Director and choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett's latest show, Swing, will open Dec. 9 at the St. James Theatre. Previews for the show begin Nov. 2.
After an open rehearsal held Oct. 6, members of the cast and production staff mingled with producers and the press and spoke about the show's unique development. Insiders for the all-singing, all-dancing show seemed pleased with the mid-morning rehearsal.
Swing showcases top Broadway singing and dance talent in a revue of Swing, Lindy Hop and Broadway styles. With the Lindy Hop, the dancers say they are stretching their physical endurance and technical capabilities to the limit.
"It's right up there," said dancer Caitlin Carter, when asked to rate the show's difficulty on a scale of one to ten. Carter, who is steeped in ballet, said the special demands of Swing and the Lindy Hop made working on the show a special challenge. "There's a lot more 'partnering' necessary in this show than in others," Carter added.
Carter and two of her cast mates, Carol Bentley and Scott Fowler, told Playbill On-Line that with the Lindy Hop, dancers typically partner off in order to establish everything from stronger routines to deeper trust. Typically in Broadway dance, the dancers say they dance with an individual. In Swing, they are enthusiastic about getting the opportunity to rediscover partner dancing, which opens up a whole new world for them. "The demanding quality of this work is remarkable, and the commitment of the company is inspiring," Swing originator Paul Kelly told Playbill On-Line. "First of all, it's wall to wall dance; it's not a dance number, then a book scene, and then a song. A very key element to the project was bringing in associate choreographers as consultants. Lynne's work with them has brought about some of the most successful elements of the show."
Taylor-Corbett's associate choreographers on Swing include Scott Fowler, Rod McCune and Ryan Francois, the World Lindy Hop champion. Show originator Kelly and several cast members unanimously cite McCune's contributions. McCune served as both dance captain and "lift coach," which they say helped enabled the Broadway dancers to learn the Swing and Lindy Hop skills that Ryan and his wife and partner Jenny Thomas brought to the project. Through this process Taylor-Corbett was able to fashion the cohesive dance company she had envisioned. Taylor-Corbett's previous credits include choreographing Titanic and Chess, as well as the films "Footloose" and "My Blue Heaven."
"There's something about this music that just gets to people," Kelly added. "Whether it gets to their souls or the soles of their feet first, I don't know. I recognized that it's inherently joyful and I wanted to capture that."
Two years ago, Kelly met with producer Mark Routh from Richard Frankel's office and pitched several ideas, including Swing. Kelly said he studied Broadway history and researched every revue he could to determine the dos and don'ts for the show.
"One thing that I found to be consistent," Kelly explained," was that many great revues had not had a book. Books were either never intended, or they simply abandoned them sometime in the development. So, none of the outlines that I presented ever included a book. I did develop about five different versions of the show that ran along different paradigms."
"In a revue, there's nothing worse than a weak story, it's just a distraction," Kelly said. "The key is understanding where the story really happens. The connection in a revue is between the audience and the performers, but it is not across the stage, it's across the footlights -- between the audience and performers. The important thing is when the audience connects with the performer and thinks 'Oh! That's the guy who can't dance, and then, three numbers later, he can. And he gets the girl!' You form a bond with the couples by looking for that important single feature with each of the dancers as individuals."
Kelly and the producers searched worldwide for virtuoso dancers and singers, who specialized in various styles of Swing. Though this is a purely American art form, it has become popular all over the world and, in order to find the very best Swing dancers, they considered dancers from as far away as Stockholm, Singapore and Germany, as well as the two American hot beds of Swing, New York and California. In fact, Ryan Francoise and Jenny Thomas have come all the way from London. By commiting to such an exhaustive search, the creators say they feel they can present this art form at its very highest level.
Four-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Zaks supervises the production. Sets are designed by Thomas Lynch, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Kenneth Posner and orchestrations by Harold Wheeler.
Based on an original idea by Paul Kelly, Swing is produced by Marc Routh (newly appointed head of the League of Off-Broadway Theatres), Richard Frankel, Steven Baruch, Thomas Viertel and Jujamcyn Theaters, in association with BB Promotion, Dede Harris/Jeslo Productions, James D. Stern/Douglas L. Meyers, Libby Adler Mages/Mari Glick and PACE Theatricals/SFX.
The musical celebration features world-class Swing dancers, a Swing band and acclaimed vocalists Laura Benanti, Everett Bradley, Casey MacGill and jazz/cabaret star Ann Hampton Callaway in her Broadway debut.
The 30 dance numbers in Swing represent the many forms of swing that are popular around the world including neo-Swing dances, country western, Latin and traditional Swing dancing. The Gotham City Gates, a new Swing band comprising former members of the Blues Jumpers, Illinois Jacquet and the Lionel Hampton Band, performs throughout the show, giving it a distinctive and compelling sound.
Cast members Bradley, Callaway and MacGill also made musical contributions to the show.
The tentative Swing song list features familiar songs, some new arrangements and a few world premiere numbers. An * denotes world premiere songs. Production sources say that music licensing negotiations are ongoing, and that there may be changes in the final song list.
