of Waiting for Godot at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida. That he was directing a most distinguished play and doing so outside New York is typical of Schneider's entire career. Although he worked now and then on Broadway, and won a Tony Award for his direction of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Schneider was more often found directing at colleges, particularly Catholic University, or in regional theatres, especially Arena Stage, where he was named associate director in 1971. Perhaps the actor he worked with most often was George Grizzard, whose lengthy association with Schneider includes Virginia Woolf and four other Broadway shows and dates back to a walk-on in a Catholic University production when he was 16 years old. "In the fifties I did ten or twelve plays with him at Arena Stage, and then he brought me to New York, "Grizzard says. "He had an intellect that was astounding. He introduced into this country Beckett and Pinter and Orton. And then he did most of Edward's [Albee] plays. He was attracted to great minds, and he was very loyal to the playwright. He taught me to learn the lines exactly as they were written, because an actor's job is to interpret the playwright. Alan and I were on the same wave length and had a great rapport. But I think he worked better with students and young actors than he did with established stars, because younger actors were more inclined to do exactly as he said. And in many cases he got better productions out of them." Still, Schneider recalled in Broadway Song &;Story that his most "exciting" night in the theatre was the opening of Virginia Woolf. He said, "As I was going to see somebody backstage, a fellow with a worried look was saying to somebody else with a worried look, 'I wish I could get rid of my investment.' I was wishing I had the money to relieve him of it."
Tony Award Winner: Best Director of a Play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1963.


SUSAN STROMAN
It was just five years ago that Susan Stroman broke through in a big way on the New York theatre scene, receiving accolades as co-conceiver and choreographer of the Off-Broadway Kander and Ebb revue And the World Goes 'Round. Two years after that she became the toast of Broadway as the choreographer of Crazy for You, winning a Tony Award for her exuberant and clever dances. Last year, Stroman added a second Tony for her work on Show Boat. One of the highlights of this Hal Prince production is the second act montage, in which the passing of years is exhilaratingly rendered solely through music, dance, and costumes. Stroman recalls the genesis of that sequence. "It was Hal's idea to show the passing of time in Act II," says Stroman. "In doing research of the period, I discovered that it was African Americans who invented the Charleston. That was like finding gold for me, because within the montage I was able to show the contributions that black Americans have made to music and dance. I collaborated closely with Florence Klotz, because fashion and dance really went hand in hand. When women wore long skirts with bustles, they could hardly move. When fashion changed, they were able to dance with great abandon. The two of us had to come up with styles that would clearly indicate the year we were in, and help show how people carried themselves, and walked, and danced. We don't hit the audience over the head with this. We do it in a poetic way. And by doing this, it helps create a very different Show Boat."
Tony Award winner: Best Choreographer, Crazy for You, 1992; Show Boat, 1995.


TOMMY TUNE
A nine-time Tony winner, seven for directing and/or choreographing, Tommy Tune is the only person in the history of the Awards to have won in four different categories (he's also won for Featured Actor in a Musical, and Actor in a Musical). Tune seems to have one long leg planted firmly in the past, while the other taps into the future. He combines the traditional showmanship of a bygone era with the unique perspective of a visionary, marveling audiences with his bold, contemporary flights of fancy. He made paper dolls dance in unison in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and used two pairs of disembodied legs to capture the essence of Fred and Ginger in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. In My One and Only he splash-danced with Twiggy in a shallow pool of water. Nine took place on a white-tiled set representing a Venetian spa and featured 21 women who, when they weren't playing characters in the hero's life, functioned as part of the scenery. The form Tune devised for Nine foreshadowed his execution of Grand Hotel. The women in Nine usually remained seated onstage when they were not directly involved in a scene; the characters in Grand Hotel introduced themselves in the opening number and seated themselves in chairs facing the audience. Both shows were studies in movement and fully choreographed, even though Nine was practically devoid of dance. Yet each musical pulsated with an ebb and flow that is distinctly "Tunian." Clearly, Tune enjoys taking risks. "The most exciting things in the theatre are dangerous. . . like walking a tightrope," he says. "I call it 'between the winds' because, when it's right, the wind is blowing from behind you, and in front of you, from your left, and from your right, and there is only one possible step that you can take and it's on the tightrope, still. 'Between the winds.' It's a circus element. But it's an emotional circus that interests me."
Tony Award Winner: Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Seesaw, 1974. Best Actor in a Musical, My One and Only, 1983. Best Choreographer, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, 1980; My One and Only, 1983; Grand Hotel, The Musical, 1990;The Will Rogers Follies, 1991. Best Director of a Musical, Nine, 1982; Grand Hotel, The Musical, 1990; The Will Rogers Follies, 1991.


GEORGE C. WOLFE
George C. Wolfe, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater, is one of the leading forces in theatre today. As a writer and/or director of musicals and plays, he has contributed to some of the most provocative and innovative productions in recent memory. He is the author of the highly acclaimed The Colored Museum, and wrote and directed Jelly's Last Jam. He adapted and directed Spunk at the NYSF and also staged Anna Deveare Smith's Broadway production of Twilight: Los Angeles. As an artistic associate of the NYSF, he curated two seasons of the Festival's New Voices and directed Thulani Davis's adaptation of Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. Also at the Public Theater he conceived and directed Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, which subsequently moved to Broadway. But Wolfe is perhaps best known as director of both parts of Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America. He won a Tony Award for his work on the first part of the show, Millennium Approaches. On a television documentary about Angels in America, Wolfe discussed the meaning of the play as he saw it. "I think that this play is very much standing center stage and saying, 'Oh, you thought America was this. Well, I'm here to tell you America is this, this, this, this, this. I'm here to tell you that my story ultimately is your story, that the specifics of my story may require that you surrender your arrogance to go on the journey, but once you surrender your arrogance and go on this journey, you will find yourself in my story.'"
Tony Award Winner: Best Director of a Play, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, 1993.


JERRY ZAKS
Whenever Jerry Zaks is asked in interviews about his approach to directing, regardless of the show, his answer is usually a variation on the same theme. He tends to talk about the importance of establishing emotional truth, and about conveying the desperate neediness of the characters. The idea of "life-and-death stakes" can apply to anyone, regardless of the size of their needs: Miss Adelaide needing Nathan, Nathan needing to find a place for a crap game, Ouisa needing to believe in Paul, Saunders needing a tenor. That simple but profound philosophy imbues all Zaks shows and is one of the main reasons why he has won four Tony Awards: for The House of Blue Leaves, Lend Me a Tenor, Six Degrees of Separation and Guys and Dolls. A former actor and a founding member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Zaks's Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include Anything Goes, The Front Page, Assassins, Smokey Joe's Cafe, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and the current production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. "The hardest shows are the ones that have never been done before," he says, "because you have no previous example to learn from. Six Degrees was particularly difficult. When I first read the play, it was like having 17 John Guares running into a room at the same time saying, 'Have I got a story to tell you,' and then all of them competing to tell you the story. I needed a scheme that would allow the characters to materialize and disappear magically. There were a number of scenes that leapt cinematically from location to location, and Tony Walton and I had very stimulating conversations about whether to present an abstract or literal set. When we arrived at the idea of doing it with two sofas and a Kandinsky, it was one of the happiest days I can remember. I realized that our scheme was supported by the play, and that our scheme supported the play. From then on it was a piece of cake."
Tony Award Winner:
Best Director of a Play, The House of Blue Leaves, 1986; Lend Me a Tenor, 1989;
Six Degrees of Separation,
1991. Best Director of a Musical, Guys and Dolls, 1992.

-- By Sheryl Flatow

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