Stage Directions: Phyllida Lloyd’s Career Spans Mamma Mia!, Mary Stuart, All-Female Shakespeare, and now Tina—How Does She Do It?

Interview   Stage Directions: Phyllida Lloyd’s Career Spans Mamma Mia!, Mary Stuart, All-Female Shakespeare, and now Tina—How Does She Do It?
 
Why it took 20 years for the Tony Award-nominated director to helm another musical.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical_Broadway_Press Day_2019_HR
Adrienne Warren and Phyllida Lloyd Bruce Glikas/Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

“It’s a compelling story with epic proportions,” British director Phyllida Lloyd says. “And an Amazonian female heroine. With virtually every song a hit.” Lloyd is talking about Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, which she directed first in London and then in its move to Broadway, where it officially opened November 7 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The musical stars the critically hailed Adrienne Warren in the title role of the show about the troubled life and career of the iconic performer, and features 23 of her greatest hits, among them “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

Lloyd, 62, is best known as the director of both the stage and film versions of the mammoth musical hit Mamma Mia!, though she has had a long and distinguished career as a director of opera, classic theatre, in particular, Shakespeare. She was nominated for a best-director Tony Award in 2009 for Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, which began at the Donmar Warehouse in London and also garnered Tony nominations on Broadway for stars Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer. Her all-female Shakespeare Trilogy ofThe Tempest, Julius Caesar, and Henry IV for the Donmar Warehouse received critical acclaim in London and New York.

She reunited with McTeer for the all-female The Taming of the Shrew at the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. Her other stage directing credits for the Donmar include The Threepenny Opera and Boston Marriage. She directed Six Degrees of Separation, Hysteria, and Wild East for the Royal Court; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner with Fiona Shaw at the Old Vic Tunnels, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Epidaurus Festival in Greece; The Way of the World, Pericles, What the Butler Saw, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Duchess of Malfi for the National Theatre; and Artists and Admirers and The Virtuoso for the Royal Shakespeare Company. In film, she directed The Iron Lady, for which Meryl Streep (her Mamma Mia! screen star) won a 2012 best-actress Oscar for portraying Margaret Thatcher.

Lloyd spoke about Tina, how she directs, Shakespeare versus musicals, and her future plans.

Why she became a director:
“I started out wanting to be an actress, and I was absolutely hellbent on being on that side of the footlights. One day, somebody who was directing a play asked me if I’d be their assistant. And within about one hour of sitting on that side of the footlights I knew I wanted to be a director. I think it’s because I want to be responsible for the whole story, not just my part of the story.”

Her directing principles:
“Many, and they’re constantly evolving. Don’t worry if you haven’t found the solution. The solution will come, but maybe not until the last inch. Somebody much more famous than me, I can’t remember who it was, said that, ’A work of art is a journey of a million miles. The most important decision is made in that last inch.’ ... Be very well prepared, but as prepared to completely change your mind. And fight for as long a rehearsal period as you can possibly get. And do a lot of listening.”

In the rehearsal room with an actor:
“I think that, at best, it’s like being with friends and family on an expedition. And you don’t have to be the one who’s got [the hand on] the tiller the whole time. Like a good parent, you want your spouse and your children to take the reins, often. So I would say I like collaboration. I like intimate friendship. And I like having fun.”

Directing Shakespeare vs. directing musicals:
“It’s [essentially] just the same. The difference is that when directing Tina you have to make space in your schedule for the choreographer and the musical director to work their sides of the story. Therefore you don’t have quite as much time as you might have directing a Shakespeare. But it’s very similar. Shakespeare is like music, and just as you would pay scrupulous attention to every note of music in a musical, you pay scrupulous attention to every word of text in Shakespeare.”

A mistake she made she learned from:
“Many mistakes. And I hope I’ve learned from most of them. I think my biggest mistakes have been made when the design process for a show has had to be concluded long before the rehearsals have unfolded and they have not kept pace with one another. So it’s taken me some years to reconcile the different rhythms of those two parts of the process.”

The future:
“I’m finishing work on a movie about which I’m obsessed and passionate and very excited. It’s written by Clare Dunne, who’s one of my actresses from the all-female Shakespeare. She played Prince Hal in my production of Henry IV. We’re hoping it’s going to be released next year. It’s called Herself, and it’s about a woman reconstructing her life after an abusive marriage by building herself her own house with her own hands in the middle of Dublin city.” Co-written by Malcolm Campbell, it stars Dunne, Harriet Walter, and Conleth Hill.

Some closing words about Tina:
“I hadn’t done a theatre musical for 20 years, because I hadn’t found a story quite as compelling. I want audiences to feel they’ve had the greatest night of exciting music theatre. And I want them to leave with hope — hope that Tina shows us that however bad things are, it’s possible to work yourself to happiness.”

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