EXCLUSIVE: Baz Luhrmann Says Strictly Ballroom Musical Will Have New Music and "Intensive" Theatricality

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
28 Sep 2010

Baz Luhrmann and Claire Danes
Baz Luhrmann and Claire Danes
Photo by Amanda Schwab/StarPix celebrity images

Australia's audacious theatre and film director Baz Luhrmann had a busy day in New York City Sept. 27, talking about new video releases of his films "Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge." We squeezed in some questions about his new stage musical, Strictly Ballroom.

*

 

Australian director Baz Luhrmann came up from Down Under Sept. 27 to give the U.S. press a 90-minute drum-roll presentation for a couple of his characteristically unconventional flicks — 1996's "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" and 2001's "Moulin Rouge" — prior to their making their Blu-ray Disc debuts on Oct. 19, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Luhrmann's modernized adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy was Oscar-nominated, and the "Moulin Rouge" sets and costumes designed by his wife, Catherine Martin, were Oscar-awarded.



Most of the day was spent in interviews about the high-definition transfers, which boast cut footage — including an alternate opening sequence for "Moulin Rouge" that would have featured Cat Stevens' hit, "Father & Son" (had the songwriter allowed it).

Playbill.com managed to get in a few questions about his new stage musical, Strictly Ballroom, which he'll write and direct.

That evening, Luhrmann's Juliet, Claire Danes, presented him with an award from the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), honoring his visionary innovations in stage and screen musicals. To date, that consists of "Moulin Rouge" on film (it pioneered the type of break-into-song storytelling currently practiced on TV's "Glee") and La Boheme on Broadway (which ran 228 performances in 2003 at the Broadway and won Ms. Martin a Tony for sets and a nomination for costumes).

By no means will Luhrmann be resting on any laurels, however. Word came Sept. 23 from Sydney that, for their next stage musical, he and Martin will be returning to the movie that put him on the map: 1992's "Strictly Ballroom."

"For 20 years, people have been suggesting it,” he admitted, pointing to such knowing and known producers as Cameron Mackintosh and "Jeffrey [Seller] and Kevin [McCollum], whom I loved working with on La Boheme, but I'd always get drawn into my own projects."

Strictly Ballroom, the musical, is finally surfacing, he said, "because there's this local production company that has a global reach — Global Creatures. I'm going to make a coalition with them so I can develop and create it from Sydney. We're living mainly in New York and Paris now, so it's a good reason to go home during the summer to work on something that was always bringing joy to us and to be able to develop there something that would play Broadway and play the world. So we will be looking for partners on this."

He officially starts writing Strictly Ballroom in December in Australia. Of course, the case could be made that this story has been nagging at him most of his adult life: "When I was at drama school, I developed it with a group of actors as a 20-minute piece. Then it went on, and we did a 40-minute version, and we took it to a drama school in pre-Glasnost Czechoslovakia where students were running up and saying things like 'Bravo to the Ukraine,' because they weren't free at the time. They really read the metaphor of growing up under repression. People think of the fun of ballroom dancing and the costumes and the color and the energy, but actually what resonates and what we have to be attuned to re-engaging with the audience about is the big message, the big idea: There's not any one way. It's not a lot to cha-cha-cha."

Is some original music in the game plan?

"Yeah. I think it's going to take a leap. Now when I say it's a musical, I enjoy inventing form so, of course, it's going to pull its DNA from classical breakout-into-song musicals, but I wouldn't predict where it's going to end up that because I don't want to do anything like that. I think that shorts the creative process."

So, he has given some thought to a new composer, and he does have someone on board. "I'm in the middle of all that. Those kinds of decisions have to be based on the question of how, at this time in this time with this audience, do you release once again the power and the simplicity of that story and that show?"

Perhaps, as he has suggested in previous interviews, a real ballroom — either pre-existing or specially built for the occasion — would help. "I'm just not closed to any of those thoughts," he said. "You could do a quick version on stage on Broadway, and you could probably sell tickets because it's an accessible piece, but I want to see if I can excite myself by using it to make some kind of intensive theatrical presentation."

Clearly, he doesn't believe in boundaries. "You have to couple romance and the love of the theatre with, I think, a discipline to want to reach out beyond the theatre.

"My own story is that when I was a kid, growing up in the outback with my brothers, we had a worn-out record of a very hot show called Jesus Christ Superstar. The question I've asked myself ever since then, is 'How come teenage boys in Australia would hear of a show that just opened in London and was a worldwide phenomenon? What is that?' That's musical theatre reaching out beyond borders."