(photo credit: Joan Marcus)
Beauty and the Beast’s Tony-nominated director Rob Roth dishes about Elton John, Anne Rice, Jackie Collins and Alice Cooper, as well as his critically-hailed book The Art of Classic Rock and the Tony Awards, as the new slimmed-down Beauty and the Beast touring production headlines Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa
By Richard Burnett
Famed Broadway director Rob Roth remembers the day he first met Elton John back in the mid 1990s before Roth developed and directed the inaugural production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AÏDA, which debuted at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.
Roth was then the toast of Broadway, even got a Tony Award nomination for Best Director after Beauty and the Beast premiered on the Great White Way in 1994.
Be Our Guest (credit: Joan Marcus)
“First you meet Elton’s manager,” Roth recalls today. “There are steps to it. Then Elton was playing at Royal Albert Hall in London and I was sitting in the Royal Box with John Reid, his manager at the time. I walk into the box and Roger Taylor and Brian May [of Queen] are also sitting in the box. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So we spoke for a while and then John Reid’s pager goes off – this was the time of pagers – and it was a 9-1-1 from Elton. I was originally supposed to meet him after the concert but he said, ‘Bring Rob back here now.’ So this is like 10 minutes to eight, right before his concert starts. So we leave the box, run all the way around Royal Albert Hall and now I’m really nervous. We went backstage and Elton was wearing a vinyl pink suit and we shook hands and he said, ‘I was so nervous about meeting you that I had to meet you before the concert!’ And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was surreal.”
Surreal is the perfect word to describe Roth’s career arc.
In addition to Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, as well as directing the new touring production that headlines Montreal’s Place des Arts beginning on April 24, Roth developed and directed the inaugural production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA, developed and directed the Broadway musical Lestat, based on Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” with a score by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and he has enjoyed a long collaboration with rock legend Alice Cooper, co-conceiving and directing four world tours. Roth has also directed tours by Cyndi Lauper, The Dresden Dolls and Steve Miller, and will direct Jackie Collins Hollywood Lies on Broadway in 2013.
Even Roth describes his career as surreal. Take his Tony nomination for Best Director for Beauty and the Beast.
“I was 29 years old when we did the first Beauty and the Beast show and when you work so hard to create something you don’t think of [winning] awards, you just want it to be good and audiences to like it,” Roth explains. “I didn’t anticipate travelling around the world and all that stuff. So it was pretty shocking to me how it all happened. It was pretty surreal and I was excited. But lets face it – the Tony nomination was lovely. But awards don’t mean a whole lot to me.”
If anything means a lot to Roth, it was his record collection growing up in the 1970s, as well as his rock and roll memorabilia, now published in the critically-acclaimed 2010 coffee-table book The Art of Classic Rock (Harper Collins). The book boasts over 1500 pieces from Roth’s collection, reportedly the largest collection of rock and roll graphics in the world.
“Classic rock is what I like the most – The Who, The Stones, Bowie. I’ve been collecting memorabilia since I was 12 when I’d go to [my local] E. J. Korvette’s record store every Tuesday. Record companies spent a lot of money [promoting records] back in the 1970s. My bedroom walls were covered with Elton John and Alice Cooper posters when I was growing up.” Roth smiles broadly. “Now I know them!”
Elton he met before the collaborated on Aida. Roth now also calls Cooper a good friend (read my Abominable Showman interview with the great vaudevillian by clicking here). “I don’t always go on the tours [with the rock stars I work with] but with Alice I try to go a lot because he’s one of my best friends and I love him so much. Oh my God, he has endless stories and with people who are so famous!”
Kinda like Roth himself.
Take the time he developed and directed the Broadway musical Lestat. “Anne Rice and I are still very much in touch. During the making of the play we mostly wrote to each other which is amazing because I’m looking back at some of those emails now and I think it could be a book. There must be 600 emails over two or three years.”
Roth is also working on two new plays – Strange Dents: Nonfiction Invention, A transcribed Conversation, about the friendship between Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, and Jackie Collins Hollywood Lies.
“This is Jackie’s first play – it’s like Jackie Collins meets Agatha Christie, a seven-character, one-set murder mystery. But really funny with sex and drugs and male nudity. We did a reading in NYC this past year and people loved it. I’m not sure when this will happen, but in the next year I think, in 2013.”
As for Strange Dents, Roth has been writing this play for four years.
(credit: Joan Marcus)
“Rosie O’Donnell is a friend of mine and she invited me and my [life] partner Patrick on one of her cruises. So I brought the book The Andy Warhol Diaries with me, thought I’d stay in my suite and read it on my balcony, which I did. But something leapt out at me: Andy wrote, ‘I went to Truman’s apartment and we got seven good hours for the play.’ And I was like, ‘What play?’ I know people at The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, so when I got off the cruise, I called them [and discovered that] in the late 1970s Andy and Truman Capote were talking about doing a Broadway play together. So I called the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and got access to the Warhol-Capote tapes. They found 60 cassettes that no one’s ever heard. So I asked Alice [Cooper], ‘Instead of paying me my full salary, donate it to the Warhol Museum to have these tapes preserved [and digitized].’ Then I had them transcribed and made a deal that I could use all the tapes to make a play. So for the past four years I’ve been reading these transcriptions and listening to these tapes and what I’ve done is made up a two-act conversation between Andy and Truman. Except they’re all their words. I feel like I’m completing their project, and I hope it [gets mounted] in 2013.”
Right now, though, Roth is busiest with the brand new North American touring production of Beauty and the Beast, which will also play in Salle Wilfred Pelletier in Montreal (April 24-29), the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto (July 3-22) and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (October 30 to November 4). Associate director Sam Scalamoni keeps tabs on the tour day-to-day.
“This production of Beauty and the Beast has a new scenic design – I like it much better than the original production,” Roth says. “There was a big castle unit in the Broadway production that we split into three, and when we changed that, it changed all the staging. So it’s quite a bit different. But story- wise, song-wise and special effects, it’s the same.”
Not bad for a gay kid who grew up listening to records with Elton John and Alice Cooper posters plastered all over his bedroom walls.
“I was a lonely geeky kid who sat at home alone with my record albums,” Roth says. “But I look back on the projects I’ve been blessed to work on and I’m telling you I’m just a really, really lucky guy.”
The Montreal shows are at 8 p.m. nightly, with additional 2 p.m. weekend matinees on April 28-29.
The final performance is on April 29 at 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets and more info.