Buddy

Christopher Wheeldon Takes On Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

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Broadway is full of performers who are triple threats. They have studied acting, take regular voice lessons, and dance classes. Many not only have strong ballet technique, but have a lot of experience with jazz, tap, you name it. While Wheeldon may want to work with dancers he knows, I will be surprised if Jerry and Lise come from the ballet world. The vocal demands of eight shows a week in a lead role have sent more than one film actor down in flames!tomato.GIF

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It's very different for dancers who have had some voice training to do a few performances of "West Side Story Suite" anf to have te vocal stamina and excellent technique to withstand a Broadway schedule.

Former ballet dancers who have performed on Broadway and have sung in those roles have a better idea of the demands.

Having loved opera since before I knew what Broadway was, I've never understood why there wasn't at least an alternating cast, if not more than two casts, rotating through the run.

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LiLing, is it common not to have some sort of relief cast? I'm still fascinated with the idea of using a ballet dancer, especially with Christopher Wheeldon's great ability in this area. Maybe the songs could be limited.


Helene, I would agree with you about having rotating casts for practical reasons.. I think that the stage version of Billy Elliot had four little boys playing Billy and did rotate them.


Having said this, I just saw the London production of *Once*. I was so *Enchanted!* with the leads (and all the other actors) that I went straight home afterward, rather than to my usual evening 'hangout', so as not to break the spell. I can't imagine anyone doing it better and these are the ones that I dream of seeing when I return in September.


[spelling corrections made and I've deleted a reference to the Alvin Ailey Company having done this production because I can't find the article that stated this]

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I agree with Helene and Buddy about rotating casts -- I think the multiple casts for children's roles are a part of performance contract law, when it relates to child labor (didn't the recent Tony awards show feature all the kids playing Matilda from that show?)

It would be a special event for Wheeldon and his team to cast someone from the ballet world as Lise, but I don't think they would need to do that in order to find someone who could do a spectacular job -- the Broadway world is indeed full of artists who can pull off the acting/singing/dancing requirements.

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It would be a special event for Wheeldon and his team to cast someone from the ballet world as Lise, but I don't think they would need to do that in order to find someone who could do a spectacular job -- the Broadway world is indeed full of artists who can pull off the acting/singing/dancing requirements.

From a dance, dance acting standpoint, if the Leslie Caron part doesn't require singing then I still feel that Alina Cojocaru (and Ekaterina Kondaurova (with limited dialogue) -- Yes Really ! flowers.gif -- although I doubt that she'd sabbatical from the Mariinsky for this) would be great.

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I'm wondering if anyone saw Wheeldon's An American in Paris BALLET for NYCB? Was it considered a success at the time?

As some of you already know, it was Balanchine who first proposed the AiP Ballet idea - to George Gershwin and Sam Goldwyn, during the production of The Goldwyn Follies in 1938. And it did happen to be a plan for a FILM ballet (naturally, because he was talking to Hollywood people). Balanchine obviously saw real potential for the concert music to be used as a ballet score. The Bernard Taper biography includes a description of his attempt to sell his ideas:

It had occurred to Balanchine even before Gershwin's death that Gershwin's American in Paris suite might be suitable for ballet, and now together with Ira Gershwin he worked out a libretto. In this project Balanchine intended to put into effect his ideas about ballet in movies. The possibilities of the medium intrigued him, and the opportunity to try out some of his conceptions had been one of the temptations that had lured him to Hollywood.

A movie ballet, he felt, ought not to be merely a stage ballet on film. It need not be a continuous dance observed from a fixed angle, as the stage required, but could be a montage of dance shots, photographed from whatever angle or distance one wished. And it could employ effects the stage could never achieve, especially in the realm of fantasy, which seemed to Balanchine a quality particularly suited to the film medium.

The American in Paris ballet was conceived of as a fantasy quest. The milieu was to suggest the Paris Exposition. through which an American, portrayed by the tap dancer George King, would search for Zorina, the girl of his dreams. Seductive, tantalizing, ever elusive, she would manifest herself now here, now there--at one moment in a Spanish pavilion, another time in a Ferris wheel, yet again high overhead among the stars of the zodiac in a planetarium--always just beyond reach, and vanishing each time just as the American was about to take her in his arms."

