Robert McQueen is an international director and dramaturg who’s work includes a variety of styles from opera to musical theatre. He has worked on and off Broadway, and, most recently, directed Acting Up Stage’s Caroline, or Change (for which he was nominated for a Dora). Next, he will be at the helm of two more Acting Up Stage Projects: Falsettos in April 2013, and a workshop of a new Canadian musical by Reza Jacobs and Andrew Kushnir, Alexandria.
What musical will you always remember for its choreography/dancing?
The first one was that really great production of Patti LuPone doing Anything Goes at the Lincoln Centre. She was playing Reno Sweeney and was really wonderful. It’s such a great score so it’s one of the iconic American musicals. Also, 42nd street, the first production when I was a student in New York. We couldn’t afford the whole ticket so we would “second act it.” Do people still do that? I saw a lot of second act of shows!; and if there was something I really loved I would go back and see the whole thing. But there was a lot I couldn’t afford, even at half price, so we would just sneak in. It was pretty extraordinary. Anyways, 42nd Street was very remarkable because Gower Champion directed and choreographed it, and that was amazing choreography. I would say that those are the ones that really, in terms of pure American musical theatre dance, would stand out for me.
What musical will you always remember for its music?
The first Broadway show I ever saw was Sweeney Todd so musically, in every way, that was astounding to me. I’d never seen anything like it before; it was Hal’s production and it was that sort of Gothic, outrageous, there was danger to it. I’d also never heard a Stephen Sondheim score before and I think that’s probably his most pivotal work. For me, it’s the best thing he’s ever written and he’s written a lot of great things, but that is thepiece. It’s a real work. I’d also never heard a show miked like that. It was at that big massive barn of a theatre… The Gershwin… and it’s hard to get a good sound in a space like that and make an audience feel engaged, yet I remember gasping at certain points. So musically, it was gripping.
Other shows, well… certainly The Light in the Piazza. There are composers who write songs, and there are composers who write scores. Sondheim writes a score, Adam Guettel writes a score, Michael John Lachiusa writes a score: they are a complete, whole, composition and those are the ones that musically for me, I find the top of my head comes off when I listen to it.
What musical will you always remember for its book/virtuosic acting?
Follies around 1988-1989, my first trip to London, with Diana Rigg, Daniel Massey, Julia McKenzie, everybody was in this, Eartha Kitt was in it. I sort of missed the original productions of the Hal Prince-Sondheim concept musicals, which Follies was definitely a part of. It was based on this conceit so that the second act represents everything about the characters’ lives. I had never really seen one of those before. I thought the book was extraordinary because it really presented a realistic first act and suddenly we’re sent into this internal world in the second act.
That was pivotal for me because I all of sudden understood that what marks musical theatre is not only that it’s theatre with music but also, because it is music, you’re given this freedom to enter all of these non linear worlds. It’s not that a play can’t go there, but music can go there to the tenth. I loved that. And, also to that kind of cast who really used the language, I heard every single word (which is saying a lot). They really knew how to use language to communicate. It wasn’t just the vehicle for the pretty voice. I got the words clearly and profoundly: which was very thrilling.
What showtune makes you stop what you’re doing and bust a groove?
Bust a groove? Gee I don’t know if I’ve ever busted a groove. You know, “The Hills are Alive.” That’s me and Julie busting a groove. When we get down, it’s like “Clear out!”
What musical is your guiltiest pleasure?
What’s the one about pink? She’s always dressed in pink and she’s a lawyer? Legally Blonde! Someone had asked me to direct a production of it in Brazil and I thought oh god, I’m not going to enjoy this. So I thought I’d go to the source, and I watched the movie. Reese Witherspoon was totally charming – she’s great! And then I got the score and I fell in love with it. Because it’s actually true to itself, it’s true to what the story is, to the period, it’s true to the essence of the film. I loved that show, I thought it was wonderful!