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HomeEntertainment'Some Like It Hot' director-choreographer for musical's 'math' and 'risky' chase sequence

‘Some Like It Hot’ director-choreographer for musical’s ‘math’ and ‘risky’ chase sequence


On Broadway Some love it when it’s hotbased on the 1959 movie starring Marilyn Monroe, there’s a chase sequence where the main trio of the musical Joe (Christian Borle), Daphne (J. Harrison Ghee) and Gertrude (Adrianna Hicks) avoid a hotel and duck around to avoid a group of angry mobsters, who are themselves being chased by the Police.

With this modern spin on the romantic crime comedy, it’s easy to assume that director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw drew on the movie’s haunt to help him deliver one of Broadway’s most thrilling tap sequences. And there was a nod to the movie series at one point with mobster Spats Colombo (played by Mark Lotito) hiding under a room service van. But the choreographer and director say it was one of the things that was removed as the team strained and stopped in the quest to achieve the right tempo and length for the song. In the end, he didn’t find much influence on the big screen at all.

“The funny thing is I didn’t even remember there being a car chase in it. Then I’d seen the movie again, and I was like, ‘Oh, right!’ There’s a chase sequence in here!” Some like It Hot’s director and choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, recalls speaking with The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought (co-writer of the book) Matthew (Lopez) just made it up. I was like, ‘Matthew, that’s so good – the chase scene!’

The memory earns a laugh from Nicholaw, but it’s a somewhat surprising revelation given the almost cinematic feel of the multi-minute sequence. That is the result, says the choreographer, of starting from a cinematic lens and knowing “because I am a creature of the theater” how to put it on stage. He would do this with the help of set designer Scott Pask, a frequent collaborator who worked on the doors that would become part of the musical’s vocabulary.

There was also dancing and stage music arranger Glen Kelly, who translated Nicholaw’s thoughts on a song’s feel, moves and beats. “He wrote the whole thing out, and then I would listen to it over and over, just sitting on the floor with my eyes closed and seeing it,” Nicholaw recalled.

Embedded in the closing scenes of the musical’s end, it’s an exciting and demanding display that the director – who did the routine for a week in the role of Spats when a number of cast members and students were out for a series of performances – describes as incredibly “mathematical.”

“It has to be so, so precise — they have to hit spots on the floor and know exactly how long to hit it on the floor — because they’re moving doors and they can’t see either direction where they’re going,” he explains “They need to know who’s coming and which direction the door is going in. And the backstage travel – it’s just as busy backstage as if you’re watching it from the audience, if not more so.

“In the end I was busy for a week. It was super crazy to be behind that – not standing, but running. I was running so fast. I was like, OK, now I understand what you guys are going through,” he continued, laughing.

Another thing he calls the sequence: risky.

“When you get to the end of the show and suddenly you’re in dance vocabulary for five minutes, it’s risky because the audience is looking at their watches. They want to get out of there and suddenly you expect them to commit to a big dance number,” he says. “Will people want to sit still and watch something like that? To see us tie all the ends of a two-hour show into a dance sequence?

Part of what makes it so exciting is the complicated nature of the live sequence, which with one wrong move could disrupt the entire energy. The tap-driven track features about 25 leads and ensemble cast members scrambling, whirling, and flying up and down stairs, around shifting hotel props, and in and out of a number of moving doors.

“It’s just the chaos of doors moving all the time and ending with all the doors moving in all directions at the same time,” he continued of the energy of the show’s final dance sequence. “What should we put in place to make sure the doors stay put because we can’t slow them down? We need to make sure they can keep moving, but we also don’t want them to roll away when they land.”

It’s a dizzying song that strikes the perfect balance between suspense and comedy. It also manages not to overstay its welcome, something the choreographer says he had to train in both the lab and the downtime afforded by Broadway’s pandemic shutdown.

“This is the highlight. This is all that lands right now, so there should still be danger with the guys, as well as the buoyancy of a musical,” Nicholaw explains. “I really took the time to make sure all the details were done. I wanted to tell the story. We also had to do it at such a slow pace to start with to make sure no one got hurt.

The finished iteration of the sequence, which plays nightly to Broadway audiences, eventually evolved as the show passed through that lab first. When the group initially started, the script only offered a taste of the sequences’ potential, with Nicholaw saying that Lopez had described the scene as “a big wild chase ensues” with people “jumping out and people going back in and someone comes in with a towel and someone goes out.” There were also no doors during pre-production, leaving Nicholaw to do more on the spot.

But when the pandemic hit, the out-of-town run was canceled, giving the team “a lot of time to ruminate and things started to change and gel.”

“When we did it in the lab, it didn’t have a faucet. It was just a regular chase – still with the doors and everything,” he recalls. “And I started to think, how nice would that be? It’s something I’ve never seen before. Cut to getting together with the cast to do a second lab and everyone was like, ‘Holy shit, are we taping the whole thing?’”

At that time, the Some love it when it’s hot director turned Lopez’s concept into what he calls “a big long dance”, inspired in part by an earlier tap sequence on the show. That song tops the first act and is performed by Joe and Jerry (who later goes by Daphne), a fraternal song and dance duo who dress up as women to join an all-female band in an attempt to avoid being killed by a mobster after witnessing a hit.

“I choreographed that first song and then all of a sudden we started adding more tap to the other songs and it became the vocabulary of the show. I thought, well, why wouldn’t this also be a tap song? the Some love it when it’s hot recalls the director, noting that he also added an earlier “minute-long” chase in the first act, “so that (the sequence of the doors) didn’t feel like it came out of the blue like that, like it was so far-fetched .”

Many of the moments in the sequence ultimately feel, at least comically, unexpected, if not totally unrealistic. There’s a lot going on stage moment-to-moment, too, something that could overwhelm an audience this late in the show. But Nicholaw says the dance’s choreography was designed to grab the audience’s attention.

“Sometimes when someone is number four instead of six, it makes a huge difference whether your eye goes to them or not,” he said. “The lights also help. I don’t think people are aware of how much because it never seems like we’re shining a spotlight on them, but a little bit of light just happens to hit that person because we know we want you to see them.

The trick then is to run it without it all seeming intentional. “It looks like an accident, but you’re supposed to go there (with your eye),” he explains. “My favorite thing to do is have an audience say, ‘Oh god, did you see that?’ Like not everyone got to see it You know they feel like they’re the only ones who caught that little thing, but you’re meant to catch that little thing.

But therein—besides keeping people from slipping in their tap shoes—is one of the biggest challenges of the series. Nicholaw says not only should everyone have enough time each night to get into their seats, but there should also be enough people to move the doors. With several members of the company temporarily out of action at various points in the musical, the choreographer said cutting down the number emerges as the biggest challenge.

“We have to get other people involved and try to figure out how we can do it all,” he adds, “because it uses every member of the cast and that number.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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