Nov 7, 2011

Big and Small

Maybe I over-research as a reporter, but I almost always end up with a lot, lot more material than I can put into any given story. Case in point, my preview piece on the L.A. run of Bring It On: The Musical, for which I interviewed director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, songwriters Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, book writer Jeff Whitty, lead perfomers Taylor Louderman and Adrienne Warren, cheer director Jessica Colombo, and CTG honcho Michael Ritchie. Not only did I not get to include quotes from all of the above about the show, which will tour 12 cities over the next six months with Broadway as an unspoken but assumed end goal; I didn't even get to include some of the choicest material from Blankenbuehler and Miranda, the latter of whom is a freakin' quote machine (I made the mistake of following the In the Heights creator on Twitter for about one minute, until he threatened to take over my Twitter feed). Probably my favorite unused quote from Blakenbuehler, who's really the driving force behind the Bring It On musical, is his case for the theatricality of hip-hop dance:
The kind of hip-hop [dance] I like really caters to storytelling, much better than if I was in a swing vocabulary or a Charleston. A lot of where hip-hop comes from is backing up artists, so the [physical] vocabulary is almost like pantomime. When I started In the Heights, I started off almost putting pantomime, like sign-language pantomime to the lyric, and then broadening it into a dance step. So [in the Bring It On number "Do Your Own Thing"], her lyric is, "Somebody took my life and pressed restart," so literally when I started choreographing, it was like, I press a restart button, and then how does that turn into a dance step? That's sort of how I function, because I'm not a hip-hop choreographer.
And from Miranda, on pop-culture references in his lyrics:
With Heights, I felt an enormous responsibility, like, We're doing hip-hop for an audience that does not necessarily listen to it, we need to make them feel very taken care of. That's why in the opening number there's a Cole Porter reference and a Duke Ellington reference, literally so a Broadway audience would say, "I know those people, I like this"...

When I'm writing for the theatre, I have a gut-check: If I'm making a pop-culture reference, I need to feel like it will make sense 100 years from now. So I'll reference Frodo, who is gonna outlive us all, and there's a rap about Michael Jordan, who I feel like we will still be talking about in 100 years. So I really try not to make the reference to whatever pop artist is on the radio right now, because they might not even be around in six months.
Along those lines, Whitty, who I didn't find room to quote in the story at all, confessed that he'd learned his lesson from Avenue Q's various updating issues (the George W. Bush reference, the inclusion of Gary Coleman as a character):
I don’t want this show to date I tried to invent a language that isn’t full of texting lingo. But there is a callout at the very end to Mrs. Garret and Facts of Life. She’s timeless. And I know that Charlotte Rae is coming to the opening.
In an entirely different vein, I write in this month's American Theatre about a trend that seems to be long overdue: large resident theaters producing/presenting the work of small theaters from their own hometown. It's something that seemed like a no-brainer when I was covering L.A. theater, large and small, and seeing a lot of effort duplicated and audiences dispersed. We hear lots of talk about theater bridging cultural and generational divides; it's good to see cases of it bridging aesthetic and institutional divides, as well.

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