Interview with David Bushman, Choreographer of the Tour of Chicago
Posted on 07/14/2018
There’s never been a better time to experience Chicago, Broadway’s razzle-dazzle smash, at The State for 4 shows February 15-17! The choreographer of the tour, David Bushman, joins us to discuss what it's like working on a show with such an iconic dance style and how he loves having the opportunity to work with Broadway veterans and newcomers regularly.
Read the transcribed interview below
with Bert, Kelly, and Hanna from All Access and special guest David Bushman.
Bert: Welcome back to All Access with State Theatre New Jersey, coming up we’re going to be recapping the entire Broadway season which is coming up, and this is really shaping up to be one of the best that we’ve ever seen in history at State Theatre New Jersey. Let’s welcome in our next guest who is with us, Kelly or Hanna would you like to introduce who’s joining us for this segment?
Kelly: Yes, joining us today is the choreographer of Chicago The Musical coming on tour to state theatre February 15th,16th ,and 17th, is David Bushman welcome David!
David: Thank you so much it’s a pleasure to be here
Hanna: Glad to have you.
Kelly: So David, tell us all about your involvement in Chicago and how long have you been involved and how did you get here?
David: Well it’s been an interesting journey; I actually began my association with the show in 2003, believe it or not. I was living in Montreal, Canada at the time, and at that point the producers decided to put out a French production. It had already been set in many languages around the world and there had never been a French production. So I auditioned for that and I was hired, and that production went over to Paris the following year and at one point I became dance captain for that show and then I immediately came into the national tour in 2004 until 2007 during which I was also a dance captain for a latter part of that and then I was in and out of the company for a while the national tour and then in 2013 the producers invited me to put up the tour that year. I’ll say that I’m not really the choreographer even though I’m listed as choreographer in the program. My mandate is to set the work that Anne Reinking put forth for the revival in 96’ so there’s work as a choreographer to do, to putting up a company. I’m always dealing with people who have never done the show or are veterans. I’m putting up a company with mixed ideas about the show which is a lovely challenge. My mandate is to put up and create a company that is going to best represent what’s on Broadway right now.
Hanna: So putting up a show, as you mentioned, is different than choreographing, and you are doing the tour in the style of Anne Reinking who did the revival in the style of Bob Fosse of the original, so what is that process like of taking a very specific choreography style from this dance legend and then having it be redone and reworked over the years to something that’s still recognizable by an audience today but people are kind of able to put their own spin on, how does that work?
David: Again what Annie did with the revival is the style of Fosse, there are only two numbers in the show that are original choreography from the original production. Annie basically recreated the show, so she choreographed it in the style of Fosse. My mandate is to take the most recent and most current ideas that Annie has about the show. So again, I take the numbers and I also recreate the shapes the best story telling possible with the steps. However, there’s a certain amount of conversation in the show, also Annie worked very much like Bob Fosse in that she was never just replacing one member with another that comes in, there’s no cookie cutter kind of working with the show. Bob Fosse, Annie Reinking, they really like to use the personalities of the people in the room at the time so essentially, the personality, the point of view that this show has is represented by every person on stage. Bob Fosse himself used to consider the ensemble of the show, the sixth principle character in the show. Because we are so involved in advancing the story, were not just out doing musical numbers and dancing, we really are a very important part of advancing the story throughout the show. So It’s really a unique show in that way.
Bert: Yeah, there’s a lot of unique things about this show here, and for a show like this you constantly are sort of tweaking and revisiting things, I don’t know how many off days you have when you’re on the road with the show like this but sometimes your dedicated to looking at certain things and certain components that maybe you just want to make sure that they’re as good as they can be, is it always kind of a work in progress I guess is what my question is mainly.
David: I wouldn’t say it’s a work in progress although that’s an interesting way to look at it, I would say that where are we today, the show is more relevant than it has ever been when we look at the themes that are mentioned in the opening speech, murder, rape, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, treasury, there’s a lot of reasons to look at the theme of the show and when the show pokes fun at the justice system, the celebrities basically getting off for murder, and how that comes about. That’s the shows content, that’s the shows message but the style of the show, we have on tour veterans, Broadway veterans in the leading roles so you have a very anchoring presence in the leads, and then you have a lovely mix of fresh new energy in some of the ensembles, added to people who have already done the show and who have had history and developed a knowing of this show. So its actually a lovely combination of a deep understanding of movement and the language of the show, the vocabulary and then also this fantastic energy mixed in with the people who are very hungry to learn and understand the style. It’s been one of my biggest pleasures actually putting up the tour every year because you have exactly those elements coming together in the studio and starting not from scratch but from ground one with a new company, and then finding their sensibility together in the studio.
