Out choreographer Joe Langworth brings ‘South Pacific’ to a new stage — and to a new generation of musical theater queens
SOUTH PACIFIC, Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Through Jan. 3. $28â€“$250. ATTPAC.org.
Danny Kaye lamented in song that dancing in the theater has instead become something else — Chicks who did kicks aren’t kicking anymore/They’re doing choreography. Joe Langworth has no problem with that because, well, it’s his job.
His work with South Pacific is more than just fabulous dance numbers. If it’s choreography to Kaye, it’s storytelling to Langworth.
"Dance can extend the storyline where words stop," he says.
As South Pacific makes its run at the Winspear, Langworth is banking on his work as associate choreographer and dance captain to add layers to the story of multicultural love set against a troubled landscape of war. With recreated choreography from the show’s Tony-winning run last year, Langworth has the assurance to connect with the audiences here. Although he had to adapt it to a proscenium stage, South Pacific performs in the same full glory it did during its Lincoln Center stretch while still giving the touring performers something new.
"The adaptation to the new stage was a great opportunity to revisit material and give it some new life. We wanted to honor the greatness of the Lincoln Center run, too. We kept structure but with the new cast, this adapting let it be personal for them," he says.
To Langworth, South Pacific is not only a musical theater standard, it’s a look back at American history and with the specific details and research put into this revival, his contribution to the show is more than synchronized dance moves. And it doesn’t hurt that he has music so entrenched in Americana to work with.
"However they know the show, most people have some kind of connection to it. The one thing people know is the music. It crosses generations even now with this show," he says.
Langworth punctuates the sassiness of Nellie singing "I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" and romanticizes Emile’s "Some Enchanted Evening," both songs among many others standards in the American music songbook.
But choreography is more than just connecting dance moves. Langworth keeps his eye on the movements of everyone and works to maintain a freshness and honesty about it. As the dance captain, he supervises the musical staging and double-checks actors to balance the performances with a naturalistic flow. There is nothing worse than a wooden sailor going through the moves in his head while singing "There’s Nothing Like a Dame."
"We are sure to keep the show as if it were people dancing and singing. It’s not about technique and where the arm lands. The actors have to express the emotion and do the moves. That’s what I try to keep an eye on," he says.
With some 20 years in the business, Langworth has built a resume peppered with pedigreed experience as an original member of Ragtime and work as a casting agent as well. It’s easy to say he represents a high standard of dance in general. So what does he think of all the reality TV based around dancing?
"I think it’s fantastic, I love them! I wish they were around as a kid. I wasn’t exposed to stuff like that and TV is a nice venue for that. It allows young dancers to have an experience even if they don’t participate. It’s a great learning tool," he says.
Just don’t expect to see him as a guest judge or dance mentor anytime soon. Langworth’s dance card remains pretty full and South Pacific is his first priority for now. Well, and his partner who is back at home in New York
"We’re very supportive of each other in work. I’ve done this for a long time and this is just a reality in our relationship. He appreciates it and we always allow each other to grow, but it’s always nicer when we’re together," he says.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.