Warren Carlyle Has Broadway & Hugh Jackman Ahead, But What About 'SYTYCD?'
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Tony Award-winning choreographer Warren Carlyle has a big year ahead of him. Not only is he about to open Kiss Me, Kate at the Roundabout Theatre Company, starring Kelli O'Hara, Will Chase and Corbin Bleu, on Thursday, but he's also directing and choreographing Hugh Jackman for his upcoming world tour, The Man. The Music. The Show.
He first met Jackman in 1998 during the West End production of Oklahoma. Jackman played Curly McLain and Carlyle was the dance captain on the show. Twenty years later, their friendship endures as they embark on another special project together.
Carlyle spoke with Dance Dish recently about juggling two major productions in the first half of the year, whether dance fans will see him on Season 16 of So You Think You Can Dance, and that nail-biting cane dance from Season 14.
[Editor's Note: As we went to press, the news went out that Warren will be choreographing for Hugh Jackman's 2020 production of 'The Music Man' on Broadway. Congratulations, Warren!]
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Dance Dish: Kiss Me, Kate started out as a concert version last year. How did your choreography change from that production to a full Broadway show?
Warren Carlyle: Well, in the concert version you want to just give them a taste — enough to get people excited. Then the Broadway version is amazing because I get a ton of dances, I get a ton of space and no more music stands and no more chairs in the way. It's just a bigger exploration and that's what's fun for me. I get to sweep all of the stage, jump around and there's real scenery from David Rockwell, which is extraordinary. He's so good. Oh my God, he's great. He gives me tons of space for me to sell as a choreographer.
DD: "Too Darn Hot" is one of the signature Kiss Me, Kate pieces. What type of flavor did you want to bring to this particular number?
Warren: It's funny, I don't really think about it in global terms. I didn't think about it in big terms. I wanted to bring live music into it because I think that's something that I respond to. It's something that I love seeing when I go to a show and I see a musician on the stage.
So I took the clarinet player, Greg [Thymius], and I pulled him out of the box where he was playing. I put him in the middle of the number and he transports us to a magical place. And then off we go. I weave him through the number.
So they are all in the alley, it's Baltimore, it's the middle of the summer, it's 1948. I was thinking 1948 is great because it's Jive and it's Swing. It's young folks all showing off, goofing around and trying to one-up each other. I have that delicious battle of the sexes.
That was very much in my mind when I created "Too Darn Hot" because the men do a section and then the women do a section that's better than what the men just did. And then, the men do another section. It's better than what the women just did. And then they do a pas-de-deux section. It's really the play between the men and the women in the dance that I was really focused on. Ultimately, that's what I think the audiences are enjoying.
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DD: Dance is at an all-time high when it comes to technique and what the dancers are capable of doing, what are you looking for from your dancers in shows these days?
Warren: I'm starting to hire storytellers. I love a body that can do anything. I love that technique and that level of strength, but now what's happening is that I assembled a group of dancers in Kiss Me, Kate who are supreme actors, too. They are really, really special, so they can act through dance and that's a really extraordinary skill. So that will be the other element that I've added to this work. Those are the kinds of people I'm attracted to.
DD: You are working with Hugh Jackman again this year. We know he's a strong mover, but how technical can you get with Hugh when it comes to the dancing?
Warren: He's very dexterous. That's one of the reasons why he's so perfect in those X-Men movies — he can fight, he can jump, he can fly, he can spin. He's really, really, really great at that stuff and he's a quick learner. He's a quick study and he's a great student. He loves to learn new things. It's been a joy over 20 years to watch him do what he's done. That's really extraordinary.
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DD: What stage are you with Hugh's show? Are you headed into rehearsals soon?
Warren: We've cast the dancers, they're extraordinary individuals. And a lot of them are brand new to me. We rehearse in New York beginning April 8th and then we move to England on April 20th and the first show is in Glasgow, Scotland on May 7th.
DD: Hugh has teased that he hopes guest stars like Pink and James Corden will stop by in different cities. How will you handle those special appearances on the directing side?
Warren: I can't wait to surprise and delight people with those things. And that takes a bit of planning and it takes a bit of work, but it's actually really fun. We have a really good framework for it. The show is very structured and I have a good plan. It means a lot of frequent flyer miles for me, but I'm happy to do it.
DD: Will you have a free moment to drop into So You Think You Can Dance this summer? We missed you last season.
Warren: Yes. I'm planning on it because I didn't last season. I was so busy. I missed it desperately. I was constantly texting Nigel [Lythogoe] and constantly texting Jeff Thacker. They are my family and it's incredible. I have done five seasons and I love doing it. It's so hard. I find it really challenging. I'm way too old to be on the show. It really should belong to Travis Wall and Spencer Liff — it belongs to that generation, but I can't help myself. I actually just love doing it.
DD: You aren't old! We love you on the show. In fact, we haven't recovered from that cane dance in Season 14 with Kiki Nyemchek and Jenna Johnson. Can we talk about that?
Warren: What was interesting is that it was wild in the studio that day. I thought the audience was so great. They were so with it. And watching those two succeed — I can't believe that they actually did that on live TV. It was probably the scariest thing I've ever done.
I mean, 10 canes! You know who was great was director Nikki Parsons. I was very strict about the cameras and very strict about never seeing where the canes went and never seeing where they came from. They just came from out of frame all the time and that was really a challenge to shoot. It was very, very difficult because we took a long time to figure that out.
That was a crazy, fun time. So with experiences like that, I just want to go back.
'Kiss Me, Kate' opens on Thursday, March 14 at the Roundabout Theatre Company. Hugh Jackman's world tour, 'The Man. The Music. The Show.' opens Tuesday, May 7 in Glasgow, Scotland.
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