(This is the second installment—check out the first here—in a five-week series about choreographer Diego Funes' work on a NYC revival of the musical Subways Are For Sleeping. Stay tuned for more!)
What choreographer Diego Funes loves most about musical theater is its fusion of song, dance and dialogue. He likes it all mixed up, savory and delicious, like paella. The seamless, organic integration of music, movement and story is his idea of awesome entertainment.
Just a few years ago, when Diego was performing, he considered himself a dancer who acted and sang on the side. It took lots of hard work and several humiliating auditions, he remembers, but with time, he developed the confidence to vocally dramatize his character's narrative with almost the same ease he felt dancing. It's about multitasking and using every little step, word and song to relate to the other characters and push the story forward, he says.
Last week, Diego, who is choreographing the first revival of the 1961 Broadway show, Subways Are For Sleeping, held auditions for the show's cast of seven along with director Hector Coris and Suzanne Adams, Artistic/Managing Director of Opening Doors Theater Company. in addition to its four leads, the show has three ensemble members who will be playing up to seven characters each throughout the show. This is in stark contrast to the original production, which employed over 30 cast members, including Michael Bennett, who later went on to create A Chrous Line. "That was in the time of old Broadway, when there was a singing chorus, a dancing chorus and the actors on a big stage. But our stage today is about the size of that barista's workspace," laughs Hector, pointing to a tiny corner of the coffee shop where we are seated.
Choreographing for singers and actors who don't have much dance experience is a challenge that Diego has experienced and welcomes. For the 2007 film PS I Love You, he created movement that had to look natural for the non-dancer characters that Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler portrayed. On the other hand, for his De Funes Dance Company and classes, he has the luxury to completely indulge his singular vision. For Subways, he will take yet another approach. "I've been thinking a lot about how I want to arrive at the choreography for this show. I don't feel like I want to pre-choreograph anything. At least for the first week. I want to see the cast in rehearsal. Get to know them and work with their strengths in relation to the characters they will be playing. It won't be about me doing my choreography. It'll be my choreography, but tailored for the cast—these specific people and the story they'll be telling," he says.
There are six musical numbers in this tale about a workaholic reporter, who is sent to write a story about a creative group of people who live in the subway and do just enough to scrape by. Musical numbers range from a lonely ballad by a big city office worker, to a bit for street corner Santas, to a song dramatizing the magic carpet ride twists and turns of New York's subterranean roller coasters. There's also a duet for the two main characters and a tap solo.
"This show is about real people who just happen to use song, dance, music and words all rolled up together to express themselves," smiles Diego.
Subways Are For Sleeping runs November 1-2 and 8-11 at The Duplex, 61 Christopher Street, New York City.