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Director Thomas Kail on musical's success of Broadway


06-03-2016 05:36 BJT

Theater director Thomas Kail has found the magic formula for a Broadway hit. Could "Hamilton" enjoy the kind of staying power enjoyed by "Phantom of the Opera"?

Kail is widely expected to win his first Tony Award this month, the culmination of a busy year that, in addition to mounting 'Hamilton', has included directing two off-Broadway plays.

Articulate, smart and genial, Kail likens himself to a traveling salesman who arrives in a town and makes art with whatever is handy.

"I go to each job and open my little briefcase up, and I take out the things that I have or I know. It might be a Swiss-Army knife, a quart of milk, and a ruler. That might be all I can bring to it, but that's what I have," Kail said.

He has a reputation for directing shows that are accessible to the traditional and nontraditional theatergoing audiences alike: "In the Heights", also by Miranda, introduced Salsa dancing and Latin characters to Broadway, and the plays "Lombardi" and "Magic/Bird" appealed to sports fans.

"Hamilton" tells the true story of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the nation’s first treasury secretary.

"I want to make Broadway a word that doesn't have pejorative connotation. I don't want musical theater to be a dismissive term. I want it to be something that people can be proud of, that people can say, 'Look at the possibilities!'" Kail said.

Miranda deservedly gets credit for writing the story and music for the megahit 'Hamilton', but Kail is the man who picked the people who made it happen onstage. It's no coincidence they all got Tony nominations.

The achievement also reflects Kail's inclusive philosophy when handling a large creative team.

Director Thomas Kail.

Director Thomas Kail.

"Humanity is more important to me than talent. I try to surround with the best humans who also happen to be at a very high level of talent. But if there's a choice to make, I'll go humanity over talent every time. One of the greatest compliments anyone could ever give a director is, 'Everybody was in the same show.' That's something I think about constantly and I also know that I do my best work when I feel like I can put four things out there and see what sticks and ask someone to try and also give myself permission to say I don't know," Kail said.

Next on Kail's agenda is making sure he can clone "Hamilton" for audiences far from Broadway. A version is planned for Chicago this fall and another goes on tour next spring in San Francisco and then Los Angeles.

He said the touring versions will be exactly like the one on Broadway, save for imperceptible changes to accommodate the new theaters' dimensions.

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