Host Luisa Lyons chats with Broadway dancer and associate choreographer Barry Busby. We talk about Starlight Express, being a swing, the work of an associate choreographer, creating the incredible jump rope number in Holiday Inn, and more!
Barry Busby is a Texas native, MFA graduate from the University of Oklahoma, and has lived in NYC for over 11 years where he just recently closed the 11-time Tony nominated production of Tootsie. He has been the Associate choreographer to Denis Jones for over 8 years and together they have collaborated on Broadway, all over the country, and internationally on over 40 productions. His Broadway credits include: Honeymoon in Vegas, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close, and Tootsie. Regionally he has worked at some of North America‘s most prominent theatres including: The MUNY, Goodspeed, Papermill Playhouse, The Kennedy Center, Dallas Theatre Center, TUTS, The Alley Theatre,and Williamstown Theatre Festival. In 2014 and 2016 he was featured on the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and most recently in the 73rd annual Tony Awards hosted by James Corden. When his schedule allows, Barry travels the world teaching master classes to the next generation of musical theatre hopefuls. Learn more at www.barrybusby.com and follow Barry on Instagram!
Host Luisa Lyons is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com and follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
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Luisa Lyons: LL
Barry Busby: BB
LL: [00:00:04] Welcome to the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, a podcast about stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. The Filmed Live Musicals website contains information on nearly 200 musicals that have been captured live. Check it out at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. And now, on with the show!
[00:00:25] This week’s guest is dancer and choreographer Barry Busby. Barry has performed and worked as associate choreographer at theatres across the United States, including Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Muny, Paper Mill Playhouse, and the Kennedy Center. He was the associate choreographer on the Off-Broadway productions of Piece of My Heart at Signature Center and two musicals in the City Center Encore Series, Call Me Madam and Hey, Look Me Over! Barry was associate choreographer and dance captain on the Broadway musicals Honeymoon in Vegas, Sunset Boulevard, Tootsie, and the filmed live musical Holiday Inn. Welcome, Barry!
BB: [00:01:01] Hi, thanks for having me!
LL: [00:01:03] Thank you so much for joining today!
[00:01:07] How did you become a dancer?
BB: [00:01:09] I started dancing from a very early age. I was, I think, in third or fourth grade. How old are you then? I don’t even remember. But I definitely remember it was the end of third grade going into fourth grade, I did this camp and it was a summer camp that my mom put me in. It was for three weeks and each week you did something different, so the first week was, I don’t know, you’re on the newspaper team, and you’re making a newspaper, and the second one, I don’t even remember, but the third one was definitely a performing one. And at the end of it we did a performance, and the lady told my mom, “You need to get him to this school.” So my mom ended up taking me to the school that this lady… I don’t remember her name. I wish I knew her name now. To this place called HITS, which is in Houston, the Houston International Theater School, and I went and saw a performance of theirs, which was all kids, and they didn’t have the rights to Cats, so they called it Cats, Cats, and More Cats, but it was Cats. And I instantly was like, “I have to do this.”
So then that kind of gave me the bug for theatre, at least. And then just right after that, the head of that program at HITS was like, “You should be in dance, you should be taking all sort of [inaudible 00:02:31] and so I was like, “Mom, I have to take dance. That’s what they told me I have to do.” So it was right around then as well, probably fourth grade, I started with tap and ballet and then I would do all the jazz classes, but I would go to the studios and I’d be like, “I don’t want to do any recitals. I just want to learn.” I ended up doing some recitals. Yeah, that’s kind of how it started.
LL: [00:02:55] Why didn’t you want to do the recitals?
BB: [00:02:58] Because I was always like, “I want to do the HITS shows. I want to do the musicals.” And the recitals were like, I’m there to dance and train and get as much knowledge and soak that in, but I don’t want to take away from my rehearsals for the other shows. So I was already wheeling and dealing at that age. But I ended up loving the recitals and having a good time. I also think back then there was a stigma with being a boy… I mean, I was probably one of two boys in the whole studio of hundreds of girls, and this is a long time ago now, I won’t say how long, but there was a stigma, too. I’m sure me, as that little boy, was like, “Uh, I don’t want to be seen in a recital,” things like that, which, today, is so amazing. There’s so many more opportunities and these dance programs are evolving so well that that would be kind of a welcoming scenario these days, but back then it was not. So I’m sure there was that element too, not to get too deep into it, but also I just didn’t want to miss rehearsals for, I don’t know, Oliver!
LL: [00:04:10] The musical is your main priority.
BB: [00:04:12] Yes. It was.
LL: [00:04:14] What brought you to New York?
BB: [00:04:17] Also growing up, I was a competitive swimmer, and eventually there came a [inaudible 00:04:25] I could not do both. I could not maintain the practices and going to rehearsals or training for that. So I chose theatre, of course, and my dad did not want me to do that, but now he’s all on board, doesn’t think about swimming at all. But I knew once I started training that I had to go to New York. I mean, that’s the Mecca for musical theatre. And fortunately enough, my mom and dad were wonderful growing up and we travelled a lot and we would come to New York if not once a year, twice a year.
LL: [00:05:01] Wow.
