The out performer and choreographer Randy Slovacek gave OutSmart time to discuss his career, his feelings on Cats , and what makes Hello, Dolly! special.
Are you in California Right now?
I’m in Vegas right now. I live here part time. I split my time between here and L.A.
Are you coming to Houston for the show opening?
Yes. I am choreographing the show. I’ll be there for about two and a half weeks before the opening. We’ll be rehearsing for about eight hours a day for about two and a half weeks.
What do you find appealing about Hello, Dolly!?
You know what I like about it? The big message for Hello, Dolly! is that all the main characters are not living life. And the main message for the show is to live life, to not sit by and wonder on the sidelines. At the end of act one, Dolly sings this song called “Before the Parade Passes By,” which is really about the entire show—the whole point is, “Before everything passes me by, I am going to get back into life, I’m going to live life.” And I love that. A lot of times we just think, “Oh well, this didn’t happen for me,” but there are so many possibilities in life where we can get out, and there are so many things where we can be making things happen for ourselves. That’s why Dolly is such a great message for people. Without being preachy, it’s saying, “Get out there and make things happen for yourself. Don’t wait for life to happen, be a part of life.” I think that’s really cliché, but it’s true.
How did you get your start in choreography?
I’ve been choreographing since I was in college. I’m 44. I was the guy in high school who always wanted to be in the musical, and I never got the lead, so they let me choreograph the show. Or I got into college and I was always the supporting part, but I got to help choreograph the show. Then when I started my professional career, I always seemed to be the person the choreographer would make the dance captain, because I always seemed to remember everything clearly, and once you become a dance captain, there’s a progression to becoming a choreographer. I became the choreographer [on Hello Dolly! ] when I did the revival on Broadway in 1995. I was in the ensemble, and when the tour went on the road, the director Leroy Green, who will also be directing in Houston, asked me to do the choreography for the national tour and supervise the show, and I have been doing it ever since. Hello Dolly! —the gift that keeps on giving.
Did this love of musical theater and dancing have anything to do with the realization that you were gay? How did coming out go?
It’s interesting. Let me think. I don’t know that musical theater necessarily had anything to do with me realizing that I was gay, but I do think that they went together in that gay individuals tend to be creative and theater arts encourage creativity and maybe I was drawn to it. Theater arts also encourage self-expression, and as a gay man part of what you are doing through your teens and puberty is not expressing yourself—there is a fear to expressing yourself, because you are afraid you won’t be accepted.
So are you in the school of belief that claims that Broadway and musical theater would be lost without the gay influence and gay people involved in it?
Oh my God. So many directors, choreographers, dancers, and actors have been gay that the life of Broadway would be diminished if you took them out of the equation. Do I think Broadway wouldn’t exist? I don’t know. But I think that the gay community has had an incredible impact on theater and the Broadway community.
So what would your favorite musical be?
The textbook answer would be “the one I’m working on now.”
Almost Home , the musical you are writing based on the music of Mary Chapin Carpenter?
The Mary Chapin Carpenter show is very near and dear to my heart. I am working on Hello, Dolly! right now and I love Hello, Dolly!, but I would also say the Mary Chapin Carpenter piece because it is something that I have written. I’ve taken her songs and I’ve explored the idea of midlife crisis and where we wake up in our mid-40s and go, “This isn’t where I thought I’d be” and “Where did I trip?” “Where did I take the right fork in the road instead of the left?”
How far along in the process are you with the Mary Chapin Carpenter show?
The show is written, and right now I’m talking to different regional theaters about doing a developmental production next year. What I’d like to see is a regional production, and I’d ideally like to go to New York with this at some point, but I don’t really need that. I used to think, “Oh, it’s gotta be a Broadway show, its gotta be a hit” for my ego, and now as a writer I just want to see the work on stage.
Would you like to tell us about performing in Cats ?
It’s funny, my joke about Cats is, I did it back when it was a good credit. I don’t mean to demean anyone doing the show. You know the show just toured and toured and toured and it ran so long on Broadway, and when shows run and when companies of shows run for a long time, they just go out of momentum almost. When I did the show it was the second national company and the first national sat in Chicago for 14 months, and then it sat in Boston for a year and then it sat in Washington for a year. I was a part of the original cast of the company, and I was a character named Mystopholes, the magical Mr. Mystopholes, or as I like to call him, the hero of the piece. I think I was 22 at the time and it had just opened on Broadway and America hadn’t seen it, and we were the big star attraction of every theater subscription period that year. We were always that show. Every time we went to a new city, every two weeks it was this big lavish opening party and everybody was paying attention to it.
People love Cats.
People love Cats , and my company was only out for two years because our set was so complex, they couldn’t justify us not playing a theater for three or four weeks at a time, much less three months. So once we were out for two years, they put out another company with a less detailed set and realized that people couldn’t tell the difference. The other tour was out for 14 years. Some people actually did the entire tour. They got out on the road for 13 years. Can you imagine living out of a suitcase for 13 years?
Same show every night.
Every night. The same company. Bless their hearts. Oh bless their hearts. The only other time I was a part of something that big [was when] I was a part of Chicago the musical, early on in its first year or two when it opened in L.A. I did the show off and on for eight years and I did it in Europe and I did it on Broadway. It was a big deal: I felt like I was on Broadway with the cream of the crop, and it was very exciting to walk into the door of the Shubert Theatre and just know you are with the cream of the crop; it’s okay to feel a little good about yourself for a minute. Every night after the show I would walk out of the stage door in the Shubert alley and just go, “Thank you God that I get this opportunity.” I’m just full of clichés, aren’t I? But it’s true! It’s so easy to be 22 and cocky and get to Broadway and think, “Oh, it’s always going to be like this” and you get to be 40 and you do appreciate these moments. I never took a single performance on Broadway for granted, because I knew I was lucky to be there.
Did you see the new Hairspray movie with John Travolta?
I thought they did a terrific job of bringing that show to the screen. I thought the energy and the spirit of how they transferred that from Broadway to the movie was my favorite part. I love that in the show, that Tracy’s whole message gets to be about equality, and I love that it has to be explained to her, the whole racial issue.
She was great.
She was fantastic. And you know what is funny about that is that I was born and raised in Ft. Worth, Texas. I loved it. And I easily could have been raised like a redneck racial bigot. I’ve heard that that can happen in Texas sometimes, that people can be a little prejudice. But what’s interesting is that my dad never brought any kind of racial issue into our household. I didn’t understand racial issues at 17. What I loved about Tracy is that she completely didn’t get it and said, “Well, I wish every day were Negro day” and so did I! I just live for that message. I just hope that some day we will have to explain racism to everyone. I hope that people ask the question and you have to say, “Well, a long time ago….”
If you were ever to leave musical theater, would you ever consider choreographing for a diva? Perhaps one of Cher’s goodbye tours?
Oh, yeah! That would be fabulous! I’m in talks with Olivia Newton-John. She may be doing a sit-down concert series in Las Vegas, and I might be able to choreograph some numbers for the show. I think that Olivia Newton-John is about as fabulous of a gay diva as you can get. So that may be something that might be happening down the road. I would love it if we did some Grease songs and some Xanadu. I’ve just been hired to choreograph a one-woman show that is going to Broadway later this year. It’s called Ethel Merman’s Broadway. We are going to do a pre-Broadway tour and then hopefully go into Broadway later this year.
So what are you watching to get caught up?
I’m all over Youtube right now finding Ethel Merman clips. It will be my first Broadway credit as choreographer.
Hello Dolly ! will be at the Hobby Center (800 Bagby at Walker) from February 26 to March 9. For ticket information, call 713/558-8887 or visit www.tuts.com.