[There's more relating to Balanchine's demonstration of the camera shots to be used, and Goldwyn's increasing annoyance at having to move his chair about...]

It's an interesting bit of our American dance history: one of those great "could have beens".

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The big ballet at the end of the movie was created for the cinema and not the stage, and the visual effects are at least as important as the dancing, which is in short segments with frequent cuts - not necessarily inappropriate for Gershwin's score, which lacks unity.

Pherank your post just above is very interesting ! Thank you !
The NYCB production has been mentioned here.
It makes you wonder why George Balanchine didn't stay in Hollywood, in spite of his reservations.
It appears that his inventiveness may have been used in the Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron movie as Dirac's quote above suggests.
Fred Astaire, on the other hand, preferred one camera and one camera angle, if I'm not mistaken, although he used plenty on 'tricks' such as appearing to be dancing on the walls and ceiling.
I think we're stretching the envelope somewhat in parts of this discussion, and I think that this is good. With such a talent as Christopher Wheeldon one can always dream.
Added:
It is interesting that George Balanchine had a tap dancer, George King, in mind. Fred Astaire, it would seem, was George Balanchine's favorite male dancer. (I think that I can find a quote to substantiate this if necessary).

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It is interesting that George Balanchine had a tap dancer, George King, in mind. Fred Astaire, it would seem, was George Balanchine's favorite male dancer. (I think that I can find a quote to substantiate this if necessary).

Yes, that remains a mystery, and in all of my readings/research I've never found an adequate explanation for why Balanchine didn't try to seek out Astaire for possible projects together. Perhaps it was just B's usual problem with male stars and their egos. And of course Astaire like to do his own choreography.

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Astaire was innately balletic, but interestingly he had no interest in the art form. Because he was Astaire he was forever getting fan letters from the likes of Baryshnikov and Fonteyn, but his own fan notes tended to go to dancer/performers like Sammy Davis, Jr., Michael Jackson, and John Travolta (in his Saturday Night Fever days).

Maybe this is the reason, Pherank. Although Fred Astaire had innate 'balletic' sensitivity, he wasn't a ballet dancer.

Still the fact that George Balanchine chose a tap dancer (unless it was someone else's idea) for his project, shows how far outside the box he could think.

Our discussion here may also be considering how far outside the box Christopher Wheeldon is willing to go in his 'adaptation'.

Added:
I guess my comments here also relate to a personal fascination -- the extent to which 'ballet' sensitivity and beauty can permeate the rest of the performing arts and conversely the extent to which ballet could be 'naturalized' while keeping it's beautiful essence. I think that a choreographer such as Christopher Wheeldon could make some of this happen.

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An aside -- pherank's comment above, that Astaire "liked to do his own choreography" got me curious about that process, so I did a tiny bit of digging. According to IMDB, Astaire danced in about 30 films, but got screen credit for some kind of staging or choreography for 5 of them (and did some kind of "uncredited" choreography or staging for another four) Hermes Pan (who doesn't get nearly enough recognition for his work) was credited in one fashion or another for 14 of those films, and mentioned for uncredited work several times as well. Eugene Loring gets credited four times; and Robert Alton and Alex Romero get three credits.

Astaire must have been responsible for the bulk of his personal material -- it has a stylistic consistency over the span of his film work that would be very hard to imagine if he were dancing numbers totally created by a number of other people. But it's fascinating to realize that, as far as film credits are concerned, he was only minimally involved in creating the sequences he danced.

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An aside -- pherank's comment above, that Astaire "liked to do his own choreography" got me curious about that process, so I did a tiny bit of digging. According to IMDB, Astaire danced in about 30 films, but got screen credit for some kind of staging or choreography for 5 of them (and did some kind of "uncredited" choreography or staging for another four) Hermes Pan (who doesn't get nearly enough recognition for his work) was credited in one fashion or another for 14 of those films, and mentioned for uncredited work several times as well. Eugene Loring gets credited four times; and Robert Alton and Alex Romero get three credits.

Astaire must have been responsible for the bulk of his personal material -- it has a stylistic consistency over the span of his film work that would be very hard to imagine if he were dancing numbers totally created by a number of other people. But it's fascinating to realize that, as far as film credits are concerned, he was only minimally involved in creating the sequences he danced.