BB: [00:05:02] And we would just go and even if it was for three days, I’d see six shows. If there was a matinee and an evening, I would go. And we would just jam pack and my brother would drag his feet to go see all these shows, and he would do his stuff too and go to the baseball stadiums and stuff, but I was fortunate enough so I think my first trip to New York was sixth grade and we went every year since then and I was like, “I have to be here. I have to be here.” So it was kind of ingrained in me from very early on. So when I went to the University of Oklahoma for musical theatre and I was like, “I’m gonna move to New York,” my mom was like, “What? No, you can’t.” And I was like, “You put this in me. You set this up. You set the stage,” for lack of a better term. And then now they love coming up here. So I knew I was coming to New York very early on. It was the only option.
LL: [00:06:04] It is, like you said, it’s Mecca. Theatre Mecca.
[00:06:08] When you were growing up, apart from coming to New York, were you watching movie musicals or musicals on screen to fill the gap in between coming to New York?
BB: [00:06:20] Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t a huge musical watcher as a kid, especially on the movie… I mean, I loved Singin’ in the Rain, I would wear that VHS tape out. I was oddly obsessed with Starlight Express as a kid. Even one of my old AOL accounts, which is now a junk email, is Rusty, who is that character in Starlight Express. And my brother made it and I’m sure he was like, “You love Starlight Express, so I’ll make it rusty454,” whatever it is.
LL: [00:06:55] Were you listening to the cast recording?
BB: [00:06:57] Well, so here’s another thing. So HITS, the theatre that did Cats, Cats, and More Cats, I wasn’t in that, but the first show I did with them was Starlight Express…
LL: [00:07:09] Gotcha.
BB: [00:07:10] Which as a, like I said, third, fourth grader, and I played Rusty. And so I think that just stuck with me, that that was the first seed in this musical theatre growth, and I think that’s just kind of stuck with me and that show has always held a special place in my heart. I know every lyric.
[00:07:34] And so I didn’t really watch a lot of musicals on tape, like I said, Singin’ in the Rain, because I was going to New York and I was seeing the shows and I wanted to see them live and I wanted to do them, and I wanted to… But I’ve definitely seen the movie musicals, and I adore them. And I think I have much more appreciation for them now than I did as a kid, cause I was just like, “I just want to be in it. I don’t want to watch it. I want to be in it.”
LL: [00:08:00] Have you heard of the Starlight Express theatre in Germany?
BB: [00:08:04] I have. So another story, because my parents are amazing, I adore them... In fifth grade, because they knew I was obsessed with Starlight Express, so I got taken out of school. I didn’t even know what it was. I mean, I knew it was my birthday in May. And I come outside and my mom’s car said, “Vegas bound.” And that’s when the Starlight Express company was in Vegas. And she took me out of school and we flew for the weekend and we had… The whole theatre was taken over, I remember, but we were kind of front row in it. And we saw Starlight Express in Vegas. My mom stayed. I went to bed. I was like, “Mom, I have to get their autographs.” I think Rachelle Rak was in that company. I have to look back. And she stayed and got Rusty, Pearl, and all their signatures for me, which are still in my childhood home wall. But yes, I know about the one in Germany cause I still, as a 34-year-old, 35-year-old, I’m 35 now, would want to go and see it and relive that. And that’s original stuff. That’s been there for a minute.
LL: [00:09:23] Yeah. I wish they would record something there, cause it looks incredible.
BB: [00:09:29] Oh, it’s so cool. I mean, if they did, I’m sure that one’s way better than what they did in Vegas, and Vegas was amazing. They had all these ramps that went through and right past you in the audience and I’m sure it cost three trillion dollars, which is why it probably didn’t do too well here. And it’s also a very specific show. It’s very specific.
LL: [00:09:50] Yes. You need a lot of excellent ice skaters, roller bladers, people that can move on wheels.
BB: [00:09:56] Yeah, which is so funny because when I did it at HITS, we didn’t do it on skates, and they had these rubber band little loops, they looked like thick rubber bands, and we would hook them to our belt loops and we would hold onto each other and that was what made our train. And we would run up… That’s the one video… We have them all, but that’s the one video I have digitally, cause the friend that I did it with had it and put all of her videos that we did as kids and I had it on my computer.
LL: [00:10:25] I would love to see that.
BB: [00:10:27] Hell yeah. I’ll send you a clip.
LL: [00:10:29] Yes please.
[00:10:30] What led you from being a dancer and wanting to be on the stage to choreography?
BB: [00:10:36] Another thing I kind of always knew that that was gonna be in the cards too, especially once I started to get older in college. As a kid, of course, like I said, I always wanted to be on the stage, I wanted to be center stage, all that stuff. But when I got into college, even my professor, who I was very close to, Lyn Cramer, was like, “You’re gonna choreograph one day. You just have the mindset for that,” and I think even our senior year, I was like, “I don’t want to be in the musical. I just kind of want to assist you and watch.” So she let me choreograph two numbers in Anything Goes our senior year, and I kind of just… I loved it. I loved the creativity, and I also learned, when I went to New York, I booked White Christmas kind of three weeks after I got there, the tour, from connections that I knew and I had worked in the summers for college and stuff like that, so I knew Kelli Barclay and...
[00:11:38] So I did that show for three years, for the holiday season, and I kind of… Not just that show, but that kind of showed me other ways that one, my body was getting really tired doing eight shows a week and all that stuff, and tapping and hard on your body and things like that, and I also started to see myself being like, “Ugh, I don’t really want to do the show tonight.” And I’m like, “Wait, that’s not the kid in me that had that fire and had all that.” And it didn’t mean that I didn’t love musical theatre still. I think my idea of it was broadening, in a way. I was like, “Well, I think I need to find a different facet of it.” And so I had ended up doing with Denis Jones at TUTS, I did Meet Me In St. Louis, and we had a great working relationship and I reached out to him afterwards and I was like, “If you ever need someone, I would love to assist you, and kind of, in between right now.” And he reached back and now I’ve been his associate for almost nine years.
