Choreographer Does the 'Town' His Way

Jack Tygett, who is choreographing the Laguna Playhouse revival of "On the Town," grew up in Chicago and toured the country as a dancer on the nightclub circuit before settling in Hollywood in 1951. Eugene Loring saw him at the Biltmore Bowl and cast him in the fantasy ballet he was creating for the movie musical, "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T." Tygett, 65, subsequently taught dance for Loring in Hollywood and opened his own school in the San Fernando Valley. He has appeared in many movies, among them "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Damn Yankees" and "Oklahoma!" Tygett lives in San Diego, where he teaches musical theater at United States International University.

Question: How do you re-set "On The Town" and avoid comparison with the original Jerome Robbins setting?

Answer: There isn't a person who is going to compete with him. The man is a genius. But doing the same choreography somebody else did? There's no fun in that. I don't want to work six weeks to take stuff from the film and put it on another human body. It's so much more fun to do your own. I'm at an age where if I'm not having any fun with something, I don't want to do it.

Q: Does your setting include tap? or is it primarily balletic?

A: It consists of technical things that are neither of the tap nor ballet genre. It's what I call "musical-theater dance," which is a technique I developed years ago when I taught at Eugene Loring's American School of Dance in Hollywood. It's things you see all the time in musical theater. Loring called it "freestyle dance."

Q: Does it resemble Las Vegas-style dancing?

A: We didn't go for Vegas. I've worked Vegas, and I can tell you that. It's movement that portrays the characters' emotions at the moment. The technique lends itself to the thing which I think is necessary for musical theater, and that is integration of the dance to the story line. It's not mime, but some of the takes have a mimetic quality.

Q: How did you work?

A: As I approached the show, I read it again and again, and I let my own feelings about the characters and the situations evolve from there.

Q: What were those feelings?

A: For the period, where the people come from, what their qualities are. (Betty) Comden and (Adolph) Green (who wrote the book and lyrics) give us a nice sense of that. I don't try to do the Robbins thing at all. I don't try to avoid anything, and I don't try to duplicate anything.

Q: What would you say is the dominant flavor of the show?

A: It's a happy, bright show, even though there are heavy moments. There are no earthshaking "Othello" scenes, but the wonderful thing about working with the two leads--Lee Wilson and Adam Pelty--is that they're constantly trying to find the depth of the characters. They're both very eager to have that kind of substance in their performances. And they're both very fine dancers.

Q: Did you simplify the choreography for the large amateur cast?

A: It's hard to generalize. Among the people we have in the company, there are some nice dancers and there are some we are still working the movement on. The good thing is there's a good spirit in the company. It's a very happy company, and people are giving everything. That, to me, is the most important thing.

Q: Is there anything you'd especially like to say about the Bernstein score?

A: The music dances. It flies.

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