PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Kathleen Marshall, Going Hollywood at the 92nd Street Y

By Carey Purcell
10 Jan 2014

Have you learned any surprising facts about the Freed Unit while putting together this program?

KM: What's wonderful the Lyrics/Lyricist event is that I think it's a discovery for the audience, but also a discovery for those of us working on it — the opportunity to sort of delve into a certain subject, and I really learned a lot doing the research and working it all out.

Just the way that things all came together. Vincente Minnelli started off as a costume and set designer and Freed recognized him as an artist — a technical and visual artist — and invited him to Hollywood. He didn't have to sign a contract; they just told him to come to Hollywood, feel it out, and sort of just learn about filmmaking and feel it out, and by the time he made his first movie, which was "Cabin in the Sky," he had this wonderful apprenticeship along the way. And you learn that these people... they may sort of have a lot of wonderful ideas, but they don't come fully formed. They need the nurturing and the time and they need the space to sort out their ideas.

You've choreographed some amazing dance numbers on Broadway. Will this event feature choreography?

KM: There's not a whole lot of choreography because we only have five days to rehearse — it's even shorter than some Encores! events — so we have a little bit of sort of stage movement. But even with the arrangements, we're not trying to replicate what those movies were, but sort of pay homage to them. We're not doing pop arrangements of these songs. We're doing them as a homage — not replicating the exact arrangements, but keeping them in the spirit of the era in which they were done.

If you could choreograph Gene Kelly in any number, what would it be?

KM: The amazing thing about the Freed Unit is that they gave them the time they needed to sort of develop things. The "American in Paris" ballet — they took six weeks to rehearse it before they even shot it, which is extraordinary. Now we get maybe five weeks to rehearse an entire Broadway show. So the fact that they had six to rehearse and to just work on the ballet is really wonderful. Who knows what you would create? That's what the Freed Unit would let you do — sort of use your imagination and just open up everyone's creativity.

How do you think movie musicals have changed over the years?

KM: Well, seeing as how my brother directed "Chicago" — it was a few years ago, believe it or not — and that was the first musical to win an Oscar since "Oliver!" in the 60s. So for people to say the musical is dead... I'm not sure when they think it died. And since then, "Dreamgirls" has been hugely successful and "Les Mis" and "Mamma Mia" and "Hairspray" — there has been a lot of successful musicals.

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)