[00:12:48] And I have learned through that as well that it’s not that I don’t love performing, cause I still do have that fire as a kid, and I love being on stage. I don’t like the eight show week or doing one track. I get really bored. And I pledged early on that I never wanted to be that person that was on stage, we’ve all seen them, marking and miserable. That’s not what theatre’s about. Go do something else. You know what I mean? That’s unacceptable, in my opinion, especially for what the ticket prices are, and it’s Broadway, or it’s… No matter where you are in the world. If you don’t want to perform, no one’s forcing you to do that, you know what I mean? So…
LL: [00:13:29] And there’s a thousand people lining up behind you to take that spot.
BB: [00:13:32] Yes, yes! And so I never wanted to be that person. And I saw glimpses of it early on that I was like, “Oh, what’s wrong? I’m not feeling this.” And then I started to be his associate, and I started swinging. And I loved it. That’s where I was like, “Okay, well, this is where… Not a lot of people say that, but this is where I feel I still get to perform, there’s a huge adrenaline rush, and I feel super creative cause I’m never gonna get bored with any sort of track.” And so that’s a long-winded answer for your question, but that’s kind of how it all sort of transitioned into choreography. I kind of knew that my senior year of college that it was gonna happen eventually. I didn’t know how fast it was gonna happen. And then I fell into kind of swinging as well.
LL: [00:14:24] Can you explain what being a swing is?
BB: [00:14:27] Yeah. So as a swing, you are covering everyone in the ensemble and principals sometimes, but your main duty is to cover, let’s say Holiday Inn there was eight, I believe, and so we had two male swings and two female swings and you would cover all of them. If anyone’s sick or if a person’s bumped up to a principal track, you go in for that track. And so yeah, that’s kind of the rough version of what a swing is. They do a lot of things. It’s the hardest job I think there is in this business. It’s the most stressful job, but it’s also really rewarding because you’re a kind of a superhero at the end, you know what I mean? I mean, as long as you’ve done your job. There’s a lot of lead up to it. People in the ensemble, they go to rehearsal, they learn their track, and then they go home, whereas a swing goes to rehearsal, learns a track, but then they have seven more, plus I know friends who have swung shows where they have sixteen tracks and they’re the only swing. That’s not normal, but... So the job is never ending until you’ve literally ripped the band-aid from every track that you’ve done. And it’s funny, because I even find in shows like when vacations start to happen and things, if I’m in a track for a week or two, I get that same thing that I’m like, “Oh, when am I gonna do a new track? I’m getting really bored.” I don’t mark or anything, but I still have that in me, which tells me oh, I’m in the right track, because I know…
[00:16:08] There are also things about swinging that people should know. It’s not for everyone. Some people don’t have that mind. They don’t have that… I mean, I have been lucky enough to be associate as well for some of them, so I kind of already know the choreography. It’s secondary, cause I helped create it. But then there are also the elements that people don’t think about. Sometimes swings aren’t on the cast album. Sometimes swings don’t get to do the Macy’s parades. Sometimes swings don’t get to do all the publicity stuff or the fun things. Usually they do, depending on the producer, but sometimes they don’t. So sometimes there’s a little sting there, and just a reminder that you’re not on stage. I don’t feel that. I think I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I’ve also been lucky enough that the producers have let us be a part of things, so I haven’t really felt… Except for the first show, we weren’t on the cast album. You know what I mean? And that was like, “Oh, that stinks,” but it’s fine. Whatever. But some people can’t handle that. Some people… But that just kind of comes with the territory.
LL: [00:17:16] Yep. A lot of colored markers and a lot of grunt work and not much glory.
BB: [00:17:21] Well, when I first started, my first show I swung, which I was terrified, cause I had just never done it, I had binders and sticky notes and they were color-coded and all these things. And then you go on, which some people still need that, but you go on and you’re like, “I don’t have time to do this! Everything’s fine.” So now I have a super cut-down version of that, which, it’s all on two sheets, and it’s color-coded still, but it’s all one place where I can see it. But when I first started, I had all the bells and whistles and but…
LL: [00:17:55] Yeah.
[00:17:56] You mentioned on some of those shows you were associate choreographer. What is the role of an associate?
BB: [00:18:02] Associate’s basically the right-hand man, woman, whatever, to the choreographer or director, and you basically help… Some people have different capacities. Denis and I are very good friends, like best friends, and we work really well together. We can kind of complete each other’s sentences, and in rehearsals, I would teach everything, and he comes in and he’ll tweak things. That’s not the norm. A lot of other choreographers teach theirs, and then the associate’s really just there to keep the charts and keep the numbers and all that stuff. So on top of being in all the pre-pro stuff and remembering the stuff just in case they forget, I would say in my capacity, cause that’s what I can speak to, we go into pre-pro and we create all these steps together, I create a lot with him, we’re very hand in hand, and I remember it. I’m the one to remember it and teach it. And then once we get into rehearsals, I keep the charts, like I said, and make sure I know where everyone is in every time, because then once you get into tech you’re respacing and changing all those numbers. And then ultimately all those notes would lead to what they call the show bible, which would be what the producers would use for companies down the road, tours, whatever, whatnot, regional companies, international companies, things like that.
