Monday, 18 April 2016

Big Interview: Broadway’s Lorin Latarro, choreographer of Waitress

Lorin Latarro is the choreographer of new Broadway musical Waitress which is currently in previews at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre ahead of opening night this Sunday (24th April). 

Marking Broadway’s first ever all-female creative team, Waitress has music & lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson and is directed by Diane Paulus. The cast is led by Jessie Mueller. 

Lorin choreographed Broadway’s Waiting For Godot starring Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen and Beaches in Chicago starring Shoshana Bean as well as Queen of the Night (Drama Desk Award), The Public’s The Odyssey at the Delacorte, Ira Glass and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 21 Chump Street and Peter and the Wolf at BAM. In addition she has worked as associate choreographer on the Broadway productions of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time and American Idiot. 

Lorin previously worked as a performer and appeared in fourteen Broadway shows, playing lead roles in Fosse, Swing, A Chorus Line and Movin’ Out.

During my recent trip to New York I had dinner with Lorin during her between-show break; we discussed all things Waitress, choreographing food, her journey from performer to choreographer and the Broadway community plus much more…

You joined the Waitress creative team after last year’s try-out in Boston. When did the show first come onto your radar and how did you come to be involved?
Well I had known about it for a while and I think I had emailed everyone at the American Repertory Theater (ART) saying I loved the movie and would love to be involved… but I didn’t get the job which is how it goes. I guess there was a regime change after ART, I got a call and was told to listen to the music and come up with some sort of presentation for Diane (Paulus, director) because she’s really interested in looking at a new approach. So I got twelve dancers who are friends of mine in a room, paid for their lunches, went to the grocery store and bought food and tried to figure out how to choreograph food – which was really interesting – and then I got a call to say I got the job!

What was it like to join the team and to come into something which some people had already been working on? Was it challenging?
I trod lightly… I tried to get a feel for what they were looking for and slowly walked into the rehearsal process. I couldn’t walk in there and shout, “And now we’re doing this…!” Jessie Nelson (book), Sara Bareilles (music/lyrics) and Diane are really collaborative and took me in right from the beginning, they even changed the script for me sometimes based on the pie reveries – the pies changed because of what we wanted to do.

Lorin, Diane Paulus & Sara Bareilles

This is perhaps the strangest question I’ve ever asked anybody; how do you go about choreographing food? The style of the piece is so unique, but it works! 
[laughs] I was in Japan two years ago and got obsessed with Kabuki Theatre. These opera singers get handed water and change their jacket onstage… and then they just walk off! I tried to utilise that style. Sara’s music forms that hypnotic quality. I learnt a tone from working with Steven Hoggett and the National – Steven changed my life and how I approach movement. 

Have there been moments when you’ve thought, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work’?
Oh yes – oh my gosh! There are moments when I have Jessie being lifted onto a park bench and talking about winning a pie contest. There’s always that moment in the process when you go ‘I think what I’m doing is interesting, I think it’s going to be ok’ and then you have days when you go [exaggerates dramatically] ‘everything’s terrible… what am I doing, this is crazy and I’m going to cut everything’! On first preview I was in that place… I was like, ‘This is going to be terrible and I’m going to be the laughing stock of Broadway. What the hell was I thinking?’ But do you know what? Now I think it’s ok!

The cast of Waitress
On top of everything else, there has been so much hype surrounding this show. Everyone is so excited about it and obsessed with Sara’s concept album! Does that make it scarier?
I haven’t really been aware of that to be honest… but now I’m scared so thanks a lot [laughs]! I’ve always been a fan of Sara and Diane has done incredible things on Broadway so I guess that makes people excited. It’s cool that people are excited because it’s very different on a small level. 

It’s so amazing that Waitress has Broadway’s first ever all-female creative team! What’s the vibe like in your meetings?
It’s quite maternal, Jessie Nelson is like mama hen – she’s brilliant and really kind. Sara and I are like the children and Diane is like the mother so it feels like we have a family dynamic. The good part about it is that no matter how hard the day is there’s always kids running around at dinner.

Do you enjoy taking on new work like this where there’s no blueprint?
I love doing new work, because there’s no blueprint you can do anything! It’s hard work but it’s really exciting. New musicals are also scary – it’s hard because a musical is a very delicate and difficult thing to create. Anything can happen! The formula is so unique for every show, you just have to have faith that something will crystallise out of the chaos. 

