Philip William McKinley’s name — all three of them, in fact — certainly surfaces with great frequency at Wynn and Encore Las Vegas.
McKinley has been the director of “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” on Broadway, from 2011 (when he replaced Julie Taymor in the oft-troubled musical) until the production’s closing in January. It was expected and even announced that a version of the stuffed-with-special-effects musical was heading to Las Vegas this year, with the likely venue Encore Theatre.
This feeling was further cemented when McKinley delivered a spectacular production to Wynn Las Vegas in March, an extravaganza starring Hugh Jackman (with a boost from Broadway star Rachel York) and backed by 36 dancers and a 32-piece orchestra. Guests included Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg. The cost for the show, which was carried out in a “Great Gatsby” 1920s theme, reportedly ballooned to $5 million.
That McKinley and sound man Jonathan Deans, who also worked on “Spider-Man,” was recruited for an event so personally important to Steve Wynn led observers to believe that an announcement of the musical was a mere formality. Not so. Co-producer Michael Cohl said last week that, in place of a resident show in Las Vegas, the musical would tour tour arenas starting in late 2015 or early 2016.
“I think ‘Spider-Man’ is a pop culture show that was meant to be in arenas,” Cohl told the Wall Street Journal in a story published last Friday. (And hey, maybe it’ll play Vegas afterall, in the new MGM Resorts arena between New York-New York and Monte Carlo.)
Spidey’s vault from a planned residency on the Strip to a game of hopscotch across the country seems an unfortunate bit of news for entertainment consumers in Vegas. But also tied to this announcement, at least peripherally, is a show brewing at Wynn and Encore – with McKinley as the director.
Auditions are planned in a couple of weeks for a production listed at Wynn/Encore that would begin rehearsals in October. Along with McKinley, the creative team is headed up by choreographer Marguirite Derricks, who has worked on “Zumanity” at New York-New York. One casting-call notice issued by Louanne Madorma, Wynn’s casting director who built the talent onstage in “Le Reve,” is for four principal vocalists: Two women and two men, all of whom are required to have “legit” Broadway, belt-it-out caliber voices.
Songs required include “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago, “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls,” “It’s Today” from “Mame,” “Those Were the Days” from “Damn Yankees” and “Willkommen” from “Cabaret.”
Most telling, the contracts for the upcoming project are said to be open-ended with an “out” clause, which is a good indication that this production is to be … open-ended. Hotel officials and McKinley himself are not talking about what’s happening, but it seems that by fall, more shall be revealed at Wynn/Encore.
How does the oft-speculated arrival of the musical “Spider-Man” factor into the 50th birthday bash for Andrea Wynn?
(Pause as you mull that question.)
The opulent, invite-only gala for the former Andrea Hissom was held Saturday night at Wynn Las Vegas. The event starred Hugh Jackman and featured more than 70 dancers and musicians.
The director of the customized birthday production — and this was a multimillion-dollar dinner and performance — was Phillip William McKinley, who in 2011 replaced Julie Taymor as director of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”
In November, word spread from Broadway and through Las Vegas that Steve Wynn was in talks to bring the musical to Encore Theater, having rejected the in-development production of “Fun House” he was mulling for the resort.
McKinley and Jackman worked together on “The Boy From Oz,” the musical based on the life of Peter Allen for which Jackman won a Tony Award in 2004. Saturday’s event was a huge bash, with an initial budget of $2 million that was said to expand to $5 million by fruition. Performers rehearsed for 8 to 15 hours a day for two weeks.
The soundman, Jonathan Deans, also was one of the best in the business. Deans has worked on “Spider-Man” and has been nominated for a Tony for Best Sound Design for “Pippin.” Deans has Cirque du Soleil connections, too, for his work on “Mystere,” “Ka,” and “O.”
Jackman was at the center of an hourlong series of production numbers, including “All That Jazz” and “Hot Honey Rag.” Though rumors of Catherine Zeta-Jones singing in the show proved off-target, Broadway star Rachel York (“City of Angels,” “Victor/Victoria,” “Les Miserables”) did turn up to perform for the estimated 300 guests.
A total of 36 dancers and a 32-piece orchestra performed for an audience of VIP that included the likes of Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg. The dress and decor was a “Great Gatsby”-1920s theme.
Those who worked with and interacted with Jackman said that he was a real pro who used his Aussie charm to great effect.
When Wynn needed the best of the best for this singularly impressive event, Jackman and the savior of “Spider-Man” got the call.
March 4th, 2014
Mark Fisher Passes – a good friend and an amazing colleague
20th April 1947 – 25th June 2013
Mark was one of the most amazing designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with on a project. He and his partner Ray Winkler brought ideas and concepts beyond imagination to a project as well as devilish humor and wit. Below are links to only two of the projects I had the privilege of working on with Mark and Ray. Mark will be missed. We were working on a project together when he passed and it is with great hope we will be able to bring the project to the finish in honor of his great contribution to the world of entertainment.
Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark plays its 1000th performance…and they said it would never last!!!
Bono and The Edge were on hand tonight in New York City along with director Philip Wm. McKinley as Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark celebrated its 1,000th performance. That’s an impressive accomplishment for a production that was roundly panned by critics before it formally opened, and suffered through numerous problems and delays during development. After McKinley came in as director the production went on to earn the top one week box office record of almost three million dollars.
Spidey continues to be one of the top shows on Broadway. The show’s success has producers Michael Cohl and Jere Harris now planning to trun it into an arena production that could play in Las Vegas, Hamburg (Germany) and other cities.
May 31st, 2013
Mozart a success!! Back to the lake
I’ve received multiple reports that Mozart is a major success in Tokyo!!! Sold out crowds and standing ovations from audiences that are usually very timid in their reactions. And now back at the lake for some R&R – heaven!
February 16th, 2013
Mozart L’OPERA ROCK – Tokyo, Japan – Press Conference
A special press conference was held to give the Tokyo journalists a sneak preview of the performance which will open on February 11th at the newest theater in Tokyo – the Orb Theater located above the Shibuya train station. It was a great reception for the the entire cast.
THE CAST OF MOZART L’OPERA ROCK – TOKYO, JAPAN
A NELKE PLANNING PRODUCITON
THE PRINCIPALS WITH THE DIRECTOR
January 31st, 2013
Mozart L’Opera Rock Press Conference – Tokyo, Ja
An unusual press conference was held today at the Mozart rehearsals. The press was invited to a sneak preview of the show which will open at the Orb Theater on February 11th. Here is the link to the youtube video of the press event.
The beautiful garden costumes for the female ensemble
Here is an example of the gorgeous work that is being done. These are the costumes for the Female Ensemble for the Princess of Orange Garden scene.
THE PRINCESS OF ORANGE – GARDEN COSTUMES
January 28th, 2013
SET DESIGNS FOR MOZART in Tokyo, Japan – A NELKE PLANNING PRODUCTION
Here are some of the incredible set designs by Rumi who gave me a wonderful world in which to play.
THE SHOW DROP
January 28th, 2013
Designs for Mozart L’Opera Rock in Tokyo, Japan – OUTRAGEOUS!!!
The following are designs for the costumes for the production of Mozart that I’m presently directing for Nelke Programming in Tokyo, Japan. Four weeks ago they only existed on paper. In three days we will be doing a full dress rehearsal with more than 600 costumes. Wild how quickly things are done here.
January 28th, 2013
Link to the Mozart facebook page
Here’s a link to the Tokyo Facebook page:
January 26th, 2013
Mozart Week #1
Week #1 flew by. The cast is amazing as well as the staff and the crew. Because the rehearsals were going so well we decided to have a party at the end of the first week to celebrate .
January 13th, 2013
This is a picture of the set that we are rehearsing on for the production of Mozart. The stage crew built a mock up of the real set in the rehearsal hall. It’s really quite amazing. The entire platform rotates 360 degrees by using only three stage hands. Twelve actors can stand on the platform while it rotates. It’s a great piece of scenery . The actual set is being constructed by PRG here in Tokyo.
January 13th, 2013
NEXT UP : MOZART in Tokyo Japan
Looking forward to returning to Tokyo for this incredibly exciting adventure. The rock opera is Mozart meets Lady Gaga!!! An amazing design team and an amazing cast. More to follow.
December 15th, 2012
Last Dance A Lab Workshop of the New Disco Musical
Those who missed the days of Studio 54, didn’t miss their Last Dance!! This exciting new show is a tale from the 70s when enough was never enough. A joyful celebration of disco dreams, glitter balls and dangerous delights. It’s a story about a time, not so long ago, when a man wrote songs for the woman he thought he’d never lose… “Disco Forever!”
Under the direction of Philip Wm. McKinley(Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, The Boy from Oz), music by Paul Jabara (Enough is Enough, Last Dance, It’s Raining Men…), with book by Shaun McKenna (The Lord of the Rings, The Musical), choreography by Carol Schuberg (Meet Me in St. Louis) and musical direction by Wendy Cavett(Mamma Mia!). The cast will includes Katrina Lenk(Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark),Anastacia McClesky(Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Emmy Award nominee Rob Morrow (“Northern Exposure,” “Numb3rs”), Jack Noseworthy(A Chorus Line), and Jill Shackner (Les Miserables).
Tickets Only $15! ($10 for members)
5 Performances Only:
Thursday, September 20,Friday, September 21 Saturday, September 22, and Sunday, September 23
Emmy Award nominee Rob Morrow will take part in the York Theatre Company and Robert D. Wachs’ lab workshop of the new disco musical Last Dance, featuring the music of singer-songwriter Paul Jabara.