Hi Sandik,

What you say about Astaire not receiving mention for choreography was often true, but there are countless instances of cast members and dance partners saying, "but Fred put together all that…" And in his Broadway days, Astaire devised countless routines. Under Hollywood's star system, project assignments (and thus credits) were assigned before a project had even begun, so we do see some situations where credits go to persons who had next to nothing to do with a project. Hollywood was (and is) all about power politics, and who you know. Not so much a meritocracy.

Absolutely recommended reading: The Astaires: Fred & Adele (look for it on Amazon.com using the Ballet Alert Amazon Search). You'll learn all about the 'fabulous' Adele Astaire who was perhaps the most recognized star of her generation - now mostly forgotten due to the lack of film evidence of her work. She's been reduced to a rumor. There are very interesting parallels between the Astaire parents (especially Mom) and Suzanne Farrell's parents and numerous other "stage parents" you may have read about. I see a pattern forming...

[Edit] I just ran across this page on Wiki that attempts to list all of Astaire's solo and partner FILM dances, and there's this interesting quote:

Astaire nearly always collaborated with other choreographers, and except for the choreography of choruses which Astaire avoided, it is generally not possible to determine with any certainty the extent of Astaire's contribution vs that of his collaborators. This is particularly true in the case of his principal collaborator, Hermes Pan, where the seamless nature of the collaboration has been described by Astaire's rehearsal pianist Hal Borne, the only independent witness present throughout the entire process of dance creation of the Astaire-Rogers films: "It was hard to figure who contributed what to the choreography". Borne also describes the working atmosphere of such collaborations: "It was always pleasant. Never a hint of unpleasantness."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Astaire%27s_solo_and_partnered_dances

So I may have to concede on this point: Astaire worked with Hermes Pan mainly on his film musical projects. And that explains also why Astaire is able to keep "stylistic consistency" throughout these projects. The Broadway work of the Astaires was a different matter though.

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Astaire rarely took credits but he worked intensively on all his own choreography, usually with a collaborator. Kelly, too.

Fred Astaire, on the other hand, preferred one camera and one camera angle, if I'm not mistaken, although he used plenty on 'tricks' such as appearing to be dancing on the walls and ceiling.

Astaire liked to have the dancing presented in full and insisted on it as soon as he was in a position to do so. When he arrived in Hollywood, dances were often interrupted with reaction shots, examples of which can be seen in very early Astaire pictures like Flying Down to Rio, and often the dancers' bodies were cut off at the midriff or the legs. Astaire preferred longer takes, showing dancer and dance to best advantage - and highest exposure. The camera moved, but it moved at the service of the dance (resulting in the invention of the "Astaire dolly," which allowed the camera to move forward and back with the dancers).

As you note, Buddy, he did make use of special effects, in the "dancing on the ceiling" number in Royal Wedding and elsewhere. As far as I'm concerned Astaire is a perfectly special effect on his own, but I do like the "Shoes with Wings On" number from The Barkleys of Broadway.

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In re: the new "An American in Paris," it will be interesting to see what use, if any, is made of Alan Jay Lerner's original screenplay.

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.... he [Fred Astaire] did make use of special effects, in the "dancing on the ceiling" number in Royal Wedding and elsewhere. As far as I'm concerned Astaire is a perfectly special effect on his own, but I do like the "Shoes with Wings On" number from The Barkleys of Broadway.

The few special effects that I know of, Dirac, were pretty 'primitive' by today's high tech standards, but still interesting for a current stage production. The dancing on the walls and ceiling was done with a small room size rotating box and Fred Astaire would have to dance from one surface to the other. If anyone saw one of this year's episodes of Glee, the glee club teacher and his fiancee did a dance number where they're all over the walls and ceiling, purely technical film editing, it would seem.

Thanks everyone for the additional Fred Astaire information, which is always interesting when considering any dance-acting production. Fred Astaire is of particular interest to us because we are trying to guess what format Christopher Wheeldon's 'adaptation' might take and what skills might be required. Fred Astaire is of particular interest historically and here because he was a dancer with wonderful ballet sensitivity, who wasn't a ballet dancer. He is also a performer who I feel could dance with more grace possibly than his female partners and still remain totally masculine -- quite one of a kind !

