Jerry Mitchell :: Catch Him If You Can
Known for his choreography in Broadway shows like Gypsy (in 2003 with Bernadette Peters) and La Cage Aux Folles, for which he won the Tony, Jerry Mitchell is also responsible for the annual Broadway Bares show in New York City and his new Vegas show Peepshow. Originally from a small town in the Midwest, Mitchell has left quite an imprint on the world of entertainment with his talents but somehow found time in his busy schedule to talk to Edge's Jim Halterman from Seattle where is he is previewing his latest musical, Catch Me If You Can.
A great sexy show
EDGE: I had to laugh out loud when I saw you were from Paw Paw, Michigan. I grew up in South Bend, Indiana...
Jerry Mitchell: Oh my God...
EDGE: ...and when I was a kid my family would drive to a lake in Portage, Michigan, we’d see the sign and yell "Paw Paw!" for no reason other than we were kids and it made us laugh.
JM: Oh, that’s very close to Portage. I grew up in Paw Paw and my Dad used to actually buy fruit in South Bend, Indiana and he traveled all over Southwestern Michigan and Northern Indiana to buy fruit for Smuckers.
EDGE: And now your Broadway Bares just happened last month here in New York City. How did Peepshow come about?
JM: It will be the 20th anniversary of Broadway Bares next year but when I was in Will Rogers I created this burlesque show to raise money for Broadway Cares and about the tenth edition Scott Zeiger’s secretary was in it and she said "Oh my God! This is a really great, sexy show" and [Zeiger] was just getting his company together and starting shows in Vegas and she told him "You should do this show." Scott and I met and we’ve been pitching a show in Vegas for all these years and finally he had his foot in with Base Entertainment, his company, and they presented the show to Robert Earl, who wanted it in Planet Hollywood and that’s how it happened.
A perfect fit
EDGE: It seems like Vegas is a perfect place for it.
JM: It’s really a natural fit for it. The show is very young. We’re in our second...I call it our second quarter because I built the show so celebrities could rotate in and out every twelve weeks to keep the media press interested and to keep the red carpet viability of the show interesting. Vegas isn’t like New York City or Los Angeles or anywhere else in the world when it comes to the ticket buying public. The majority of the people who go to Las Vegas buy their tickets once they get to Las Vegas. Very few people go to Las Vegas with ticket in hand to see a show so you need to be very much in everyone’s face once they land in that town because most people are also only there for 2-3 days. It’s all about tickets being sold the day of or the week of someone’s vacation so having celebrities in the show who are sexy and also right for the show only leads to that marketability of your show.
EDGE: How was the audience responded to Peepshow?
JM: Audiences love the show. I think the biggest thing is people come because of the topless show. People come thinking they’re going to see a bunch of girls dancing topless and then they walk away seeing a production show with a $12 million dollar set, costumes, lights, music...it’s a big show!
EDGE: I know Holly Madison is in the show now, right?
JM: Holly Madison and Shoshana Bean, who was in Hairspray for me and went on to become Elphaba in Wicked - she replaced Idina Menzel on Broadway - and she just recorded her first album. She replaced Mel B and then Aubrey O’Day is going to go in for the 3rd twelve weeks replacing Shoshana.
EDGE: I know we’re talking about the ladies here but some guys will be taking their clothes off too, right?
JM: Oh yes! This is a Jerry Mitchell production! There are four lovely gentlemen in the show and they’re all spectacular. "The Big Bad Wolf" is a surprise that I can’t really tell you what happens but it’s lovely. Then there’s "Rub a Dub Dub, There’s a Man in My Tub!" The show is called Peepshow and basically you meet Holly, who falls asleep and she turns into Bo Peep and she’s on a journey to find love in her life and she meets all these storybook characters who teach her to be a strong, confident, sexy woman. Confidence is always the way to get the man and, of course, the last man she meets is "Rub a Dub-Dub, There’s a Man in My Tub" and she’s confident enough to come back as Bo Peep and strip.
Where’s the Tony?
EDGE: What inspires you in your work?
JM: Oh God. Right now I’m working on Catch Me If You Can in Seattle and my inspiration is all the original television specials in the late 50s and early 60s, which is sort of the concept of the way we’re telling the story. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor...they all had television specials. Bob Mackie is actually doing the costumes and he did the costumes for a lot of those specials. I’ve been watching a lot of the old vintage footage. I was watching Fred Astaire this morning and I’m such a huge fan of his - and Gene Kelly’s - but nobody had that much all around unbelievable charm and talent. I was watching it for an hour and a half while we were doing lighting and I was just going "He was so talented!"
EDGE: I saw the Steven Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio and I never once thought of it becoming a musical. How did that come about?
JM: I think it was really Marc [Shaiman] and Scott [Wittman]’s inspiration and idea to tell the story of basically a boy who is trying to find the love he wants between his own family and his own coming of age in that period when color television was becoming an escape for a lot of America.
EDGE: You’ve revived some great shows like Gypsy. Is there any show that you’d like to revive down the line?
JM: I have a desire deep inside of me to do a production of [Stephen Sondheim’s] Follies because I’m such a fan of it. I don’t really search for revivals. I’ve been asked to revive a production of Ballroom, which I am currently working on and it could be really exciting. I don’t really think of it as a revival because the first one wasn’t successful on so many terms and I think it’s a wonderful story if you go back to the original Queen of the Stardust Ballroom with Maureen Stapleton about women who lose their husbands and decide from there and try to find a second prince charming.
EDGE: Where do you keep your Tony? Does it travel with you?
JM: [laughs] It should be sitting on a stack of magazines somewhere in my living room unless someone has picked it up and moved it around. I leave it in the corner by the television and everybody wants to pick it up and take a picture so that’s a lot of fun. I feel like it’s there for people to handle and not to be sitting on a shelf collecting dust.
EDGE: When is Catch Me If You Can opening in Seattle?
JM: We start previews and then we open here on August 6th but it’s just three weeks here and then if everything goes well here we’ll move on to New York sometime next year.
For information on Peepshow at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, go to http://www.lasvegaspeepshow.com; for Catch Me If You Can in Seattle, go to http://www.5thavenue.org and Mitchell just launched a website for Broadway Bares at www.broadwaybares.com.