Hayden Thomas interviews Jerry Mitchell
One of mainstream theatre's busiest directors has to be Jerry Mitchell. Indeed this two-time Tony winner and two-time Olivier nominee has both a Broadway premiere and West End premiere this Autumn. Kinky Boots is crossing the pond and officially opening at London's Adelphi Theatre on 15 September 2015 (following previews from 21 August), whilst On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan will bow on the Great White Way on 5 November 2015 (following previews from 5 October).
With these two high-profile, transatlantic openings, our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter) took the opportunity to talk to the man at the helm and discuss all things Estefan and Kinky!
Hayden Thomas: How was the pre-Broadway tryout for On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan received in Chicago?
Jerry Mitchell: It went great! The audiences seemed to love the show. You know what the funny thing is - I was in Chicago two years ago with 'Kinky Boots' and I'm coming back in the Winter with a new show called 'Gotta Dance.' I just love coming to Chicago to do my Out-of-Town tryouts. It's a very well-educated theatre city. There are a lot of theatres in Chicago and the audiences are very responsive. If you listen to your audience, they will tell you what they like and what they don't, so you can move on and make it better. Audiences out-of-town become a very important part for my process.
HT: Do you think there will be many changes made before the Broadway opening?
JM: Oh God yes! Every day we're changing it!
HT: Ooh there's never a dull moment for a Director!
JM: (Laughs) That's the other thing, you know – 'Hairspray,' 'Legally Blonde,' 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,' 'Kinky Boots,' 'On Your Feet!,' and coming up 'Gotta Dance' – it's the same exact process. Even if you get a rousing round of applause at the end of your first preview, there's always something you can make better. You spend a lot of time making the show better, tighter, cleaner, sharper, clearer. That's the job.
HT: And what can the Broadway audiences expect from 'On Your Feet!'?
JM: I think 'On Your Feet!' is a story about two people who came from a different country with nothing and reached such heights, and through their love for each other and their passion for the music, they were able to inspire others with their story. That's what's special about 'On Your Feet!' - it's about two immigrants who came from nothing and rose to greatness. It says a lot about countries around the world – not just America – that offer people freedom and freedom allows people to fluorish.
HT: Fantastic! Well, I'm actually a fan of Gloria Estefan and can't wait to see the show. So, if we move across the pond now, Jerry. When did you arrive in London to direct the West End premiere of 'Kinky Boots'?
JM: I flew to London on the 5th July and started rehearsals for Kinky Boots on the 6th.
HT: And how long have you got for rehearsal?
JM: We are rehearsing for five weeks and then we have two weeks of tech, before we start our previews.
HT: What do you think about the Killian Donnelly-Matt Henry-combination in 'Kinky Boots'? JM: Oh, I am soooo excited about both of those boys! I've had my eye on both of them for quite a while. I already kinda knew Killian and I think he'll make a great Charlie. Matthew came to New York and he auditioned for me prior to the final call in London. I had seen his performances on 'The Voice' on television and had heard about his performances in 'Avenue Q' and he's just a lovely person – warm and sincere. He's also an amazingly talented singer and actor. The show is about the truth of those two men.
HT: The 2005 film of 'Kinky Boots,' which starred Chiwetel Ejiofor and was set in Northampton, was a very British movie. Why do you think American producers chose it for the basis of a Broadway musical?
JM: I think Daryl (Roth – Producer) was very connected to the story. The thing that resonates with Daryl and Hal (Luftig – Producer) and myself and Harvey (Fierstein – Book) and Cyndi (Lauper – Music & Lyrics) is that it's ultimately about acceptance for all people and all things. The five of us are people who believe in this for everyone and that's what the show sings about.
HT: You've worked on 'La Cage aux Folles' and 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' before, so this isn't your first project with a Drag Queen in the cast. How important is the representation of Drag Queens in mainstream theatre to you?
JM: Well, it doesn't have anything to do with her (Lola) being a Drag Queen really. It's more about her being an outsider. She's someone who isn't accepted for being who she is. You should be able to be who you want to be and celebrate yourself triumphantly and that's the truth of life – when you can be who you are or at least be accepted for who you are, as opposed to it being shocking. It makes life a lot easier for everyone.
HT: Amen to that, Jerry! How would you sum up the experience of seeing 'Kinky Boots' live?
JM: I think the London audiences can expect a show that will razzle-dazzle them and leave them singing and dancing and feeling better about the people in their lives, who they accept with open arms.
HT: So, you've worked on a few West End shows before. Do you enjoy coming over to London and does it differ at all from working in New York?
JM: Well, my first time working in London was working as a choreographer for 'Follies' with Cameron Mackintosh. I learned at that very young age – in my early twenties – that there was another place where musicals were widely celebrated. And I thought to myself: why limit myself to one place, when there are two? So I really pursued the possibility of working in London. Every time I have the opportunity to come over with one of my shows that has been successful in New York, I am always happy to do that. When 'Legally Blonde' took off, Howard Panter and the Ambassador Theatre Group offered me the opportunity to develop things over there. By then I had met so many wonderful performers and had become friends with many of them. I had also started my charity in New York – 'Broadway Bares' – which I was dying to have hapen in London as 'West End Bares.' To me, it's an extension of my life in New York. It's equally as fabulous as Broadway. I really don't find one better than the other, as far as talent and craft. I think they both have their strengths and I enjoy going back and forth very much.
HT: And long may it continue. It was recently also announced that Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Love Never Dies' will be heading out on a North American tour in 2017/18. Do you think a Broadway bow might be in its future?
JM: Oh I have no idea what the plan is with it. After I finished with the production in London, I never really kept up with it much. I had a wonderful time working with Bob Crowley and Paule Constable, who just won a Tony for Lighting for 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' - Bob also won a Tony for Design for 'An American in Paris' - and of course my long-time collaborator Jack O'Brien. But there was some trouble storywise. It always comes down to the story, doesn't it. The story has to land in order for the audience to become involved.
HT: And finally, Jerry, what can we look forward to from you in the future?
JM: I have about four or five musicals I am developing, but some of them haven't been signed off yet, so I can't really talk about them. The one that I am talking about though is 'Gotta Dance' which does have dates now for Chicago and New York City. So that's very exciting! Oh, and I'm also working on two projects for London, but I can't talk about the titles just yet.
HT: But there's a few irons in the fire. That's good to hear. Thank you for all your work over the years, Jerry. And thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. Best of luck with 'On Your Feet!' in New York and 'Kinky Boots' in London!
JM: Thank you so much. See you soon!
On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan begins previews at Broadway's Marquis Theatre on 5 October 2015 and is currently booking through to 3 April 2016.
Kinky Boots begins previews on 21 August 2015 at London's Adelphi Theatre and is booking through to 6 February 2016.
The Broadway production of Kinky Boots continues at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and is currently booking through to 3 January 2016.