Director Takes Leap at Williamstown Theatre Festival

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Director Kathleen Marshall, left, with the stars of 'Living on Love,' which made its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on Wednesday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Kathleen Marshall is a three-time Tony Award winner, a three-time Drama Desk Award winner, an 11-time Broadway choreographer and five-time Broadway director.
And she is doing something completely different this summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Marshall directs "Living on Love," which opened on the Main Stage on Wednesday evening with a cast that includes Anna Chlumsky, Renee Fleming, Justin Long and Douglas Sills.
"This is my first play," she said earlier this summer
By that she means her first non-musical; as a term of art in the industry, "play" is not used to refer to musicals.
Although "Living on Love" certainly has lyrical overtones — it revolves around two opera stars and stars one internationally known soprano, Fleming — it is a "straight play."
At a preseason WTF press event, Marshall said "Living on Love," based on the Garson Kanin's "Peccadillo," was a natural choice for her first effort.
"I've been looking to do a play for a while, and I've been talking about various things," she said. "The fact that this sort of came to fruition first is wonderful. First of all, it's a comedy, which I love. It involves music, which I love. And it involves a specific world. I love exploring a specific world.
"It's the world of classical music and opera music, which obviously has sort of oversized personalities in it, which gives you great comic fodder in some ways, but it's not too far from the truth. I love these wonderful comedies and finding the truth in them."
Marshall won Tony Awards for the choreography of three musicals: "Anything Goes," "The Pajama Game" and "Wonderful Town." She has been nominated for Tonys as a director on all three as well as 2012's "Nice Work if You Can Get It."
She said she was enjoying the process of putting together a straight play and how that process differs from production of a musical.
"Obviously, it's a very different thing to be going so deep into the text of a play," she said. "Here we are Day 4, and we're still going to be sitting around the table. On Day 4 of a musical, we'd already be in music rehearsals, we'd be in choreography.
"In a wonderful way, there's this luxury to get to sit around with the actors and say, 'Well, what do you think? How is that going?' We're sitting back with Joe DiPietro and getting direct feedback instead of saying, 'OK, we read that scene. Let's get on to the stage and do that.' In that way, it feels like a luxury."
Marshall won a Tony for her choreography of Broadway's 'Anything Goes' revival in 2011. Image by Joan Marcus.
Marshall's relationship with DiPietro, who adapted 1985's "Peccadillo," gave her an extra comfort level as a director. DiPietro wrote the book for 2012's "Nice Work," which ran for 478 performances.
"Joe is so smart and so funny," she said. "He's just a very, very witty, clever writer. But he's also a fearless editor of his own work. He's not possessive about his own work. He's the first one to say, 'I can do that better' or 'We don't need that. Let me trim that,' which is sort of amazing.
"He wants to hear it from the actors. He wants it to feel right coming out of their mouths. That's what I love about him."
In addition to her artistic history with DiPietro, Marshall shares connections with artists featured in two other shows at Williamstown this summer.
In 1993, she was an assistant choreographer on "Kiss of the Spider Woman," which starred Chita Rivera, who will appear at WTF starting July 31 in "The Visit." Marshall's "Anything Goes" cast included Jessica Stone, who directed Main Stage opener "June Moon."
Unlike Stone, a WTF veteran, Marshall is making her first trip to Williamstown ... at least her first trip as an artist.
"It's my first time working up here, but the first time I came was when I was in high school with my parents," she said. "We were doing a tour of the Berkshires and saw Richard Chamberlain in 'The Shadow Box.'
"I always had a romantic vision of working in Williamstown."
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