In August, Theatre Under The Stars
welcomed the Tony-nominated director and choreographer as its new artistic director.
You came to TUTS last year as a guest director of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Did you have any idea then that you’d be back so soon as the artistic director?
I was asked by Sheldon Epps, the artistic advisor before I got here, to direct How to Succeed
…, but I had no idea I was going to be back so soon. Sheldon had given me inklings he was not going to stay on for the next season. Someone from the board approached me about how great a place Houston is to live, should I ever want to move here. I mentioned then that I would definitely be interested. Lo and behold I went through the process and here I am!
What was it about TUTS that made you want to uproot your life on Broadway and take this job in Houston, Texas?
I had been doing a lot of work in New York but as of late, I’d been working a lot internationally and regionally. All of that travel is tiring and I was starting to look for a place to call home— not only find a personal home, but an artistic home as well. I haven’t had as much time to explore Houston yet as I’m looking forward to. At TUTS we are in the process of planning for our 50th season next year and deciding how to turn the theater into a cultural touchstone for the community. And that is exhausting! But I knew that moving to a place with a food-scene this good would be easy to call home.
What are you most excited to do at the organization, and what do you view as your biggest hurdles?
The world and the nation we are living in right now is so polarized and art is functioning in that way too. People want to see the same shows right now that have been in the musical theater canon for a long time. They are great shows, but some people in our community are dying for new work. That is where both our struggle and excitement are going to come from. Our mission is to be at the forefront of musical theater, and you can’t do that by performing the same shows over and over. Great musical theater entertains and is current—Hamilton
does this best. It’s modern, but harkens to old storytelling. New work could create something that adds to the musical canon, not just in Houston but also in the country.
You were slated to start your job right after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Can you talk about what it was like to move to a new city and start a new job in a time of crisis?
That was insane. It was it was incredible trying to figure out how we would do business in the wake of a natural disaster. Entertainment isn’t seen as necessary like food or water. I think it absolutely is—it feeds your soul and mind. It’s so hard to deal with disaster recovery every day without relief and I think that’s what we provide. I got to meet a lot of the arts leaders across the country through ongoing relief efforts. It’s always best to make friends in the trenches rather than in peacetime. It bonds you together in a way that otherwise it wouldn’t.
You’ve said you’d like to focus on producing more new works in Houston. What does that look like?
I think there is a way we could successfully employ artists in the Houston community. It would have to be something in conjunction with other arts organizations to give the artists meaningful employment, therefore keeping them in the Houston area. I’m talking about being able to cast our shows with partially local casts on a level that is as high as what you would see with any of the Broadway tours. We’re also looking at starting a New Works Festival that would commission Texas writers to write musicals. We would then take that musical and develop it, workshop it, give it a home and export it throughout the country. I think it’s going to take a long time, but a commitment to trying to figure out the mechanics of how that can work would be paramount to my tenure here.
What’s your all-time favorite Broadway play and why?
My favorite is Dreamgirls
because of the emotion and the energy. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. It’s just a visceral rollercoaster of emotion. Also Stephen Sondheim’s Follies
for me is the same thing. It’s so intellectually stimulating. You laugh, you cry, and you’re thrilled.
What’s an interesting fact about you?
I have about $30,000 worth of Marvel comics. Growing up I had a real fascination with comic books. They are at my parents. As a kid I collected them: Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. That was my thing as a kid and they were sort of like my friends. I read them incessantly!