"You Can't Do It Alone" by Casey MacGill
"It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing" by Duke Ellington
"Airmail Special" / "New Jersey Bounce" / "Opus One"
"Airmail Special" by Benny Goodman, James R. Mundy, Charles Christian
"New Jersey Bounce" by B. Plater, T. Bradshaw, E. Johnson, B. Feyhe and D. Ellington
"Opus One" by Don George, Johnny Hodges and Harry James
"Jumpin' at the Woodside" by William "Count" Basie
"Bounce Me Brother (with a Solid Four)" by Don Raye, Hughie Prince
"Two and Four"* by Ann Hampton Callaway
"Hit Me with a High Note and Watch me Bounce" by Don George, Duke Ellington
"Throw that Girl Around"* by Everett Bradley, Ilene Reid, Michael Heitzman
"Show Me What You Got"* by Everett Bradley, Jonathan Smith
"Bli Blip" by Duke Ellington, Sid Kuller
"Detroit Swing City" by Paul Stanley, Bob Ezrin
"Rhythm Crossover" by Casey MacGill
"Humphrey Bogart" by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller
"Blues in the Night" by Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer
"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by Don Raye, Hughie Prince
USO Section featuring:
"GI Jive" by Johnny Mercer
"String of Pearls" by Edgar DeLange, Jerry Gray
"Gal in Kalamazoo" by Mack Gordon, Harry Warren
"Candy" by Mack David, Joan Whitney, Alex C. Kramer
"Dinah" by Samuel M. Lewis, Joseph Young, Harry Akst
"I'm Gonna Love You Tonight" by Casey MacGill, Jack Murphy,
"I'll Be Seeing You" by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain
USO Finale featuring:
"Flyin' Home" by Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton
"American Patrol" by F.W. Meacham, Becket and James Sanderson
"Sharp as a Tack" by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer
"GI Jive" by Johnny Mercer
"Airmail Special" by Benny Goodman, James R. Mundy and Charles Christian
"Swing Brother Swing" by Walter Bishop, Lewis Raymond and Clarence Williams
"Harlem Nocturne" by Earl H. Hagen and Dick Rogers
"Dancers in Love" by Duke Ellington
"Spring Can Really Hang You Up" by Frances Landesman and Thomas J. Wolf, Jr.
"Take Me Back to Tulsa"/"Stay All Night" by James Robert Wills, Tommy Duncan
"Boogie Woogie Country" by Jack Murphy, Jonathan Smith
"All of Me"/"I Won't Dance"
"All of Me" by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks
"I Won't Dance" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II
"Bill's Bounce" by Bill Elliott
"Cry Me a River" by Arthur Hamilton
"Kitchen Mechanics Rhythm Crossover" by Casey MacGill
"Kitchen Mechanics Night Out" * Lyrics: Paul Kelly, Casey MacGill, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Music: Casey MacGill, Jonathan Smith
"Shout and Feel It" By William "Count" Basie
"Stompin' at the Savoy" by Benny Goodman, Edgar M. Sampson, Chick Webb, Andy Razaf, Lyrics: Andy Razaf, additional lyrics and arrangement: Ann Hampton Callaway
Finale: "Sing, Sing, Sing" by Louis Prima, Andy Razaf, L. Berry
"It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing)" by Duke Ellington
"Swing Brother Swing" by Walter Bishop, Lewis Raymond, Clarence Williams
The Swing Era: A Timeline of Swing, Then and Now
1920 Louis Armstrong joins Fletcher Henderson's jazz band at the Roseland Ballroom and introduces Swing rhythms.
1926 The Savoy Ballroom opens in Harlem.
1927 The Duke Ellington Band begins engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem, continuing there until 1932. At a dance marathon in New York City, dancer Shorty Snowden coins the name "Lindy Hop."
1930 Bands across the country embrace the new 4/4 swing rhythms.
1935 Benny Goodman's Palomar Ballroom concert in L.A. heralds the beginning of The Swing Era.
1936 Count Basie opens in New York City at the Roseland Ballroom.
1937 "A Day at the Races," featuring Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, is released.
1938 Benny Goodman brings jazz to Carnegie Hall. This famous concert legitimizes jazz for the general public. Glenn Miller Orchestra records "In the Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade."
938 Whitey's Jitterbugs perform on Broadway in Swingin' the Dream with Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong.
1940 The Cotton Club closes.
1941 Life magazine does a spread on the Harvest Moon Ball, highlighting wildly acrobatic Lindy Hop entrants.
1942 The Lindy Hop division in Harvest Moon Ball is changed to Jitterbug Jive.
1943 Life magazine cover story "The Lindy Hop: A True National Folk Dance Has Been Born in the U.S.A." The movie musical, "Stage Door Canteen" opens, featuring Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Kay Kyser.
1948 "A Song is Born," a film starring Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey, opens.
1956 Jitterbug Jive division of the Harvest Moon Ball changes to Rock 'n' Roll.
1958 Savoy Ballroom closes.
1982 Swing dancing at City Limits becomes meeting ground for future NY Swing Dance Society Board.
1985 New York Swing Dance Society (NYSDS) is formed as a non-profit organization.
986 NYSDS performance group, The Big Apple Lindy Hoppers, is formed. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre premieres "Opus McShann," with a Lindy Hop section.
1989 Lincoln Center inaugurates its annual Midsummer Night's Swing.
1992 Debbie Allen's TV film "Stompin' at the Savoy" airs.
1993 PBS documentary "Dancing: New Worlds, New Forms" covers the Lindy.
1999 PBS airs "Swingin' with Duke", featuring Frankie Manning and Wynton Marsalis. The Swing revival is profiled in People magazine. Swing opens on Broadway at the St. James Theatre.
-- By Murdoch McBride