You’re working with such an amazing cast who are all so unique and really embrace the piece. What have they all been like to work with?
Everybody’s different which is wonderful, Jessie (Mueller) is very, very kind. In fact the three waitresses are great (Jessie, Keala Settle & Kimiko Glenn) but they really are three different people – they behave as three different archetypes both onstage and off. I've loved working with Drew (Gehling) and Chris (Christopher Fitzgerald) is a clown – in rehearsals he was constantly clowning around, that’s just who he is [laughs]. He would do something in the corner and I would spot it and go “hold on, do that again we can put that in!”

The cast of Waitress

How would you sum up the show? What can people expect?
I hope it’s a bit magical and surreal plus I hope it’s very funny and poignant. The show tackles some serious issues about domestic violence and it has a female protagonist at its heart… and **spoiler alert** ends with a female owning a business and taking care of a child on her own. Diane was saying, “I don’t think we’ve seen that yet on Broadway, I think that’s a new way to end a Broadway show”. I’ve done fourteen Broadway shows, and I think about six of them ended with a wedding scene. This is very different! Waitress is about personal courage and friendship – life is messy like baking, it’s real and reflects that we all make these weird mistakes. 

Right, we need to talk about you! I love talking to choreographers who started out as performers because everyone has been down a completely different path. At the start of your career did you know you wanted to be a choreographer?
Yes! I went to Juilliard and I was always choreographing there and getting in trouble for like ‘cross divisional choreography’ – choreographing for the actors or the opera company. They were always like, “Lorin you should be in ballet class now”. I always loved it… but I also loved performing and for a while performing was my main focus. Throughout my performing career I was always associate choreographer/assistant choreographer and choreographing benefits… I was always doing something different during the day.

Lorin & Michael Mayer
So how did you make the move from associate choreographer/assistant choreographer to choreographer? 
Michael Mayer called me while I was in the back of a cab. He said, “Lorin it’s Michael Mayer”. He’s a Tony-winning director so I said, “You’ve got the wrong number” [laughs]. He said, “No, I’ve been following your work and I’ve got this show called American Idiot. A gentleman called Steven Hoggart is going to be choreographing it and I would like you to assist him”. 

I told him I was performing and he said, “you should stop and you should do this because it’s going to be an important thing”. He was right! So I cancelled my next Broadway show that I was going to be in, which was The Addams Family. I turned it down to associate choreograph American Idiot and it did change my life! It shifted my DNA in a way which was so deep. Those people are family to me. I’m indebted!

And then what was the first big show you went on to choreograph?
Well my first big show on Broadway was Waiting for Godot, which had been in London starring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. They were like heaven on earth! They’re the kindest gentlemen – they’re amazing. 

You’ve also been working on Curious Incident over here, what’s it like to be part of the team? 
It’s awesome! In rehearsals everyday was a learning experience – the entire creative team are astounding. It was so cool to see everything, from the sound to the lighting, working together. They’re all geniuses!

Lorin – I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Does it have to be a song from a proper musical? Because I did A Chorus Line on Broadway, I would love to take French and Saunders’ mock-up of Cassie’s thing because when I have a terrible day I google it and I watch it. I got to play Cassie on Broadway… so it’s one of the funniest things ever! It’s amazing! Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders created the audition sequence from A Chorus Line… you have to google it! Search for ‘Cassie Broadway French and Saunders’!

Lorin, Sara Bareilles Diane Paulus & Jessie Nelson

That’s definitely allowed!
The soundtrack to Once is one of the coolest things ever, but I don’t know which one I would take. I guess it would have to be ‘Falling Slowly’. I would ache lovingly for lost loves [laughs]. Finally I might go for something totally traditional so I can dance around on my island – ‘Too Darn Hot’ from Kiss Me, Kate! It would be full out. 

Finally, what’s it like to receive support from theatre fans and be part of the Broadway community? The fans really get behind people’s careers!
They really do now, and it’s a newer thing! I think the digital age has supported that which is really exciting. It’s nice to have support, the Broadway community feels like a giant family. It really does, and I’ve been a part of it for many years! Everybody knows each other and is kind to each other for the most part. It’s a really supportive community, but you have to work for it. They’ve certainly embraced me and I feel very humbled and lucky.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Waitress plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th Street).
Please visit for further information and tickets. 

Photo Credit 3&4: Joan Marcus
Photo Credit 6: Walter McBride

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