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Warren Carlyle helps Hugh Jackman wow as 'The Music Man'

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Want to burn 8,000 calories every day?

Just get Warren Carlyle to choreograph a show for you. He put Hugh Jackman through his paces in “The Music Man” and now, Carlyle says, the "X-Men's" Wolverine can eat anything he wants.

“I don’t give him a breather,” the Tony-nominated Carlyle says. One number, in fact, has eight minutes of non-stop dancing. “That’s why he’s so slender.”

For both, though, “Music Man” is more than just another show. “It’s my whole heart up there on the stage,” Carlyle says. “Everything I have to give is up there.”

One of the biggest shows of the year, “Music Man” has a cast of 46, including 21 young actors making their Broadway debuts. “It feels like the golden age to me,” Carlyle says.

The show’s dance music is new, too, and there are more choreographic ideas than one would think possible. Carlyle says there are homages to Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse and others. “We all walk in other people’s shoes a bit. There’s a ‘Warren-ism’ here or there, too.”

Initially, Carlyle says, he wanted to have an ensemble large enough to realistically form a boys’ band. That meant children – lots of children. “I spent three years casting it and, yes, it is a wrangling nightmare, but we have a lot of help. We get (the children) at their most focused and they’re at the top of their game.”

Online videos, which show the Tony winner rehearsing with his young charges, demonstrate his technique. “Over the years I’ve developed a good bedside manner. I’m trying to get that person to do something I want them to do. And the kindness is genuine. I genuinely do love them.”

Carlyle says the coronavirus pandemic more than complicated life.

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Because it heated up during rehearsals, much was put on hold. Jackman and Carlyle (who are friends and longtime collaborators) continued to work, testing and polishing moves.

Dancing with Jackman, Carlyle says is “like playing tennis with Roger Federer. I hit the ball across the net and this really talented, really experienced performer hits it back. We both love to work hard. We both love to rehearse.”

Carlyle says he’ll do a step, then Jackman will do a step. “Competition is what it’s built on” and, yes, the choreographer won’t give his star anything he, himself, can’t do.

Although the British native started as a dancer in the West End, he quickly transitioned to choreography. “If anyone needed choreography for a Broadway Bares or an Easter Bonnet show, I was always the one to go to. It’s my natural place. One of my first memories as a child was listening to music and imagining people dancing. I connect music and dance.”

When “Music Man” finally got to begin rehearsals (it was scheduled to open in the fall of 2020), COVID was still a factor. Protocols were put into place and Carlyle hadn’t complete his dances. “I’m not a Zoom person. Choreographing on Zoom was not for me. I had to touch it and walk around it.”

Having performers in a studio gave him an opportunity to experiment and “make the show dance.”

One after another, those numbers unfolded. “I knew how ambitious I wanted to be. I knew, going in, the standard I wanted to set.”

In December 2021, “Music Man” started previews and “every single day we were restaging the show.” When performers were out because of COVID, Carlyle had to figure out how to make it work. “It was daily triage.”

The result, however, is a Tony nomination for Best Choreography, and a friendship with Sutton Foster (who plays Marian the librarian) that Carlyle cherishes. “She always knows what to do with her body. She’s just magnificent; she has been a great connector for the show. She looks right into your eyes and right into your soul. She has been the secret sauce (of ‘Music Man’).”

Just as soon as the revival opened, Carlyle was busy with “Harmony,” a new show written by Barry Manilow. A hit off-Broadway, it’s expected to move to Broadway sometime soon. “I hope so,” Carlyle says. “It’s literally like a light switch.” He turns one off and starts another.

“Music Man,” though, holds a special place. “When I dream of Broadway, this is what it is.”



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