TheaterMania Logo
Theater News

Warren Carlyle, Back on Broadway

The director/choreographer discusses his work on Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway, Cotton Club Parade, Follies, and A Christmas Story, the Musical! logo
Warren Carlyle and Hugh Jackman
(© Tristan Fuge)
To say director/choreographer Warren Carlyle has been busy is an understatement. He is director/choreographer of both Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway and the City Center Encores! staging of Cotton Club Parade; choreographed the Kennedy Center Follies revival, now on Broadway; and he's also choreographer for John Rando's production of A Christmas Story, the Musical!, now on a five-city holiday tour.

"My life's so wonderful," says Carlyle. "Every day I pinch myself. I still can't believe it's not the dream I spent my life dreaming. I'm having the time of my life working with the best in the world."

What was the moment he knew he was on his way? "I don't think I know that yet," says the 39-year-old who began dancing right out of university in the U.K. "There're lots of things to do. I just turn up and do the work and pray it turns out great."

Carlyle came up the ranks choreographing such musicals as Scrooge, the Sondheim revue Moving On, Pageant and The Goodbye Girl. Then, he was hand-picked by Susan Stroman to be her associate choreographer on Trevor Nunn's 1997 production of Oklahoma, starring Jackman.

"Warren has a great passion for theater," observes Stroman, "and comes armed with a tremendous knowledge of stage craft. He knows how to get the best out of people, always garnering their trust and respect. My time creating with Warren was joyous and inspiring. I am so pleased with all his deserved success."

"Working with Warren has been a complete joy in every way," says Jackman. "We started out together, and became great friends during the run of Oklahoma! It was clear to me then that Warren had big dreams, and a real joie de vivre. He was a born choreographer/director, and as everyone on that production knew, Warren -- a.k.a. Crazy Jake -- was going places. It's such a thrill to watch his rise."

Carlyle feels similarly about Jackman. "Hugh's incredible. Really something. And he was like that 15 years ago when we met. Hugh walked into a room and he owned it. He had star power."

What most people may not realize about Jackman, observes Carlyle, "is that he's everything he appears to be and more. That's truly him up there. That's his honesty and humility. He's the real thing. You not only get what you pay for, you get it in volumes. What makes Hugh a great actor is that he's comfortable in any skin. There're so many aspects to him -- romance, heart, warmth and humor. He also has that little edge that says, 'Don't mess with me!'"

Emily Tyra, Hugh Jackman, Lara Seibert, and
Kearran Giovanni in Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway
(© Joan Marcus)
Carlyle pointed out that Jackman can easily do Peter Allen, then turn around and become someone like Gene Kelly, then mesmerize audiences with Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Soliloquy" from Carousel, as he does at the end of Act One. "His range," states Carlyle, "is above and beyond anything I've experienced."

Jackman states that when he started to look for someone to help him stage this show, Carlyle's name immediately sprang to mind. "I never forgot Warren's way of bringing out the best in me and everyone around him," he says. "His energy is infectious, and he's a natural leader. He has the rare ability of having real confidence in his vision and the extraordinary ability to listen to everyone around him, and to be able to push everyone to be their best. Warren's also one of the most gracious, appreciative and humble people I know, and has a work ethic that squeezes every ounce out of every day."

Carlyle says that he and Jackman wanted to make Back on Broadway a love letter to New York. "It's quite different than it was in San Francisco and Toronto. In Toronto, Hugh didn't sing 'I Love New York.' We had quite a wonderful time working on the Broadway medley, which debuted here. Hugh loves New York City. He and his family get about and do things."

Cotton Club Parade, the inaugural co-production of City Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the reimagining of Duke Ellington revues of the late 20s at the legendary Harlem nightspot, is a big jump for Carlyle. "As far as the music, there's nothing better than Ellington. But, being able to work with [music director] Wynton Marsalis is another dream come true. He's not only a musical genius but the keeper of the flame for jazz in the U.S."

He sees the revue as an opportunity "to evoke the Cotton Club era and the music I love so to recreate the excitement of seeing such performers as the Nicholas Brothers, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Lena Horne."

In the case of Follies, Carlyle had worked with director Eric Schaeffer on the Kennedy Center's May, 2006 revival of Mame, starring Christine Baranski. "Believe it or not," states Carlyle, "Eric and I began talking then about doing a revival of Follies. It only took five years!"

Carlyle is hoping that, like Irving Berlin's White Christmas, A Christmas Story will have a stopover in New York soon. He praises Joseph Robinette's book, based on writings of humorist Jean Shepherd and the 1983 film and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score. "The show's joyous, riotous, fantastic and very special. I didn't grow up watching the movie, but since moving here I've watched it at least 20 times every season. I not only know the characters, but I live them!"

Tagged in this Story