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Taylor-Corbett Swings!

But what she really likes to do is direct. Leslie (Hoban) Blake chats with Tony-nominated choreographer/ director Lynne Taylor-Corbett. logo
Lynne Taylor-Corbett
After myriad seasons of dance-drought on Broadway, the Great White Way is once again awash in choreography. Swing!, the "all dancing, all singing, all the time" show, is the brainchild of Lynne Taylor-Corbett, the original "floating" Cassie in A Chorus Line for two years. Although she previously choreographed Chess and Titanic on Broadway, as well as Off-Broadway's quirky Song of Singapore, and helped with Joan Rivers' Sally Marr and Her Escorts, she admits, "This was my first chance to actually direct a show on Broadway."

Taylor-Corbett's life as a director has been primarily outside of New York. In fact, she was in Korea directing Cookin', a non-verbal Stomp-like show featuring four Korean chefs in (what else?) a kitchen, when the call came from producer Richard Frankel that started the swing for Swing.

"All my life I've wanted to create a show, and I literally hit the ground running on this one," she grins, proud of her Broadway baby, almost two years in the making. During a recent quiet moment (one of very few) between auditions for the Swing road company and the flurry of awards luncheons and ceremonies, the dark haired former Alvin Ailey dancer worried aloud about what she might wear to all these events, explaining, "I usually just wear my son's hand-me-down sweats."

Nominated for both the Drama Desk and Tony Award for choreography, most important to her is the Tony nomination for direction of a musical. Taylor-Corbett also is delighted to be nominated in the company of two other female choreographers/directors--Kathleen Marshall and Susan Stroman--a Broadway first. "Kathleen Marshall and I were just talking about how great this is at the Drama Desk Awards," Taylor-Corbett says.

"Swing fascinates me," she confesses, "after all, it's the music that got us through the Second World War, and it's all the rage again among

From Swing!
young people. But I didn't want to just do a traditional revue. Swing is African-American rhythms meeting New Orleans jazz, and I wanted to create the same sense of spontaneity and the unexpected, that permeates the music. So I trekked out to East L.A., to meet West Coast authority Buddy Schwimmer, who became a consultant [one of several]. It was Buddy who asked me if I'd heard of Casey MacGill [charismatic leader of the on-stage Gotham City Gates orchestra], who not only came on board, but wrote several original numbers, including 'Rhythm' and 'Kitchen Mechanics' Night Out.' Casey's definitely the keeper of the flame."

Taylor-Corbett continues, "I also wanted to break down barriers between the musicians and the actors, not just by putting them on stage, but by integrating them into the action." This produced two extraordinary numbers, pairing Tony-nominated actress Laura Benati with trombonist Steve Armour ("Cry Me A River") and Caitlin Carter with bass player Conrad Korsch ("Harlem Nocturne"). "It's the old chicken-egg thing," she recalls with a smile. "We didn't know if musicians could do the choreography of the pieces, but both Steve and Conrad came through like troupers. Now we've lined up several other musicians who can act." Ironically, another Tony nod went to singer/songwriter and vociferous non-dancer, Ann Hampton Callaway ("I Won't Dance").
From Swing!
Taylor-Corbett goes on to explain, "So many aspects of couples' lead-follow dancing are different from traditional musical theater dancing, starting with the basic idea of a stage. This material is usually danced in ballrooms, with the audience quite close. It was so important to me to maintain authenticity in the larger theatrical setting. I found real championship swing dancers like Robert Royston and Lauren Baldovi [four-time world Country and Open Swing champs] and Beverly Durand [three-time Open Swing/West Coast Swing champ]. Ryan Francois [a British born, American Swing Dance/U.S. Open Champ, and winner of an 1999 Olivier for choreography] helps keep it all real, and is also my associate choreographer, as are Broadway vets, Scott Fowler and Rod McCune.

"Most of these champion dancers never studied ballet or tap, so we had to teach these skills as well. That made the normal three-week process six weeks long, but it also built great trust. Paul Kelly [credited with the original concept] brought me all these great ideas, and the show developed from our core ideas, but anyone with a good idea could contribute." Talk about collaboration! Jack Viertel (creative director of the Jujamcyn Theatres) served as dramaturg and, of course, Jerry Zaks (also on the Jujamcyn team) was the production supervisor. "That was a totally unique experience," Taylor-Corbett reveals, "because there were no guidelines, either for this odd little bird of a show that kept morphing, or for my relationship with Jerry. But he told me, 'I don't want to direct, I'll just meddle.' Of course, he made numerous pivotal suggestions and always pushed me harder. There certainly was no loneliness on this show," she laughs.

If Comden and Green had only waited a few years, they could have based Wonderful Town on the New York misadventures of then-dancer Taylor-Corbett and her actress-dancer sister Sharon Talbot, instead of on Ruth MacKenna's colorful New Yorker stories. Taylor-Corbett's currently working on Freenie Baker Didn't Steal the Mink, which she calls "a labor of my heart." And who's Freenie Baker? Why that was 18-year-old Taylor-Corbett's alias...well, that is, her alter-ego at a crooked modeling agency where they "borrowed" jewels and furs for shoots. Taylor-Corbett (aka Freenie) signed for the deliveries, and when the crooks skedaddled with the goods, the cops went hunting for Freenie. She was also a hat check girl at a mafia-owned nightclub and a juggler's assistant. But these dramatized stories of her colorful past adventures will have to wait for the first Swing tour to get underway, and for Taylor-Corbett to finish up a work-in-progress about Lena Horne and Marian Anderson, which she's creating with Vivian Reed (Bubbling Brown Sugar).

For Taylor-Corbett, life is certainly beautiful at the theater, and as soon as she finds the right outfit for the Tony Awards, she will be too.

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