Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler interviews choreographer Josh Rhodes about his latest project, The Landing, currently running off Broadway at The Vineyard Theatre.
It’s been a breakout year for choreographer Josh Rhodes. But make no mistake: this veteran dancer of seven Broadway shoes has been hoofin’ it for quite some time. Even, so, it’s not often that even the most renowned choreographers find themselves with two Broadway shows in one season… along with the critically acclaimed off Broadway musical, The Landing, recently extended at Vineyard Theatre.
“I had a good year this year,” Rhodes says humbly during a recent phone conversation. “Two Broadway shows! I’m very proud of Cinderella and First Date—they were a really great time. The two productions couldn’t be more different and sometimes it’s whatever projects gets the go.”
The progression has been natural for Rhodes, who describes himself as a gypsy. “I was a Broadway dancer for many years. I had a fabulous career and loved it. I was a dance captain many times and asked by great people to assist, then associate, then choreograph on my own.”
Recently Rhodes choreographed Company starring Neil Patrick Harris and Sondheim’s 80th Birthday Concert with the NY Philharmonic for PBS. As a director, he’s also responsible for the titillating Broadway Bares (XX and XXI), a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. But Rhodes’ most recent choreography project, The Landing, is a much more intimate piece—a collection of three musicals by John Kander (music) and Greg Pierce (lyrics and book) with direction by Walter Bobbie.
The Landing consists of “three thematically-connected tales of desire, love and loss” according to the theater’s press materials. Rhodes describes it a bit more viscerally: “The first piece is melancholy kind of event. The second is strange and bizarre and very funny, then the third is devastating. It’s deeply rooted in loss – I think – but everyone will have a different opinion. Different ways that you lose things. It’s refreshing to see a gentle musical. A meditation versus an assault.”
Working with a cast of four actors including Julia Murney (Wicked) and David Hyde Pierce (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Curtains, Spamalot), Rhodes’ work is a bit subtler then the sweeping movements found in Cinderella. “My job is supposed to be invisible, and that’s OK. I worked with Walter Bobbie for years, I was in Chicago. He brought me into doing The Landing and it’s been a great collaboration. My job is to sneak in and sneak out, the audience shouldn’t be able to see the difference.”
Rhodes says he loves working with actors as much as trained dancers and that the payoff can sometimes be greater with a performer who hasn’t spent his or her life in a dance studio. “There is something wonderful seeing David and Julia doing an MGM musical number in the middle of the show,” says Rhodes. “[David] is an incredible mover. You get humor and humanity. It’s a different sort of passion—the release is much larger when you have to put a lot of sweat into something in order to make it happen.
Rhodes also credits Vineyard Theatre for an artistic environment that cultivates such creativity. “It can be refreshing in a nonprofit situation like this—quiet and lovely, shades of melancholy. The Vineyard is such a smart theater group. They know their audiences are smart enough to know what[The Landing] is, and that it’s not necessarily Broadway bound. It doesn’t quiet the artistic animal, but it allows you to play.”
Rhodes will have his hands full with his next project: musical staging for a NY Philharmonic concert version of Sweeney Todd starring Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel and directed by Lonny Price. Is Rhodes nervous about working with an Oscar winner and legendary opera singer? You wouldn’t know it. He says, “If you make a good story, people will come.”