[00:19:32] But everyone’s relationship with their choreographer is very different. I’d say mine is very unique, as Denis and I are very good friends, which can also butt heads sometimes because we are very close and very stubborn with each other. But we also, 99% of the time, are super loving, and we create a very nice room because I think we really enjoy being with each other. And we also dance very similarly, so that’s kind of… Usually associates dance kind of like the choreographer, because they have to recreate your vision for you. And there are things that we’ll choreograph and I’ll be like, “Denis, that does not look good on me. You’re gonna teach this.” So I’ll bow out and I’ll be like, “Denis is gonna teach this.” And eventually I’ll get it. Or there are things where he’s like, “I can’t do that, you have to do that.” So that’s kind of associates in a nutshell, a Cliffnotes version, I’d say.
LL: [00:20:31] When you’re in pre-production, how do you go about research? Is it using those show bibles, or are you watching films? How does it work?
BB: [00:20:41] Well, research as in if you’re recreating an old show or doing a new show?
LL: [00:20:51] Both, yeah.
BB: [00:20:52] So I could answer both. It’s hard because when you’re doing a revival or something, you kind of don’t want to reference it, but at the same time the structure is there, and that’s what they wanted, you know what I mean? There’s some things on the paper, that’s just how they wanted it and that’s the structure. You can kind of reinvent it, add some instruments, I guess, or things like that. But for the most part, you do want to maintain the integrity of the show and what they fought for, cause building a new show takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, so you never want to step on something or recreate it in a way that’s offensive.
[00:21:32] So I would say for us, we’ve never done a revival, but when we do regional shows and we go internationally and there’s My Fair Lady and things like that that people know, Saturday Night Fever, Bye Bye Birdie we were supposed to do at the Kennedy Center, which I can speak to most recently. We had the idea of what Bye Bye Birdie is. Everyone knows that. That’s definitely one that I used to watch. But at the same time, you want to kind of, without stepping on toes, there are some things in that show, perfect example, that are a little dated, especially for 2020. And you could just cut it from the show, I guess, or there are ways… Is there a way to reconfigure it? Is there a way to make this more relevant and still be respectful to the writers originally? That also comes down to the estate and who owns it, what you’re allowed to do. Usually they’re just like, just cut that number, things like that.
[00:22:34] But so I would say for those kinds of shows that you’re kind of reviving the idea, that perfect example of Denis and I did all new choreography for Chorus Line. First time it went to the Muny, and then it went to the Signature. I wasn’t able to help with the Signature production, but it was kind of the same choreography he and I had created for the Muny. And that’s daunting. It was a daunting, especially cause Denis had done the tour and all that stuff, but it was interesting because Denis knew all the original choreography. I’d never done the show, so I didn’t really have any reference, and I wasn’t gonna look. I knew the opening number, cause everyone’s learned that combo, but other than that I didn’t really have any reference of actual… And he knew, like “I know what this is,” and he did it with [inaudible 00:23:24], all these things. So it was interesting working together, cause he would do something and I would do something which would have a different spin on it, because I had no reference. So to answer that question about the revival, it’s almost easier to not refer to it and then maybe look at it later to be like, “Are we in the ballpark?” And usually it kind of is in the same, cause the orchestrations are set, things like that.
[00:23:47] For a new show, you kind of have a blank canvas, which is amazing. I mean, I’ve been lucky enough with Denis to do three original Broadway shows, so taking them from the ground up with Jason Robert Brown and Yazbeck and even recreating old stuff from Irving Berlin for all these classics that people know and love, but kind of reinventing them and things like that where you kind of can just throw whatever you want at the wall and see what works. You have a whole creative team that has opinions as well, and I will say in the, not that there is one, but if there was, choreography is probably the lowest on the totem pole, you know what I mean? Because ultimately, they’re like, “We need to cut something from the show, cut that 8-count, cut that…” Things like that, which happens often. It’s not that it’s not important, but it ends up… Your show usually comes out at three, four hours, and you’re like, “We need to get it to two.”
[00:24:58] So the blank canvas of that is kind of a really fun thing to approach, because you’re not having to go on someone else’s dance arrangements. You’re getting in a room, which is… One of my favorite parts of a new musical is getting in with the dance arranger, so you have your orchestrator, and then you have a person who comes in and usually just does the dance arrangements, cause they’re like, “I don’t really know what you…” Not that they couldn’t do it, but they’re like, get with the choreographer, you have a drummer, you have a pianist, and the dance arranger, and you literally are like, “So in this eight, we’re kind of telling this story.” And I can speak most recently to Tootsie, we have these marquees and Michael’s gonna point to them and that’s what he’s envisioning himself as playing these parts as Dorothy. And so we get in a room and we just move around and it’s a riff on what the song already sounds like, so you have a structure at least, and then they start to play these hits, and we’re like, “No, we want to hit there. We want to hit there.” And it’s special. It’s a nice… And it’s nice to have that voice and be able to do whatever you want. At the same time, it’s also hard to hone in, cause you’re like, “We can do whatever we want!” And like, okay, we can be in here all day on one 8-count, which we’ve done before, but so they’re very different beasts as far as those two scenarios, but both amazing. Does that answer that question?
LL: [00:26:28] Yeah. So with that work in the rehearsal room with the dance arranger and the choreographer, that’s all happening before the cast comes in.
BB: [00:26:38]Yes. That’s all in that kind of pre-pro thing that you would… I mean, the dance arranger will still be there, and once you start to run the show, especially once the cast is there, you’re like, “We need to rethink this. We need to…” So we go to square one or we get a new song or we need to whatever. But yes, that would mostly all happen in the pre-pro stage. And usually just the associate, the choreographer, maybe a few dancers, and you’re kind of creating it on the spot.
