Broadway vet Tony Parise decries the prostitution of the Great White Way
Tony Parise has something to say about the corporatization of Broadway. It’s nothing other traditionalists aren’t already saying; voices have long been crying out against the transformation of the country’s most high-profile production establishment into a theatrical theme park dominated by movie-to-stage Disney juggernauts such as The Lion King, now remodeling historic theatres like our own Majestic across the country.
But Parise has a unique perspective. He claims the dividing line in the history of Broadway is David Merrick’s 1980 production of 42nd Street, based on a Busby Berkeley film and directed by Gower Champion, who died of cancer hours before the curtain rose on opening night. The tap-dancing extravaganza was the first musical super-hit of the 1980s, and Parise was in the ensemble of the original company, dancing in his first Broadway show.
“There was a time when you had the theater and you had the proscenium and you had the red curtain, and when the red curtain came up there was a whole world in that rectangle,” says Parise. “We did 42nd Street within that rectangle. The red curtain went up on those 100 dancing feet and we presented the whole world of the ’30s. Then we were thrown out of the Winter Garden Theater so that it could be, essentially, destroyed for Cats.”
Confronting the corporate takeover of Broadway
7pm Sun, Mar 26
8pm Fri-Sat, 2:30pm Sun
8pm Fri-Sat, 2:30pm Sun
$6 adult; $5 senior, alumna; $4 student
Jane and Arthur Stieren Theater
One Trinity Place
Cats, and such ’80s phenoms as Les Miz and Phantom, which required massive modifications to existing theaters, are part of what Parise calls the British Invasion, the new, spectacle-based aesthetic that swooped in after the (often AIDS-related) deaths of Broadway guiding lights Merrick, Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, and Jerome Robbins, and much of the next generation of talent that might have been able to carry on their vision. “The greats died,” says Parise, “the links died, and this whole other faction took over. They’re giving the audience what they think the audience wants, but what the audience really wants is to be entertained, to be moved, to really feel something, not this bejeweling and glitzing.”
New York-based Parise is now an internationally recognized director and choreographer. While working in that capacity at the Muny in St. Louis, the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor theatre, he met Resident Scenic Designer Steve Gilliam, who is also director of theater at Trinity University. When Gilliam had the opportunity to bring in a professional to direct and choreograph the department’s upcoming production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, he called Parise.
In residence at Trinity since mid-February, Parise has been rehearsing the Anything Goes cast, conducting master classes on campus, and, on March 26, will present a theater symposium, free and open to the public, detailing his pre- and post-42nd Street observations in a talk titled “Con-fronting the Corporate Takeover of Broad-way.”
“I think what is sustaining Broadway right now is also killing it,” he says. “At least, what I knew is dead; what I went to New York to be a part of is not there.”
Parise will try to carry the torch of old Broadway forward, however, with his staging of Anything Goes. “I think it’s important to show that there was a time when Broadway was pure entertainment, a time when it was jokes and clever lyrics and wit and style,” says Parise. The romantic comedy of Anything Goes is a showcase for the dance numbers and Porter hits “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “You’re the Top,” and, of course, the title song. “I definitely consider Anything Goes a classic,” Parise says. “The score alone, Cole Porter’s genius lyrics people should see this show as a gift to themselves, a glamorous, old-fashioned night at the theater.” •