When the curtain rises on opening night this evening at The New York Spectacular starring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, there will be more than flashy costumes, high-kicking precision dancers, and soaring sets (though there will be plenty of all of that). This season’s incarnation also includes a book by Tony-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning playwright Douglas Carter Beane.
The Broadway Blog caught up with Beane during the last week of previews as The New York Spectacular found its footing. Here’s what he had to say in our exclusive “15 Minutes With…”
BB: How did this project come to fruition?
DCB: I’ve been living in London for last 10 months—my partner and I said when we had kids we’d spend a year abroad— and we were doing a reading of one of my plays. A Scottish man came up to me afterwards and said, “I’d like to have lunch with you in the next two days.” It happened to be Colin Ingram, the Executive Vice President of Productions for the Madison Square Garden Company. And the rest, shall we say, is history.
BB: How familiar were you with The Rockettes?
DCB: Are you kidding me? I’m from New York. And as for Radio City… as Sinatra used to say, “It’s my favorite room.”
BB: More than a room in this case, it’s my understanding that a lot of the production elements were in place when you came on board?
DCB: Yes. We had all these set and Mia Michaels had been hired as director/choreographer. I looked at the different pieces and thought that I wanted it to be a fable, a sort of an American folk tale—just two kids lost in New York City. It has a Wizard of Oz quality. The numbers and the Rockettes are the stars of the show.
I did Skype meetings with Mia and I flew to New York a couple of times. She has a great background in spectacle—shows in Las Vegas, rock concerts, etc.—her work is filled with joy and eccentricity and a level of sophistication that excited me.
It’s a story of two children on a journey, but I wanted to add a spike to it verbally that’s also in the choreography. It’s Mia’s first time as a director dealing with text. Watching her be intimated and then take control has been a delight.
BB: If anyone can rise to the occasion, it’s Mia Michaels. But the craft of playwriting presents its own challenges. Can you teach someone to be funny?
DCB: Well this particular project is very concise… It’s not a sonnet, it’s a haiku. We’re making big choices and making them known.
It’s a spectacle first and foremost, so we need to create connective tissue with prepared eyes. We want to set up the audience so they’re prepared for what follows. I’ve been doing this for the past 20 years and this show is truly structured like an American musical theater comedy. It’s all there, but it’s hidden, you don’t have to know it’s there. You can relax, I’m a professional, you wouldn’t want an amateur!
BB: Xanadu, Sister Act, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella—you’ve made a name for adapting material, is there a method to your madness or specific approach to working with pre-existing material?
DCB: I love it. I like the challenge… of challenges. The excitement that comes with you have to do “this, this and this.”
The production has these enormous statues coming to life, and it reminded me of when I walk around the city with my kids, my daughter says hello to Gandhi in Union Square. When they showed me the set with statues, I thought, “I’ve got something to work from here.” And there’s so much inspiration when you’re talking about New York City: Wall Street, Fashion Avenue, it goes on and on.
BB: Any teasers that you can offer us regarding upcoming projects?
DCB: I’ll be directing a musical version of Robin Hood, which I co-wrote with Lewis Flinn. [Hood plays June 29 – August 6, 2017 at Dallas Theater Center.] I’m also working on another project that combines many familiar fairy tales titled Fairy Kings. I’m also in the process of creating something for Alan Cumming. Sometimes what inspires me is what I love is an actor, so I begin to write a show with him in mind.
BB: Given the recent events in Orlando, how important is humor in times like these?
DCB: It was a horrible tragedy. Yet another group is considered separate, and that’s not what America is about. Humor heals us. It shows us the possibility of a better day, and it’s why I’ve chosen to spend my life writing it.
New York Spectacular
Radio City Music Hall
Through August 7
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.