Gene Kelly was another matter. He was totally 'masculine' and athletic, yet he championed the delicate grace of ballet, without actually going completely into the technique. Both men were very interesting, which gives us some room for our imaginations in trying to guess what form this new production will take and who might perform it.

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It looks like the American In Paris revival is taking shape, with Wheeldon at the helm as choreographer and director. The show will premiere in Paris, with hopes of a Broadway transfer in 2015. Robbie Fairchild is in the workshop in the lead male role. Leann Cope of Royal Ballet will workshop the Caron role. I'm not familiar with Cope, but Robbie Fairchild seems like the PERFECT choice for this project as far as the dancing goes. My only other candidate for the role would be Woetzel, but I suspect that he is now too old for this role. Robbie can certainly dance the role, but I have no idea whether he can act. It seems like for a big budget musical on Broadway, they would need someone who is a "triple threat".

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/an-american-in-paris-is-planned-for-paris-and-may-head-west-to-broadway/?ref=arts

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Thanks, abatt. So they are using ballet dancers. Should be very interesting to see. I still have Marcelo Gomes front and center in my brain, but it looks fascinating in any case. Perhaps this is going to be a lot more about dance than acting and singing.

Added quote from article:

"Among the film’s standout scenes is a roughly 16-minute ballet by Kelly’s character and his love interest, played by Leslie Caron, set to George Gershwin’s 1928 orchestral composition “An American in Paris.” The musical will have its own lengthy ballet sequence, completely reconceived by the show’s director and choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon...."

Correction:

I wrote (since deleted), "I've only seen Leanne Cope once, but she could be excellent for the Leslie Caron part."

It was probably retired Principal, Leanne Benjamin that I saw.

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Is Leanne Cope related to Jonathan Cope?

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It looks like the American In Paris revival is taking shape, with Wheeldon at the helm as choreographer and director. The show will premiere in Paris, with hopes of a Broadway transfer in 2015. Robbie Fairchild is in the workshop in the lead male role. Leann Cope of Royal Ballet will workshop the Caron role. I'm not familiar with Cope, but Robbie Fairchild seems like the PERFECT choice for this project as far as the dancing goes. My only other candidate for the role would be Woetzel, but I suspect that he is now too old for this role. Robbie can certainly dance the role, but I have no idea whether he can act. It seems like for a big budget musical on Broadway, they would need someone who is a "triple threat".

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/an-american-in-paris-is-planned-for-paris-and-may-head-west-to-broadway/?ref=arts

Thanks abatt. I agree that Fairchild is an excellent choice for this role. Besides his dancing, he has that charming charisma that Gene Kelly had which is perfect. I guess this would take him out of NYCB for a season (or 1/2 a season depending on how long he commits to the role in NYC). But, I think this musical would be fantastic on Broadway. I'm there!

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Fairchild and Cope are cast for the workshop only. No guarantees for the future. The ability to sing and act as well as dance are minimum requirements for the role of Jerry. (I don't remember Lise singing.)

I note that Chris Fosse is bringing in Bartlett Sher for "guidance and consultation." Probably a good move.

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Yes, definitely a good move to enlist Sher Wheeldon is certainly an accomplished choreographer, but directing a musical is an entirely different thing as to which he has no experience. Not a great idea to cut your teeth as a director on a multi million dollar musical.

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A nice article and some insight into Leanne Cope from Point Magazine.


"Thanks to Liam Scarlett, The Royal’s Leanne Cope alternates nights in the corps with leading roles.


"Her rank hasn’t stopped Scarlett from casting Cope in nearly every work he has created on the company. “Leanne is the type of dancer who makes choreographers do what they do,” he explains. “What draws me to her is the one thing I can never explain. She has a presence like no other on stage. Her face and eyes are just captivating.”


"In the studio, Scarlett constantly pushes her to do more, explaining: “There are many roles waiting to be created for her, in my eyes; she will always be the first considered for any part.
"





Added:

Abatt, I didn't see any mention of Jonathan Cope in the article.


Added, added:


And the kind of remark that makes you like a person from Leanne, 9 years in the corps.