LL: [00:27:09] So how much of the show would be choreographed before the cast comes in?
BB: [00:27:14] Well, I think it depends on the choreographer. I mean, I know I’ve been in shows where it doesn’t feel like they’ve thought about step, but they’re brilliant on their feet. They’re like, “Let’s do this, let’s do this.” They’ve thought about it, they just might not have shared it. And then we like to go in with a lot of material. We might not have where they are on stage or what formation they’re in, but we definitely have 8-counts and things that we can pull from here and there and ideas. I mean, in pre-pro for Tootsie, we had full numbers ready to go.
LL: [00:27:50] Wow.
BB: [00:27:51] Because if you’re lucky enough, if the producers are generous enough to give you time, usually the dance department has workshops or dance labs, and ours was two weeks, but then we had another one. And all the dancers are paid, and they get their health weeks, but then it’s 10-6 nonstop dancing all day. So it’s brutal. And we would create whole numbers with the amount of people that we would have. It wouldn’t necessarily be the people in the show, auditions might not have even happened, you know what I mean? It’s just there to kind of create, which is fun for the people who weren’t in the show, cause they could come see it. A lot of them had other shows, and they’re like, “Oh, I can’t even come in for it,” but they would come see it and you see how that came to life or how it morphed, cause there were definitely some things that were in that April lab for Tootsie that made it to Broadway almost a year and a half, two years later.
LL: [00:28:57] Wow. So you’re creating the vocabulary, and the… The choreography is not set, but it is created well in advance.
BB: [00:29:06] Yes. It’s definitely malleable. We’re never like, “Oh, this is in stone.” I mean, there are some things that we love, and we’re like, “We didn’t want to get rid of this, it’s so good,” blah blah blah. I mean, to us. It might be terrible. We think it’s good. But we hold onto it as much as we can. It’s like Holiday Inn specifically, I remember going down the street to buy the jump rope, the original long rope for the three to tap dance in at this hardware store down from Ripley-Grier. Denis was like, “Let’s go get a rope or something,” so I got the… It wasn’t even like a jump rope, it was like a…
LL: [00:29:43] A rope.
BB: [00:29:44] Yeah, a rope rope. And that has stayed in the show since. And that was way back… I don’t even remember what year. It was before it went to Goodspeed, and then way before the Muny and way before Broadway.
LL: [00:30:00] So let’s jump across to Holiday Inn.
BB: [00:30:03] Yeah.
LL: [00:30:04] Can you talk a little bit more about the development of the jump rope number? In the filmed live version from Studio 54, the crowd goes absolutely wild after that number. It’s like a good minute or two of applause afterwards.
BB: [00:30:21] It’s actually one of the most special times that I’ve had in my personal shows on Broadway or in theatre, cause you can feel, I remember that first night... Cause on our end, we’re nervous that they’re gonna trip up, cause there’s no saving it, especially the big rope. For Broadway, we did end up adding the individual ropes, which was another iteration, cause… It was almost like a safety, too. You’re like, “If the big rope were to ever fail,” which we had a contingency planned, but we have these that can surge forward and you just move on, you know what I mean?
LL: [00:31:03] You forget about it.
BB: [00:31:04] They never did, so.
LL: [00:31:05] Wow.
BB: [00:31:06] They were wonderful. I mean, those…
LL: [00:31:08] Ever? In the whole run, they never tripped?
BB: [00:31:10] I think once.
LL: [00:31:12] That’s amazing.
BB: [00:31:13] There was once. But we did a rope call before every show, all the individual ropes, and that call every single show just to get into the routine of it, cause honestly the pressure with those two guys on the side, because it’s not like you’re just roping. You’re doing it to certain counts and it hits the ground at a certain time and if one person’s early, it’s gonna catch the heel. And we did this numerous times. I mean, that I did not have to swing, but talk about… That would be terrifying.
[00:31:45] But yeah, like I said, it started with Denis and I were like, “What do we do? We have garland. Oh, Christmas garland.” And we’re thinking of things in that time and we’re like, “What if we jump roped garland?” And I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna get a rope,” he gave me a $20 bill and I went down the street, got the rope. And we didn’t have the individual ropes at Goodspeed or at the Muny, and so… Were they at the Muny? I don’t remember. And we just started jumping around, seeing what worked, and we started coming up with different rhythms and different things and how you needed… The rope, people needed to plié with them so you could see their feet. There were a lot of minute details like when they needed to run in, let’s do two, and let’s have one run back in. And we kind of just created this really special moment. I knew that day in rehearsal, I was like, “Oh, we have something really special here, and I hope the world gets to see it.”
[00:32:51] And cut to that night, I think it was first preview, it might’ve been opening, you’re always nervous. Every time I watch that number, no matter what, I’m nervous, cause I’m like, “Ugh.” But you feel it in the audience too, cause they’re like, “Oh my gosh, no, they’re not. No, they’re not.” Cause they spread it, they get the ropes out, they’re about to jump rope and tap dance. And you feel people sit up in their seats. I could feel it in Studio 54, especially in the orchestra, and above, when I would sit there, but you feel them kind of raise up and sit to the edge, cause your heart just starts to speed up, which is great, because the reward at the end once they finish that and they go into the other ropes and things, the energy of that number was truly so special, and so rewarding, cause the audience just loved it. And there’s nothing but joy in a number like that. And so yeah, yeah. Does that answer that? [crosstalk 00:33:55-00:33:57] I could go on and on about it. There’s a lot of things...
