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Brief Encounter With ... Javier de Frutos

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A brand new production of Ragtime the Musical, the show based on E L Doctorow's classic 1975 novel, opened at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre on 28 May. With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the musical had its world premiere in Toronto in 1996 before winning two Tony Awards for its Broadway run in 1998.

Olivier Award-winning choreographer Javier de Frutos joins Timothy Sheader, artistic director at Regent's Park, and designer Jon Bausor, in bringing this story of three very different families in America at the turn of the 20th century. The cast includes Rosalie Craig as Mother, Rolan Bell as Coalhouse Walker, Jr and John Marquez as Tateh.

De Frutos has choreographed for acclaimed ballet and contemporary dance companies internationally, but also enjoys a varied career working across musical theatre, film, television and music videos. In 2007 he won the Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for Rufus Norris's production of Cabaret, a show he and Norris are reviving this autumn.

Whatsonstage.com talked to the Venezuela-born choreographer about Ragtime – which runs in repertoire until 8 September – and why he never expected to find himself working in musical theatre.

How have you approached Ragtime?

I never think of shows as revivals, but try to tackle them with the knowledge of what has been done before, as if this is the very first time that we're seeing it. I like to know who these people are. If I know who they are, I know how they will walk on stage, how they will get up and sing and how they will break into dance. So it's not the feeling of the choreographer walked in during the lunch hour and then leaving – I like to work creatively with the rest of the creative team to know that we all understand and believe in the story that is going to be told. And you know, what a story!

What attracted you to the show?

One of my favourite plays is The Crucible – which Tim has directed here actually – and there's something quite extraordinary about the political stuff, saying, “we cannot do a play about the McCarthy era, but we will do a play which will echo the present moment”. There is something about Ragtime – especially in the times that we're living in – the sense that racism is still alive but that we're also seeing racism and human relationships in a very different manner than we did before.

You choreograph work across so many different genres - what is it you enjoy about working on musicals?

I have no idea how I ended up doing musicals to be honest. I've been lucky that I've been allowed to do it my way and because I always felt that I was never really competing with any other choreographer in the musical industry. I just kind of felt that, if they want what I do, then it's me who they're going to call. I don't think they would ever call me for Singing in the Rain, but for Cabaret it felt absolutely right and I guess that it feels right for Ragtime.

This year you're reviving Cabaret – how much will the show evolve in this new production?

A lot. The show always evolves depending on the star, so now with Will Young on board as the Emcee ... I've already spoken to Will about what he wants out of the show and how far he's willing to go and how much he's trusting Rufus and I, so it feels like it's going to evolve again. I think we're going to have fun. We're not thinking of it as a revival, we're just thinking that we're going to do something different.

What inspired you to pursue a career in dance?

I didn't. I actually wanted to be involved in theatre. About 30 years ago I happened to be in New York and there was an Off Broadway production of Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill directed by Tommy Tune, the famous choreographer. That production was so absolutely special. There was no dance in it but there was an incredible amount of fluidity and it struck me that it had been directed by a choreographer. I felt attracted to explore the choreographic part as far as I could to bring my career back to theatre at some point. So it was because of theatre that I ended up doing dance.

And what inspires you now?

Every day is different thing. I guess you get inspired by failures sometimes. By not having achieved what you wanted out of a project it makes you want to either go back to it again or to actually go into something new with the knowledge of what you have done. I also get inspired by actors – you just walk into a room and say, 'well I'm lucky to be surrounded by talented people'. What a silly way to make a living, isn't it? We're in the middle of the park singing. It's not even a job!

Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing to Ragtime on 2 July 2012 and get a top-price ticket, a FREE programme and EXCLUSIVE post-show drinks reception with the cast - PLUS we have also secured a private picnic area before the show! This is all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £35.00 - CLICK HERE for details


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