"Many dancers in her situation would find the daily corps work a grind, but Cope relishes it. “I don’t think I’ll ever be frustrated in the corps de ballet, simply because I never thought I’d be here,” she explains."



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I'm sorry to come late to the topic, but just some random thoughts on some things in this thread:

1. My choice for Jerry probably would have been Adam Cooper: dances well, can sing, has the experience of doing 8 shows a week, has charisma onstage. I adored the little I saw of Robbie Fairchild in the Carousel concert, but wonder how he's going to come across onstage. To me, he just seems to read a little young to play Jerry, the ex-GI.

2. I'm very curious has to how An American in Paris is going to be adapted to the stage. The centerpiece of the film is the 20 minute long ballet at the climax, and I am skeptical as to how that can be adapted to stage for 8 performances a week.

3. Generally, no, Broadway musicals do not use alternating casts, but it does happen sometimes. The closest case would probably be Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out which used 2 casts of 4 performances each, and I think two casts were also used for her Frank Sinatra piece as well. Otherwise, well, Sarah Brightman (aka Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber at the time) only performed 6 times a week and had an alternate for matinees when she did Phantom of the Opera and every Christine since then has had the same. The most recent Evita production had the same for Elena Roger. Wicked probably should do the same for the Elphabas but doesn't because the actresses tend to be young and eager with little bargaining power.

The other times I can remember there being multiple casts involve children, in particular, under British labor laws on the West End.

4. Yes, Astaire did choreograph his own material, although was rarely if ever officially credited. The one outright collaboration I can remember off the top of my head is his work with Eleanor Powell on The Broadway Melody of 1940. Powell also choreographed her own material and spoke about the joint nature of that partnership when Astaire received his AFI award.

I think Caron also spoke about the challenges of Astaire trying to fit in his own persona and style into Roland Petit's vision of the Daddy Long Legs ballet in that film.

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Thanks very much for your thoughts, sidwich. The fact that two ballet dancers are being used for the "workshop" still makes me wonder if this might not be a more dance oriented interpretation. Christopher Wheeldon remains the Director as well as the choreographer.

Added:

Two quotes from the article do make me wonder somewhat about my supposition.
"….the stage version is relatively faithful to the film…."
"(Casting for the musical itself has not been made.)"
Added added:
Also, as mentioned here, the bringing in of Bartlett Sher "as creative consultant to provide guidance and feedback on the musical" is interesting. To what extent will he be involved?
"He [bartlett Sher] received both the 2008 Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for his direction of the Broadway revival of South Pacific. The New York Times has described him as "one of the most original and exciting directors, not only in the American theater but also in the international world of opera".
Still, for the acting and singing, could this be finessed somewhat, like Rex Harrison's 'talked-singing' in "My Fair Lady" in favor of more dancing? Both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire may have been greatest as 'dancers' and 'personality performers,' rather than as actors and singers.
Also: ( yes, happy.png)
I don't recall Leslie Caron singing at all in this, but I could be wrong.
[changed wording in paragraph just above the smiley from "personalities" to "personality performers."]

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Sher was a part of the development team that made A Light in the Piazza, when it was first created in Seattle at the Intiman Theater. He absolutely knows his way around a musical in process.

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Astaire did choreograph his own material (not the chorus dances, perhaps it should be noted) and usually worked in collaboration - his most famous collaborator being Hermes Pan. I think the only picture where Astaire worked entirely alone was "The Sky's the Limit" (one of his lesser-known titles, but a good movie and not only in respect to the dancing).

Still, for the acting and singing, could this be finessed somewhat, like Rex Harrison's 'talked-singing' in "My Fair Lady" in favor of more dancing? Both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire may have been greatest as 'dancers' and 'personality performers,' rather than as actors and singers.

Lerner & Loewe were writing with a non-singer in mind, however. The Gershwin songs were written for real singers. As sidwich observes, Buddy, you have to take into consideration the long haul of a Broadway run. Only so much dancing you can put in without pooping out the cast, assuming you don't alternate. Kelly and Astaire wouldn't have made it as singers only, but both had pleasing voices, Astaire's being highly regarded by many of the composers he worked with. Kelly was a good actor and regularly performed dramatic and comedic roles.

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