LL: [00:33:58] I wish that we were video recording, because I wish listeners could see your face right now. It is just beaming.
BB: [00:34:08] Yeah, I mean, cause it’s one of those numbers that just thinking about it… And you kind of reminded me of it, it’s been a couple of years now, but… And watching the special on TV will be amazing, but the noise level of the cheers in person were like… Chills, just thinking about it. It’s a very special number. And it took a lot of iterations, it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and lot of figuring out, especially once we, Denis was like, “Let’s add some individual ropes,” and I was like, “Okay.” So I just started with a jump rope and I started creating a tap dance to these individual ropes, and the whole next iteration was, “How do we make these ropes look like garland but not mess them up?” Because at the bottom, they had to kind of be weighted, cause if they’re not weighted at all, you can’t control it. So we would measure the ropes to the people, with how you measure jump ropes, and we would test them all, we would do… And there was garland and stuff flying everywhere at first, and we were like, “Okay, we need to go back to the drawing board and create something that will stay, and that’s gonna maintain, and everyone has their own individual rope. No one shares one because they’re just so specific. The swings all need their own ropes. Everything.” And, yeah. That’s the one thing, when people talk about Holiday Inn, they’re like, “Can you teach us the jump rope?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s hard.”
LL: [00:35:41] So it sounds like you were involved with Holiday Inn right from the very beginning.
BB: [00:35:46] Yeah. I have been there since the first iteration of it coming to life when the first… I remember, I forget which show Denis and I were doing at the time, cause Denis and I now have done over 40 shows together, or projects and things like that, and I was doing something, and I was running rehearsal, and he was like, “Hey, I have to go to this reading. I’m potentially doing Holiday Inn,” which, we had known the director for a little while. We had worked with him. And they went, and so I went to the next one. Or maybe I went to… I don’t remember. Maybe I went to it and he stayed at rehearsal. But I remember seeing the reading, and I was like, “Oh, this is…” You know, it’s all those songs that you love and know and a lot of the songs have changed. They brought in new ones once it got to New York, but yeah…
LL: [00:36:35] With Laura Benanti and…
BB: [00:36:37] Yes. Rob McClure.
LL: [00:36:39] Rob McClure.
BB: [00:36:41] Yeah. And who were amazing too, and those have had iterations as far as cast and stuff, too. But I remember watching it, I was like, “Oh, this’ll be a special show for people,” cause a lot of people have so many memories with those songs in general, in whatever version you know. And yeah, we kind of hit the ground running. I was supposed to be in the Goodspeed production, so I went to Goodspeed, helped put it all up, but then I couldn’t do it because I ended up, I mean, this is a good thing, I ended up…
LL: [00:37:22] I was nervous for a second there.
BB: [00:37:25] Getting in Honeymoon in Vegas, and it was gonna be my debut, so I was like, “Okay, well, I’ll come to Goodspeed still and set it all and help,” cause I’d done all of the work, which I was excited to be in. I was excited to do the show. But then the cards didn’t fall that way and then they hired another associate for the time being to go to the Muny, because I couldn’t go to the Muny as well, because of something. I don’t remember what that was. And then it kind of all came back. Because when we went to Broadway, I put in so much thought and time with the show that Denis was like, “I would love you to come back on board and it just seems fitting that we should do this together because we started it so long ago.”
LL: [00:38:11] The style of dance and tap in Holiday Inn, can you talk a little bit about that?
BB: [00:38:17] Yeah. I mean, that’s classic Broadway, you know what I mean? There’s homage to Singin’ in the Rain, there’s homage… Denis loves that kind of world, too. He loved those movies. It has a modern spin to it, because Denis and I love a toe stand and we love things that you might not see in those movies and different spins on things. But yeah, it’s pretty classic Broadway. I mean, I love that kind of tap. I love all kinds of tap, but I definitely love the classic… And there’s a lot of things in those orchestrations and with those songs that if you started doing crazy things, you’re like, “Oh, this doesn’t fit. There’s a weird… These don’t meld well together.” So yeah, it’s pretty classic. And that’s kind of where Denis and I kind of live, as far as tap in general. So it kind of spoke well to us and felt natural to create all that.
LL: [00:39:21] You mentioned the individual jump ropes for people. When you do a Broadway show, and a tap show, do dancers bring their own taps or do you break in the taps provided by costume?
BB: [00:39:40] You will get new taps, for sure. Whether or not… For Holiday Inn, I chose to lend mine to the show, cause I had some that were so broken in that I was like… We had a lot of issues with the deck being very slippery in that production, so as a swing, I was like, “I want to wear my own shoes. I know how they fit, I know what they feel like. You can paint them, they’re crap anyways, so feel free to paint them, feel free to do whatever you want.” And I know a lot of people did that. But we also still got the new shoes, you know what I mean? You would have the shoes already that were fitted and you’d just be like, “Ah, these just really aren’t working.” I still have those shoes, the new ones, and I still wear them. I teach tap class in them. But I only wore them a handful of times in the show. So yes, everyone would get new shoes and that’s the norm. You wouldn’t really have to offer your own. We just had to do that because the deck and we wanted people to feel safe and whatever. And they pay you, and they rent your shoes from you, and whatever it is, but yeah. The norm would be to get your new shoes and break them in eventually, which takes some time. It takes a lot of time.