As previously announced, workshop performances of the musical, which features a book by Shaun McKenna (Lord of the Rings The Musical), will be offered Sept. 20-23 in NYC.
Helmed by Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark director and creative consultant Philip Wm. McKinley, Last Dance, according to producers, ”is a tale from the ’70s when enough was never enough. A joyful celebration of disco dreams, glitter balls and dangerous delights. It’s a story about a time, not so long ago, when a man wrote songs for the woman he thought he’d never lose… ‘Disco Forever!’”
Morrow, a founding member of the theatrical troupe Naked Angels, is best known for his work on the television series “Northern Exposure,” for which he received three Golden Globes and two Emmy Award nominations. His television credits include “Numb3rs,” “The Whole Truth,” “Entourage,” “CSI: NY” and “The Day Lincoln Was Shot,” among others. He has appeared on stage in The Boys of Winter and the West End production of Birdy.
Other members of the creative team include choreographer Carol Schuberg (Meet Me in St. Louis) and musical director Wendy Cavett (Mamma Mia!).
Last Dance will be offered Sept. 20-21 at 8 PM, Sept. 22 at 6 PM and 10 PM and Sept. 23 at 3 PM at The York Theatre at Saint Peter’s (East 54th Street). For more information and tickets, call (212) 935-5820 or visit YorkTheatre.org.
August 31st, 2012
SPIDER-MAN director will speak at Augustana graduation
The road to Broadway for the musical Spider-Man Turn off the Dark, has been one fraught with disasters, delays and creative disagreements. And they all made headlines. The show got so much publicity detailing its many woes and the mounting number of preview performances that people bought tickets hoping to be there when another crash landing of the title character occurred. Eventually even the critics would not stay away. They came and published reviews based on a still evolving creative process.
But the technical problems were, in fact, the least of the show’s problems. The producers and composers (Bono and The Edge) teamed up against the show’s director and principal writer Julie Taymor, who had guided Disney’s The Lion King into the Broadway history books. So her reputation and therefore her judgment were thought by some (not the producers and composers apparently) to be unassailable.
Eventually Taymor was fired. The lawsuits engendered by that move will be working their way through the courts for some time to come. In the meantime the producers needed to replace Taymor with a new director. One of the names being bandied about for the job was that of Phil Wm. McKinley, whom circus fans will recognize as the creative forced behind numerous versions of the Greatest Show on Earth. Whoever the new director was to be he would have just three week to install any changes during which time the show took a hiatus from its public performances.
Did his circus experience influence his eventually being hired? Absolutely, McKinley believes. “I looked up and knew what the equipment was and the complications it involved.” But there would be more to the overhaul than merely dealing with the technical aspects of the show. (Check out the review in the Passing Spectacle and count the number of people involved merely in the flying which is so central to the show.) The script needed to be completely revamped. McKinley began rehearsing the cast a week before the hiatus, but what with the performance schedule and union rules he could only get in about twelve hours during that first week.
When the show shut down he spent a full week with the cast in a studio and then a week and a half in technical rehearsals, the latter being especially stressful given all the technical things, like the flying, the mechanics of the scenery and the lights that had to be coordinated.
McKinley came into that first week of rehearsals with a completely re-written script. The writers, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, he says were terrific about the amount of work they accomplished in so short a time.
In the original script the character Arachne, a spider-goddess of sorts, was the central character and Peter Palmer, the spider-man, was only a supporting figure. It didn’t take the producers and writers and McKinley long to figure out that the audiences wanted the show to be Peter’s story, which Taymor had resisted. In the end, the show McKinley directed was, he estimates, about 85-90 percent different from what it had originally been under Taymor.
To give audiences the show they wanted was a challenge for the crew, whom McKinley regards with awe. “They were phenomenal,” he says. “They put in a lot of over time. The unions knew the producers were working to save the show and honored that. I was denied eligibility for the Tony, but for me the real reward was saving 148 jobs.”
The script changes included an entirely new second act and three new musical numbers. Ninety-percent of the staging there is the work of McKinley. The Green Goblin who becomes one of the most amusing characters in the show had formerly been killed off in the first act. Now he was tearing the place apart.
McKinley also added an additional five flights to those already in place when he took over. Some of those early flights were done by nothing more than wooden cutouts. “I wanted them all to be done by humans.” To make that happen in so short a time McKinley gives special credit to Jason Shupe who programmed the flying. He accomplished in a couple of hours what others thought it would take days.
The happy ending is that the show is now a commercial and perhaps grudging critical success. It has brought to Broadway an audience that is younger than the typical demographic by about thirty years. There are young, hip twenties and thirties-somethings and kids at every performance.
As was his habit with Ringling McKinley continues to visit the show periodically to make adjustments and oversee the casting. What once seemed like a colossal flop in the making now has the looks of turning into a long-term commitment.
February 18th, 2012
A new Ben Hur Live 2012 video
This is a new video of the Ben Hur Live production from Italy.