Hinton Battle: On His Own Terms
The three-time Tony Award winner discusses his new FringeNYC show Terms of Dismemberment, the new film Bolden, and reuniting on stage with former co-star Stephanie Mills.
THEATERMANIA: What made you want to work on Terms of Dismemberment?
HINTON BATTLE: I did a version of one of Dorothy's other shows, Respect, and we became great friends. So when she asked me to take a look at this show, I did. I love the title. And it has something to say -- sometimes, when you're at your wit's end, there's only one thing you can do. The economy being what it is, that kind of survival mentality is what Americans are dealing with today.
TM: Will we get to see much of your choreography?
HB: It's a lot to just get this show up without a lot of rehearsal, so my job is more about basic staging and capturing the humor of the piece than having the cast break into big dance arrangements or having dancers coming out of the floor. But it does allow for some choreography.
TM: Directors typically audition a lot of actors for Fringe shows. Do you remember your own worst audition?
HB: Yes, I remember auditioning for Michael Bennett when he was casting the first Los Angeles production of Dreamgirls. I went in for the role of Jimmy "Thunder" Early, and I forgot the lyrics of the song halfway through. And then I forgot the lyrics again -- twice -- and that third time, the entire room sang the song for me. It was one of my favorite songs -- I had done it hundreds of times -- and to this day, I am not sure what happened. It was sort of funny and devastating at the same time. Luckily, he called me later to do it on Broadway for a couple of months, and I had such a ball on that show. And I was blessed to be part of the film version.
TM: Tell me about this new project with Stephanie Mills?
HB: It's a comedy with music called Love Lies, about three women who are all engaged to marry the same guy next week and don't find out about each other until he's killed. I'm writing, directing and choreographing -- but I'm not going to be in it. I have enough to deal with. I've stayed in touch with Stephanie ever since we did The Wiz on Broadway over 35 years ago -- we also did Ragtime in Chicago and that was cool. So I wrote this show with her in mind. She has the same unbelievable voice she's always had and she looks fantastic. We're going to start in Atlanta for a week in the fall, then play a lot of small cities so we can polish it before it comes to New York. I've learned a lot by doing shows on the road.
TM: You also worked recently as the choreographer on this new film, Bolden, which stars Anthony Mackie as the legendary trumpet player Buddy Bolden. Did you know much about Buddy Bolden before the film?
HB: I never heard of the man. He was a great talent, but he had a sad life and then went mad. I loved working on the film; I got to do a lot of really great numbers and use all my vocabulary. It's a beautiful film and I can't wait until the whole world sees it.
HB: I would only would come back to do Broadway in a straight play. I think my dancing days there are over -- I'm not 20, and my body tells me that every day. But I've been lucky to stay in the arts and make a living. I went to real estate school at one point, and that was the worst six months of my life!