LL: [00:40:59] Yeah. That’s hours of rehearsal right there.
BB: [00:41:02] Yes, yeah.
LL: [00:41:04] When did you find out that Holiday Inn was going to be filmed?
BB: [00:41:08] We found out… I think it was like September, October. They were like, “We’re gonna film this and it’s gonna be archived forever.” And we were like, “Okay.” And then you start to sweat, cause you’re like, “Oh, the pressure. What if the rope messes up?” I mean, they were probably gonna do a couple of recordings, but you only think, “We’ve gotta get that good shot,” you know what I mean? And they [crosstalk 00:41:35-00:41:37]
LL: [00:41:35] And also that it was being livestreamed!
BB: [00:41:39] I know!
LL: [00:41:40] You can’t redo it over!
BB: [00:41:41]And I was like, “How many…” For the final cut, they were like, “Oh, we’re probably [inaudible 00:41:47],” but for this one, I don’t know. There were so many cameras everywhere. It was exciting once we found out. It’s also rewarding for Denis and I to have a beautifully… They did such a good job, and the shots were amazing…
LL: [00:42:04] 14 HD cameras.
BB: [00:42:05] It’s just filmed so well, so to have that, to be able to sit and relive that, and how much went into creating one 8-count is special. It’s nice.
LL: [00:42:19] Were there extra rehearsals before the filming?
BB: [00:42:21] I think there were some extra rehearsals just for if there was something that was in a different shot, we might need to angle it differently. But for the most part, no. For the most part, it was like, “We’re gonna figure it out around you. We’re not gonna come in here and restructure everything.” I think there were a few things, but for the most part, no. They also have… I forget how many cameras. I think there were four in the orchestra and three upstairs…
LL: [00:42:50] I think it’s 14 total.
BB: [00:42:52] Yeah. So it’s like… They had some offstage, things like that. So they caught a lot of things. I don’t remember having to redo a lot of things.
LL: [00:43:05] So no substantial elements of the production were changed for the cameras?
BB: [00:43:10] No. That’s the version, yeah.
LL: [00:43:15] Did you or Denis get to work with the film crew about how those dances would be captured?
BB: [00:43:21] Yes. I mean, I think there were definitely… It’s like Macy’s parade or anything. You have to go into… So this is end of “Easy to Dance With,” the girls fall down and it leads to Corbin, or what kind of… And they were great about asking us what angle would be best here, you want a wide shot for the ropes, you don’t want to zoom in and miss the big rope, you know what I mean? So there were definitely… And they had seen the show leading up to that numerous times, so they knew their shot and what their angle was going to be and things like that, and I’m sure they have… I mean, they’re brilliant. They know exactly what they’re doing. So they didn’t really need a lot of input from us, because it was like, they know what they’re doing.
LL: [00:44:11] David Horn has directed a thousand of these at this point.
BB: [00:44:14] Yes. They knew exactly what they were doing. And the proof is in the final product. It’s beautiful. It’s stunning.
LL: [00:44:23] Yeah.
[00:44:24] How are the tap sounds amplified?
BB: [00:44:27] Well, a lot of the tap sounds… We had floor mics, and then also a lot of the ensemble wore, not all of them, but wore tap mics that you would lead down. So you can’t do everyone, because it’s just super expensive, but I think at least half of the ensemble, I forget the full number, had tap mics that you wear, so it’s just like a mic pack and they put it and they just lead down to your feet and they secure them… Usually the women can kind of secure them in their tights, but for men they secure them around the tap or around something. And of course Corbin or any soloist had them. And then we had floor mics as well to catch everyone else. So I’m sure they would lead that through the feed. I don’t know the logistics of that. But they’re pretty clear in there.
[00:45:30] But also on Broadway, that came before they were even filming it, finding where the sound wasn’t super tinny, cause a lot of those things can sound a little harsh and it sounds fake or prerecorded, which the sounds weren’t prerecorded. I mean, they are for the album and things like that, cause they’re not taking the live feed, but yeah. We eventually found it for the show in general, and then I think it translated well to the recording as well.
LL: [00:46:00] It makes me have even deeper appreciation for what the sound designers are doing.
BB: [00:46:04] Yeah. Yeah, cause if you hear it raw, you’re like, “Oh, this sounds terrible.” Then once you hear it out, you’re like, “Oh, that’s great. They really mixed this and it sounds great.”
LL: [00:46:16] That’s really incredible.
[00:46:18] Do you think that filming stage shows in the way that Holiday Inn was filmed will change the way that shows like that are created or staged?
BB: [00:46:29] Do I think it will change… Changing their staging for the purpose of being filmed?
LL: [00:46:35] Well, if, post-pandemic, more shows become filmed, there’s this kind of sense that Hamilton and so much has been made available online because of the pandemic, there’s this changing sense in the industry that maybe filmed live stuff is viable and there’s a market for it. Will that change how shows are created?
BB: [00:47:00] I think it’s a great tool to have. I think it also makes it accessible to people that probably would never be able to see it, whether that be because they live across the world and they’re not gonna make it to New York any time soon or… Broadway’s expensive, too, so now it’s at your doorstep, literally. And there’s another side of that, that… I think BroadwayHD kind of had the pulse of this a while back. They had already done a few shows before Holiday Inn, and you kind of see where you have this library of the pure form of this show that is so beautifully shot… And they spend some money on this, too. It’s not like they’re just taking their iPhone, you know what I mean? They’re putting it all out there, a crane, there’s all these things. And I definitely think it will change… Also, what’s happening with the pandemic? When’s theatre coming back? This is the only thing we can really kind of hold on to right now. So I think to archive all these shows and let future generations of musical theatre lovers, non-musical theatre lovers, whatever, kind of witness and experience these things is important. A lot of us are starving for art right now, and I’m excited. I was in the show and I’m excited to see Holiday Inn on the screen, just to relive it.
