Casey Nicholaw Reigns over Broadway & London
Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw is potentially the hardest working man currently working in musical theatre. Having just opened his latest musical on Broadway, Tuck Everlasting this week at the Broadhurst Theatre, he is currently rehearsing for the London opening of Disney's Aladdin, which sees him once again at the helm in both creative capacities, mounting the show in the West End where it opens at the Prince Edward Theatre on 15 June 2016.
Following the opening of Tuck Everlasting, a musical based on Natalie Babbitt's novel of the same name which features music by Chris Miller, lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and a book by Claudia Shear, Nicholaw is now in the celebrated position of having four productions running simultaneously on Broadway. This feat puts him in an exclusive club of directors and choreographers, including Susan Stroman who last held this record for the number of shows running on the Great White Way when productions of 'Contact', 'The Music Man', 'The Producers', and 'Thou Shalt Not' were running together throughout the 2001 season. British director Trevor Nunn achieved a similar achievement when 'Cats', 'Les Miserables', 'Starlight Express' and 'Chess' ran together on Broadway for a brief period of time in the spring of 1988, but unlike Nicholaw, Nunn was not working double duty on some of the most ambitious musical numbers to be staged.
Whilst composers have often enjoyed simultaneous success of their work, from Rodgers and Hammerstein through to Andrew Lloyd Webber and even Frank Wildhorn, it's unique for a director and choreographer to have multiple successful long-running shows. At the end of the year when the London première of Dreamgirls finally opens at the Savoy Theatre, Nicholaw will also have three productions running in the West End, which, if all his productions continue to run, will add up to seven major Broadway and West End productions running concurrently.
Having worked extensively as a member of the creative team on shows such as 'The Drowsy Chaperone', which had a limited run in London's West End back in 2007, Nicholaw's big success came in the shape of the Monty Python musical 'Spamalot' – the Tony Award-winning Best Musical that he choreographed. The Broadway production alone was seen by more than two million people and grossed upwards of $175 million, raking in an impressive 14 Tony Award nominations and becoming the biggest hit of the season.
His 2011 hit The Book of Mormon catapulted his work into the big time, cementing his place as a genius of musical comedy. The show continues to be the highest grossing show on Broadway, along with a sell-out production in London's West End. Co-directed with Trey Parker, the pair won the Tony Award for their work, one of nine overall awards taken by the show, and gave Nicholaw an international reputation for staging musical comedy.
Continuing to work in New York on shows such as 'Elf – the Musical', Nicholaw was instrumental in bringing Disney's Aladdin to the stage in such an exciting and visually appealing way. He directed and choreographed the stage production which began life at the 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle in Washington during the summer of 2011 and continued to work on the show until its Broadway opening at the New Amsterdam Theatre in March 2014.
Whilst audiences were more than familiar with the 1992 animated classic, thanks to the success of Disney Theatrical's previous hits including 'The Lion King' and 'Beauty and the Beast', it was up to Nicholaw to create an innovative yet effective production that would stay true to the source material whilst justifying a move from film to stage. Along with the creative team, Nicholaw crafted a loveable and highly enjoyable production that is routed in traditional Broadway spectacle.
Aladdin hit headlines as preview audiences began to stop the show with standing ovations mid way through the first act, following Nicholaw's staging of the number "Friend Like Me" that was designed as a homage to Busby Berkeley's 1933 classic movie musical '42nd Street'. With split second costume changes (a single pair of men's trousers used in the number features 1,428 Swarovski crystals), numerous special effects and an incredible musical arrangement, the number had audiences on its feet, applauding Nicholaw's heart-stopping staging.
History repeated itself in 2015 when his production of the original musical Something Rotten opened at the St James Theatre on Broadway, and Nicholaw once again designed a show stopping production number, featuring exceptional dancing, stunning performances and wonderful music. The song, 'A Musical', featured nods to dozens of classic show tunes from “Big Spender” to “I Hope I Get It”, and pulled audiences to their feet once again dazzled by his work.
Reviews for Tuck Everlasting have been solidly positive, with the New York Times praising Nicholaw's change of tone, stating that it's “a warm-spirited and piercingly touching musical that has nothing flashy or splashy about it”, celebrating his crafting of a beautiful ballet section that ends the show. The piece is testimony to both his commitment at working on new pieces of musical theatre, and his ability to tell stories in the most visually enhancing way possible.
Whilst the London production of Aladdin is set to be just as show-stopping at the Tony-nominated Broadway version, all eyes are on Nicholaw's project later in the year, when he finally brings Dreamgirls to the West End. The show is solidly routed in the tradition of Michael Bennett – whose original ground-breaking production is fondly remembered by theatre fans all over the world. One of the great genius director/choreographers ever to work in musical theatre, Bennett's shoes are notoriously daunting to fill – and Dreamgirls is a difficult challenge for any director. Featuring an almost exclusively sung-through score by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen, the story relies on multiple locations and times to bring 1960s America to life.
Steering the story of the tumultuous journey of a young female singing trio, from Chicago as they learn the hard lessons of show business, Nicholaw will no doubt bring his unrivalled ability to wow an audience through fantastic production numbers alongside his skill of storytelling. With so much to look forward to in the coming months in London, we have no doubt that Nicholaw's skill and inimitable talents will remain features of the West End, and indeed Broadway, for many seasons to come.