Hanna: I was going to ask. It must be very interesting to have to put together a cast that has these veterans who’ve worked on the show before and having these new excited cast members, what is that rehearsal process like for putting together a new cast as a whole with people who may or may not already know some of the choreography that’s going into it?
David: Well the good thing about today is that everyone even someone coming into the show new has had enough opportunity to familiarize themselves at least with a performance, maybe they’ve seen the show or maybe they’ve done some of the choreography in a workshop, most dancers today have had some experience with Fosse. The lovely thing is that the new people coming in very much like a rep company of years gone by, and there are still rep companies out there that the younger novices are learning a tremendous amount from the veterans that have been around a while. I liken it to an old Shakespeare company, where you learn more from watching from taking in the artistry of the people that have been doing the work for a while. There is something about the Fosse Family now that, the Chicago family that has developed over the years that we have all been taught in pretty much the same way , and my mandate is to continuously pass down the nuggets of information and the ways of looking at the movement and understanding the movement. The way I learned it from Anne Reinking and the other dance captain or the other dance supervisor I’ve worked with, so there’s a tradition of story telling through movement and you know the whole story takes place in a vaudeville atmosphere so there’s also a unique way of storytelling that is based on theatre of years gone by. So we have that reference for us we’re not lost in a huge production number on the stage. We’re out there figuratively and literally sort of nude, and we only have ourselves to use to tell the story I think that’s one of Fosse’s strengths. It is something that you cannot take your eyes off of, if it’s done well it’s so compelling that you almost can’t even put your finger on what’s being done. That said, it sometimes dancers coming in they thing oh I know this, this is a fairly simple choreography, and then they start learning the choreography and then realizing just how deep the work is.
Kelly: Right, and just talking about that, I was actually going to ask, of the dance numbers what in levels of difficulty would you say when you’re putting up a new tour, is the hardest to do, and what is your favorite and maybe it is the hardest one that’s your favorite to put together or you know there’s just so many great iconic songs in Chicago, which would you say is the hardest?
David: I think that there’s a challenge with each number and I actually don’t have a favorite, however I like each number for different reasons. “All that Jazz,” the opening of the show is an invitation into this world that we are about to tell the story in, so there’s something lovely about a cast of characters coming on a stage and basically welcoming an audience in for a two and a half hour journey of where are we going to take you! And so from there every time the dancers get out of their chairs and into the next number they’re new character. The “Cellblock Tango” girls for instance, it’s a very specific number, its an iconic number now, and to achieve the essence of that number you know you’re dealing with six ladies in the cellblock and they each have their own story, why did they do what they did, and the energy that is vibrating in that number has to be so clear so that you know even when they’re sitting in their chairs the next scene, that there is something very alive and palpable from each of those cast members even from sitting in their chairs until they get up and go into the next transition. So I think that every number has its own set of challenges there’s a number in the second act called “Me and My Baby” and Roxy basically has decided that she is pregnant, it’s her new idea to get Billy Flinn back on her side and the reason why she should be the next case that he takes. Again it’s completely erroneous she’s made it up and there’s a number called “Me and My Baby” that happens right after she announces this and two gentlemen get up and they dance with her in bowler hats, its one of the most classic numbers, and pieces of choreography that you would recognize as Fosse, it’s one of the most integral numbers in the show. So I think you know each number has its own thing and I think apart from the others they stand on their own, but it’s the way the numbers are woven together that ultimately contribute to a fairly complete idea of what Fosse would do with this show.
Bert: Yep and you’re right its great scenes and great songs just like that that make Chicago really the legend that it is. And hopefully you have your calendars marked with the dates, its February 15th, 16th, and 17th to choose from at State Theatre New Jersey go to the website STNJ.org and do not miss Chicago when it comes to town in February of 2019. Great to speak with you David Bushman thank you for joining us on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey and we’ll see you when you come to town in a few months alright!
David: Beautiful, thank you so much.