Norb Joerder, cast, and crew had only nine days to rehearse 42nd Street: A Tap Dance Extravaganza, one of the largest, most elaborate musicals with inexhaustible dance numbers, lavish costuming and rich staging. No easy feet.
But Joerder didn’t miss a step. He simply focused his auditions on talents who have previously done the show in one form or another. His real challenge was not finding them, but keeping them. Encore Atlanta spoke with Joerder in late May, after casting was complete.
Is it nerve-wracking to cast so late for a touring show?
We do auditions here in New York and Atlanta. Then, what happens is, people get other job [offers]. Our production runs for four weeks; they’ll get something for six. We have to keep a backup of people. It’s a little difficult. The first day of rehearsal is not only exciting but, in some ways, a relief, because everybody’s there.
You’re only using choreography from the original, Tony Award-winning, 1980s Broadway production of 42nd Street. Is it less fulfilling to use someone else’s work?
Oh, no! I still find it fulfilling. The original work was so creative. Gower [Champion] was a brilliant man. There are certain shows I have such respect for, so I try to recreate how they were originally conceived. It’s always nice to do a revival or my own stuff, but these shows were so well put together, I would never think I was more talented than Gower Champion. I have great respect for his work, and this production is a tribute to him.
What do you enjoy the most about this musical?
42nd Street is like the quintessential backstage musical. It’s like all those wonderful old movies about putting on a show. It’s a very interesting production about a director whose career has gone downhill a little bit, and this is his last chance to put together a big musical extravaganza on Broadway. Plus, it’s [set during] the height of the Depression, so money is scarce. It’s very much like what we’re living today. It has so many wonderful dance numbers and wonderful songs. Audiences really respond to it on so many levels.
It seems that tap goes in and out of fashion more so than any other form of dance. And when it is popular, it is wildly so. Why do you think that is?
It’s kind of like everything else. Tap goes away for a while … and all the sudden it resurfaces again. It’s one of those wonderful forms of dance, and everyone has been exposed to it. Even when it goes out of vogue, there are always wonderful groups of people that keep the tap dance culture going. We don’t hear about them, but they’re always around. Here in New York, they’re very prominent. Tap is so much fun to do. I have so many friends who take tap dances for exercise because it’s so much fun and brings so much joy to people. I’m a big fan of the old movies with Ginger and Fred Astaire; we don’t have people like them around anymore. But, we have wonderful young people like Savion Glover, who changed the face of tap and brought an entirely different focus to tap, allowing it to be rediscovered.
If there’s one thing you would like people to know about you, what would it be?
Oh … I don’t know. I guess that I do it because I love it so much. I think that’s why I have managed to stay in this business all these years. I love performing, and as one gets older, one moves into different phases of performing. I still perform every once in awhile, but … [I like] sharing that knowledge and joy. Ohio Northern University hired me to do a musical workshop and finish a production of Grand Hotel. It was a whole new group of young college students who were getting ready to graduate. To be able to take a show they didn’t know and make it important to them, to see how much they enjoy it, and share my love of theater with them, I think … I think that’s it.
42nd Street: A Tap Dance Extravaganza hits the Fox Stage July 28.
Suehyla El-Attar is an actress/playwright living and performing in Atlanta. For more information, please visit Suehyla.com.