Asolo, Calhoun Promise a Whole New

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY NOV 15, 2018

For the Tony-nominated director Jeff Calhoun (Newsies, Grease), a trip to Sarasota just wouldn’t be complete without at least stopping in at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. “The Asolo is my favorite regional theater to work at,” he says, crediting Asolo’s artistic director, Michael Donald Edwards as a major draw. So when Calhoun and Edwards met up more than a year ago, and Edwards asked him if he were interested in directing a classic musical for the opening of the 2018–19 season, Calhoun jumped at the chance—with a few caveats.

“Without hesitation, I said the only revival that interests me is The Music Man,” Calhoun says. “Because I had an affinity for it as a kid watching the movie.” Edwards readily agreed, but Calhoun had a couple more “prerequisites” if he were going to create a revival the likes of which had never been seen before. And with The Music Man opening November 17 at the Asolo, it looks like Calhoun may have pulled it off.

It’s a tough question, how to differentiate a revival of an iconic show that’s been produced countless times in theaters across the nation since its Broadway debut in 1957, when it ran for a whopping 1,375 performances. But Calhoun thought he had the answer. “I wanted it to be an all tap dancing Music Man,” he says, “which, to my knowledge, hadn’t been done before.” But to pull it off, he knew he needed a special performer. He thought of no one but Noah Racey.

“Noah is one of our great song-and-dance men,” says Calhoun, dubbing the pairing of skills a dying art. “He’s sort of the last to follow in those footsteps of Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.” Asolo fans may recognize Racey’s prowess from the world premiere of Noah Racey’s Pulse, which came to the Asolo in 2013, also directed by Calhoun. “There was no one else I was interested in for the role,” he says.

Assembling his dream team, the production also sees Calhoun reuniting with the designer from his Tony-nominated production of Newsies in 2012. Together, the challenge was to make a revival of a period piece seem fresh to contemporary viewers. The first step was avoiding the obvious—meaning eschewing the classic setup and looking for something new. “Normally, they paint a front porch and push it on from the wings,” says Calhoun. “And it’s very easy to have the show look like a high school production, even when you have the greatest artists doing it.” He’s mum on the details, but confident they’ve found a solution.

“It’s going to be a very special production,” Calhoun says, mentioning that he’s already reaching out to theater professionals in New York to come see the show. “Not all productions are worthy or warrant a New York run,” he says, “but sometimes you get lucky and the stars align, and I feel that may be the case with this one.”

The Music Man opens at Asolo Repertory Theatre on November 17 and runs through December 29.

Pictured: Jeff Calhoun. Photo courtesy of Asolo Repertory Theatre.

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