[00:48:45] So yeah, I don’t think it will necessarily change the way someone approaches putting a show and producing it, because I think in hopes if you produced a good show, they’re gonna want to shoot it, you know what I mean? And it takes a lot of work to put these shows up no matter what it is, small, large, medium, whatever it is, it takes a lot of money, it takes a lot of work. And to have it archived as this perfect time capsule, in a way, because eventually it will be, is special. And you can always go to Lincoln Center and see those, but they’re not shot like this. They’re beautiful, but they’re not shot like this. Those are for archival purposes and it’s a great thing to go see, but these are like you get to be there. It’s almost like you and I right now. I can see you, you can see them. You can see the reaction. You can see things. So I think it’ll definitely change the way the world gets to see musical theatre. Whether or not it changes a producer’s perspective, not sure.
LL: [00:49:54] Very interesting.
[00:49:56] So we’re going to wrap up here with some quick questions.
BB: [00:49:59] Okay.
LL: [00:50:00] Don’t have to think about them too much, whatever comes to mind. There are no wrong answers.
BB: [00:50:05] All right.
LL: [00:50:06] What is your favorite musical?
BB: [00:50:08] Cabaret.
LL: [00:50:10] Interesting.
[00:50:11] What is your favorite, if you have one, filmed live musical?
BB: [00:50:16] Holiday Inn.
LL: [00:50:18] Good answer.
[00:50:20] The product of a filmed live musical, it’s not exactly theatre and it’s not exactly a film, so what should we call it?
BB: [00:50:29] Ooh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. That’s a good question. Come back to me.
LL: [00:50:40] Okay.
BB: [inaudible 00:50:41-00:50:43]
LL: [00:50:45] Where do you stand on bootlegs?
BB: [00:50:48] Well, I think now with these things, I’m against bootlegs, because one, it’s very distracting, cause we can see them recording, and two, I just think it’s like the music industry. It’s like pirating music and all that stuff. It’s the exact same thing. A lot of money, a lot of work went into these creations of these shows and they should be done in the right way, like BroadwayHD, like the archival copies. And in all fairness, the actors should know. It’s not cool, in my opinion.
LL: [00:51:27]What do you wish had been filmed?
BB: [00:51:30] Oh, I mean, everything. Starlight Express? I’m sure there is a recording of it, but like this? They would nail it! BroadwayHD, please go to Germany and just make one of the Germany company, you know what I mean? And the way these cameras move now, and the HD aspect, it’s just so thrilling. [crosstalk 00:51:56]
LL: [00:51:58] The digital has changed everything! You could have a camera on a skater’s body and have the camera follow them on the track.
BB: [00:52:07] Yes!
LL: [00:52:08]I want them to film the Vegas version with little 10-year-old you sitting in the front row.
BB: [00:52:14] I know!
LL: [00:52:17] What would you like to see filmed in the future?
BB: [00:52:21] I think if they have the means and the producers have the means, they should film everything. I think we should start archiving literally every single musical. And just to have this at the fingertips of everyone, including myself, you could go watch anything. I mean, of course, there’s nothing that’s ever gonna replace live theatre. That’s just palpable, and you’re in there, and you’re feeling it, but these are pretty darn close, so they should film everything.
LL: [00:52:57]I could not agree more.
[00:53:00] So Holiday Inn is available to stream on BroadwayHD and also on PBS Passport. And where can we find you online, Barry?
BB: [00:53:10] I have a website, barrybusby.com. And I don’t know, I guess Google?
LL: [00:53:17] Can we find you on Instagram or a social media?
BB: [00:53:19] Yes! My Instagram is @brbusby, and then yeah. That’s my social aspect.
LL: [00:53:27] And would you like to give BB Studio a little plug?
BB: [00:53:30] Oh yeah! My best friend Leslie Flesner and I, @lesfles, we’ve been, since the pandemic started, I know Luisa you’ve been talking about it, we started teaching just to get ourselves moving, but also if anyone wants to move and dance, we started with five classes and now we have over 13-16 a week, which includes one each week that’s original choreography, and someone comes in from the show and teaches fun little steps from random shows.
LL: [00:54:03] Not just random shows! Mean Girls, Hamilton…
BB: [00:54:07] Well, random shows as in we just choose randomly.
LL: [00:54:11] I see.
BB: [00:54:12] Major random shows, I guess. But yeah, come join us!
LL: [00:54:18] Wonderful. Thank you so much, Barry.
BB: [00:54:20] Oh my gosh, thank you.
LL: [00:54:22] Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love and we’d like to thank everyone who makes it possible. Thank you to our patrons, Josh Brandon, Mercedes Esteban, Rachel Esteban, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, Al Monaco, David and Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist for your support. If you’d like to support Filmed Live Musicals, please like and review on your podcast app, find us on Twitter at musicalsonscreen, and on Facebook at Filmed Live Musicals. If you’d like to support the site financially, you can find us at patreon.com/musicalsonscreen. No matter what level you are able to pledge, you receive early access to written content and early access to this very podcast. Visit www.filmedlivemusicals.com to learn more. Thanks for listening.