As Alicia Cho ’11 finished her soaring rendition of a song from Phantom of the Opera, Kathleen Marshall ’85 clambered over seats and hopped on to the Theatre 14 stage, gave Cho a few tips, and then clambered back to her seat. Her tall black boots and gray dress didn’t slow her down a bit. “Directors have to be able to climb over seats,” Marshall said with a laugh.
Marshall, who has amassed a mantelful of Broadway hardware, including two Tonys and two Drama Desk awards, was on campus for Rally Day and to receive the Smith College Medal for her work as a choreographer and stage director. Since her Smith days, Marshall has become known for reviving and, as she calls it, “reimagining” classic musicals like The Music Man, Pajama Game, Wonderful Town, and Kiss Me, Kate. Her next project is a revival, starring Harry Connick Jr., of Gershwin’s 1926 musical, Oh, Kay.
During her visit, she gave a two-hour audition workshop in Theatre 14, where she spent many hours as a student. “I remember doing Les Belle-soeurs on this stage,” she said, wistfully, to an audience of some fifty students. Four of the students were selected by theater faculty to prepare audition songs for Marshall to critique.
First up was Lynx Marks ’12, who sang “Look at Me” from the musical Violet. Marshall, having bounded again onto the stage, advised her to look “for the big emotional note” and had her sing it again. Then she surprised her by asking for a second song—“Do you have something that’s a Broadway ‘belt’?”—which led to a quick huddle with accompanist Clifton Noble. Marks came through with a song from Thoroughly Modern Millie, prompting further advice that singers should be ready to perform sixteen bars from a variety of songs, just in case.
Marshall’s advice and encouragement was specific, as she straightened one singer’s posture to show confidence, advised another on which songs would suit her voice, and told another to “look for your money note where you can really belt.”
For students who aspire to follow in her footsteps, Marshall advised them to get their foot in the door. “Go intern in a production office. See how it works day to day,” she said. “Regional theaters are on such tight budgets, they’ll take any kind of intern they can get.”
Marshall came to Smith as an English major but knew right off that she was a song-and-dance kind of student as she sought out classes with legendary dance instructor Gemze de Lappe. After Smith, she moved to New York, where she recalls poring over Backstage in search of casting calls. Eventually she joined her brother, director and choreographer Rob Marshall, as assistant choreographer for Damn Yankees. Her climb up the Great White Way—dancer to dance captain to choreographer to director—is a tried-and-true path, she said.
“The key is to work as much as you can and work with different people—directors, choreographers, composers,” Marshall said. “That’s how you build a career.”
Summer ’09 SAQ