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Kay Cole moves the broads in BROADS! the musical

February 22, 2010

BROADS! The Musical is on stage at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, directed by Jules Aaron. The show focuses on four women, all residents of a Florida retirement community, and the variety act they put on every year. This year, it’s interrupted.

Choreographer Kay Cole, who’s been in theatre since she was six, finds solace in working with, how shall we say, ‘mature’ actresses. “Well, it gives me a sense of freedom, but it can be challenging because an older person is sometimes more resistant to wildly abandoned choreography.”

Wildly abandoned? In BROADS, that may be over-reaching, but her point is that older actresses are often more willing to throw caution to the wind. “You can just jump in the river and swim,” Cole says. “So this show has a lot of numbers that echo this sense of abandon.”

Sure, there’s a difference between a 20-year old actress in wild abandon, and a 60-year old actress strutting her stuff. But the show’s movement – all of it – comes from Cole. And if there’s a plus-side to working with older actresses, there must also be a risk. Aren’t Leslie Easterbrook, Ivonne Coll, June Gable, and Barbara Niles more apt to insist their ways are best? After all, they’re so experienced. “The meeting of the mind,” according to Cole, “is where we draw the character together. There are certain needs that each character must fulfill, be it emotionally or physically or choreographically. It really is a clean canvas. And because each actor has such interesting lives, they each bring a great deal to the page.”

Cole benefitted from previous work with Gable and Easterbook. “It’s a nice reconnection,” Cole says.

Kay Cole was first an actress. “I originated Lucy on Broadway in Snoopy, and the choreographer couldn’t go to London with the show. The director said I was a natural choreographer, so why don’t I go and do it in London?” Naturally, she agreed.

Cole first read Jennie Fahn’s book for BROADS! about three years ago, knowing she would sign on as choreographer. I asked what goes on in her mind when she first reads a script: Substance? Character? Movement? “I always think from a visual point of view, like a painter, so I see colors and textures and story telling. When I hear something read it allows me a certain freedom to have a complete open mind to the creative aspect of what I’m doing, whether directing or choreographing.”

Cole’s resume is rich with directing jobs, including No Strings, BARK!, A Chorus Line, I’m Getting My Act Together, Robber Bridegroom, and many others. She’s also choreographed shows at the Geffen, Pasadena PlayhouseAntaeus Theatre, and others. Yet, to hear her talk, you sense she would rather direct than choreograph. “Frankly, I think I direct when I choreograph. I have that kind of mind. It’s a combination, a good marriage for me, and I’m lucky to work with many of the same directors because we have a meeting of the minds, so it’s quite exciting in that way.”

That sounds like a recipe for stepping on toes. I asked whether Cole can direct without choreographing, just completely give up control of all movement? “Yes!  I have done that. I did that in No Strings with Scott Bakula at Reprise, and my friend, Christine Kellogg choreographed.” Cole adds, with a hint of melancholy, “And when I direct a play, I am my own lonesome little person back there.”

Cole would like to return to New York or, at least, split her time between there and her home in Los Angeles. “I’d love to go back home to Broadway and direct more plays there. My heart is always in both places because my strongest memories growing up were in Hell’s Kitchen. I’d pass Tiffany’s every morning – I really was Holly Golightly! I’ve yet to buy anything there, but if I go back—.” I interrupted. “Look, if you can work in theatre and afford to buy what you want at Tiffany’s, you’re doing something right.”

“Yes!” she says, laughing. “I think LA is wonderful because it has so much theatre and I’m knocking on wood because I feel so sad about the Pasadena Playhouse; I hope no other theatres are ‘sleeping’ in the future.” Cole adds, “But I have my own personal challenges, and LA offers many opportunities. I haven’t done much film, so I’d like to direct more film or television. I’ve directed small independent films, so it would be great to direct a great big fabulous movie!”

And then have a leisurely breakfast before a stroll, then get a ring – not one from a Crackerjack box – engraved at Tiffany’s.

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