BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Since beginning his career as an acclaimed choreographer, a path which led to his Tony Award for Best Choreography for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002, Tony Award winner and eight-time nominee Rob Ashford has more often taken on the dual role of director/choreographer. His recent musical outings on Broadway include revivals of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (starring Daniel Radcliff) and Promises, Promises (starring Kristen Chenoweth and Sean Hayes). Ashford's choreography is currently on display in Evita, starring Ricky Martin.
Scarlett Johansson returns to Broadway as Maggie the Cat in Ashford's
production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, following her 2010 Tony Award
winning debut in Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge. The
production, which opens on Thursday, also stars Ciarán Hinds, Benjamin Walker and Debra Monk.
This starry revival of Cat marks Ashford's first Broadway production of a non-musical. I talked to Rob about his approach as a director, and his experience working on both New York and London stages.
Naveen Kumar: In recent years you've directed a number of acclaimed productions of American classics, including Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (with Jude Law) and Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (with Rachel Weisz), both at the Donmar Warehouse in London. How would you characterize your approach to this sort of canonical material, with which artists and audiences are likely to be so familiar?
Rob Ashford: It's interesting trying to do a revival of a classic play. What I tried to do was go back to the original source material as much as I could, and also go back to the time when the play was written and try to get to what the writer was truly after. There's a lot of inspiration to be found by going back, and trying to figure out the original intention.
For example, with Streetcar there were five published scripts, and they changed so much over the years. Then the film happened, and the scripts adjusted to the film. So the main goal for these plays was to go back to the original source material and the original productions. Not being slavish to them, like 'Oh no, these are the first words he wrote, and these are the ones we're doing,' but just trying in a way to make it full circle, instead of stacking on other productions.
I didn't concentrate for any of these three shows—Streetcar or Cat or Anna Christie—on previous productions, I tried to ignore that. [On] the first day of rehearsal [for Cat], I said to the cast, 'I would love for us to take these characters off the pedestals where they've been placed and put them back into the play.' So, I didn't want to see anybody giving their 'Big Daddy' or giving their 'Maggie' or giving their 'Brick.' I just wanted to see these characters in the play, as if for the first time.
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