This Monday, I will begin rehearsals for “Central Avenue Breakdown”, a new musical about two brothers who are saxophone players with differing artistic styles. Set during the rise and fall of the jazz scene on Central Avenue in 1940s Los Angeles, it’s a story about the quest for artistic integrity. The piece has new music, a new story … and requires new staging and choreography. After years of working on some of the classic pieces of musical theatre, I know “Central Avenue Breakdown” is an opportunity, the chance of a lifetime, to help a brand new musical see the light of day.
Years ago as a young choreographer, I would feel a sort of kinship, (rather worship) to Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Agnes De Mille and Jerome Robbins. I was fortunate to have the chance to choreograph some of their famous musicals in regional and summer stock productions. Those experiences reminded me of being a five year old when my father would come home from a hard day’s work. After he would change into more comfortable clothes, I would go into his bedroom and put his work clothes on over my own clothes. I’m sure I was a sight with his shirt and pants barely hanging on to my little body. As silly as I must have looked, I wanted to feel what it would be like to be daddy for a moment. To smell the sweat of his labor and feel the grime on his work clothes and to literally walk around in his shoes. The experience produced something like an understanding of my father. A connection that inspired me to be the person I am today. That’s what it felt like working on musicals that Fosse, Champion, De Mille, Kidd, Robbins and Graciela Daniele had all crafted before me. When I had the chance to create my own choreography for those time-tested theatre pieces, it gave me the opportunity to cut my teeth as a director and choreographer. Through trying on material they worked on, I learned a lot about my own work. My likes. My tastes. My inclinations. My personal style.
Because “Central Avenue Breakdown” is a new musical, I don’t have a precedent of inspiration to follow. One of the songs in the musical is called ‘Following The Changes’. A lyric in the song goes “I used to follow the changes, but now the changes are following me.” It reminds me that I have the chance of a lifetime to create movement, staging and a visual story where none has ever existed before. The chance to create a change in the history of musical theatre! Perhaps somewhere down the line, someone will be following me, trying me on.
What I learned: Although I’m rich with inspiration from some of the greatest theatre creators, I have to remember that in this lifetime, my style is my own. As I go into rehearsal for this new musical, I can’t be Bennett or De Mille, Stroman, Fosse or Tharp. I can only be me. Windom