Four-time Tony-nominated choreographer Steven Hoggett returns to Broadway this season, providing sweet staging for the Neil Diamond bio-musical A Beautiful Noise. Hoggett, whose work can also be seen on Broadway in the critically acclaimed play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, reunites with his longtime friend director Michael Mayer for the bio-musical. NY1 News journalist Frank DiLella recently caught up with Hoggett during a break from rehearsal to talk rocking and rolling with A Beautiful Noise.
Your ensemble is incredible. You call them “The Noise,” pulled from the Neil Diamond song “Beautiful Noise.”
If I’m being completely transparent, we live in an age where we don’t say “guys” anymore. I like to say “team.” On day two, I said, “Hey, Noise,” and everybody turned around and looked. And I thought, That works! And then the creative team started calling them Noise, and that started to feed into the idea that in the show, “The Noise” is energy. The principal focus of the show is Neil, and at times The Noise is there to energize and push him into his next moment.
Tell me about your Noise crew.
The 10 of them were never all in the same audition room, and we genuinely were picking people who had movement qualities we were intrigued by. We wanted different types of movement qualities with every single person. And the fact that we ended up with such a diverse group in terms of how they appear, we really do have a range in terms of who they are and where they come from and what life experiences they’ve had.
This isn’t your first time working with Michael Mayer. In fact, Michael gave you your Broadway debut with Green Day’s American Idiot.
Michael is a big part of my life. He also married me and my husband. When I came over to the U.S. to do a two-week workshop on American Idiot, we worked on a couple of numbers. And on the first couple of days, we did a nine-minute sequence, and it was the fastest and most detailed I had ever worked. And with Michael, I don’t know what it is about him, but things for me come out really quick. Michael will drop these ideas and they always land for me. We have a very exciting and fast way of working.
What was your inspiration for your movement for Neil Diamond’s music?
If I’m being honest, it was the people in the room when they started moving. I listened to Neil’s music when I was 7 or 8 with my parents. The Jazz Singer was a big album in the U.K. So I knew intrinsically what the rhythmic qualities of his music were. I knew the music, I knew the melodies. But I didn’t have a sense about what the movement would be until I got in the room and the dancers started making material and I started pushing in a certain direction. It came from being inspired by them and watching them move.
Looking at your body of work on Broadway, your credits are amazing: everything from Once to a revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie to Rocky to Angels in America to Harry Potter. And now this. That’s an eclectic group of shows!
I know myself and I don’t have the longest attention span. So if I already know how something is going to look and play out, I won’t do that job because I’m not going to learn anything or stay inspired. And if I don’t know how to do something in the room, I don’t have any authority. I feel more secure when I can go to people and say — like for Rocky — “I don’t know how to do this boxing thing.” Or, for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, “I don’t know how an autistic boy would visit London, so let’s find out together.” I think that mentality creates a very democratic room where I’m absolutely responsible for what happens in that room, but in terms of creating content, everybody’s got a good enough chance as anybody else.
In the show, you create these amazing rock-star moments for Will Swenson, your Neil Diamond. What was that like?
Will is such a transformational type of performer. In the rehearsal room, he’s considerate, calm, and really quiet and thoughtful, asking smart questions. And so you have this kind of working relationship with him, and then you run a number and this man steps out and you’re like, Holys–t! When we run numbers, I just find myself laughing in this joyous way, like Oh my god! Look at Will! There’s nothing Will cannot do.
You’re also working with one of the greatest triple threats of our generation: Robyn Hurder, who plays Marcia Murphey, the show’s leading lady. Robyn has a showstopping dance number in the second act. What’s it like to create movement for her body?
In some ways all we worked from was an emotional center — how she felt one second to the next. Robyn is a beast for technicality and she’s done a lot of shows where she’s done technically some of the most incredible dancing I’ve ever seen on Broadway. So I was nervous; the process I was about to throw at her was not going to be that. Robyn is hysterically funny, she’s so hardworking, and she’s brilliant. And so when we were in the room, she wasn’t at all surprised that this wasn’t going to be the usual process of putting a number together.
The music and dancing in this show are so much fun. On the day I attended in Boston, by show’s end, audience members were dancing in the aisles. As a choreographer that must make you feel great.
It makes me feel amazing. Dancing is infectious. I like to feel with a musical — people in my position — you do try hard to pull narrative and choreography. And that’s what takes more time than anything else. Because you can make material quickly, but creating some sense of narrative or some sort of emotional-truth quality, that takes hours and hours and hours. And I think on a good night, when an audience is watching something that is physical and has emotional content, they’re being spoken to on two different levels. And if that makes audiences stand up and dance, that makes me very happy, and I’ve done my job right.
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