MTMag Sneak Peek: Tony Award-winning Choreographer Kathleen Marshall Talks Broadway Musicals & Tap Dancing

Kathleen_Marshall© 2013 by Trish Causey for Musical Theatre Magazine.

CREATIVE SPOTLIGHT:  Three-time Tony Award-winning Choreographer Kathleen Marshall

by Trish Causey

Tap dancing is a common feature in older, bigger musicals, but it can be tricky to use tap in a manner that conveys emotion and helps further the story.  According to Marshall, the title song from Anything Goes is a perfect example.  “‘Anything Goes’ was fun because it’s a kind of release,” she explains.  “At that point, Reno Sweeney is the Pied Piper, and she’s saying, ‘It’s a topsy turvy world.  A gangster can be celebrated as a celebrity; they are no rules these days, so everybody should follow their joy and do what they want.’  She gets everybody on board with her philosophy, and the way that happens is through tap.  People join in and join in — [it] starts off with a few people, adding on more and more.  Sometimes it’s call and answer, sometimes it’s all unison, and sometimes it’s counterpoint.  She’s like the coach leading the team.”

Recalling the rehearsal process, Marshall laughs, “When we started creating it, I had no idea it was going to be an 8-minute long number!  We just kept going.  We kept having other ideas for sections and patterns, and it kept building.  Unlike ‘DeLovely,’ which changes tempo and feel, the idea with ‘Anything Goes,’ once the dance started we’re in one tempo — we sped up a little bit, but we’re basically in one tempo.  And I wanted that because I wanted it to be relentless, just going and going — an endless roller coaster ride until it stops.”

Marshall offers some insight into tap and why it is such a difficult dance style to perform and incorporate into a show.  “With tap it’s a challenge because you’re doing all the things you do with other choreography, in terms of steps, your arms, your head, your focus, your body angles, then you’re adding rhythm with your feet.  It’s one more, huge aspect to the choreography.”

Kathleen-Marshall-Tony-AwardTap has become one of the hallmarks of Marshall’s productions, yet it is a dance genre that seems to have been a dying artform of late.  Yet, Marshall has words of hope for those of us who love the rousing — and oh, so synonymous with Broadway — tap dancing number. “Everything is cyclical,” Marshall says sagely.  “For a while, there were so many sung-through musicals, and now that seems to have subsided a bit, and I’m sure that will come again.  I’m glad to see new classic music comedies that are doing well.  But I think it depends on the show.  You have to have a director and a choreographer — or the writers have to want to put that into a show.  You have to put that into the show from its conception.  I don’t think you can graft it on to a show — it has to be in the DNA of a show, that that’s one of the languages you will use to tell the story.”

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