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Susan Stroman

Susan Stroman

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: October 17, 1954 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Wilmington, Delaware, USA Profession: Choreographer, Director, Dancer, Actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of Broadway's brightest lights in the new millennium, innovative choreographer Susan Stroman made a smashing entrance to the directing ranks with the original dance drama "Contact" (which she co-created) and the revival of "The Music Man" both premiering to raves on the Great White Way in the spring of 2000. Receiving four Tony nods for directing and choreographing the two shows, she joined Michael John LaChuisa (who also garnered four nominations that year for the books and scores of "The Wild Party" and "Marie Christine") as the first quadruple honorees since Elizabeth Swados in 1978. Exposed to show tunes by her piano-playing salesman father, Stroman acted in community theater in her home town of Wilmington, Delaware but really got the bug when a touring version of "Seesaw" came to the Wilmington Playhouse with Tommy Tune in clogs leading a chorus line of girls festooned with balloons. Inspired by the combination of a "great love story" and lots of choreography, she moved to New York and toured in the original productions of Bob Fosse's "Chicago" and the revue "Sugar Babies". Stroman's first big break came when director Scott Ellis hired her to choreograph the Off-Broadway revival of Kander...

One of Broadway's brightest lights in the new millennium, innovative choreographer Susan Stroman made a smashing entrance to the directing ranks with the original dance drama "Contact" (which she co-created) and the revival of "The Music Man" both premiering to raves on the Great White Way in the spring of 2000. Receiving four Tony nods for directing and choreographing the two shows, she joined Michael John LaChuisa (who also garnered four nominations that year for the books and scores of "The Wild Party" and "Marie Christine") as the first quadruple honorees since Elizabeth Swados in 1978. Exposed to show tunes by her piano-playing salesman father, Stroman acted in community theater in her home town of Wilmington, Delaware but really got the bug when a touring version of "Seesaw" came to the Wilmington Playhouse with Tommy Tune in clogs leading a chorus line of girls festooned with balloons. Inspired by the combination of a "great love story" and lots of choreography, she moved to New York and toured in the original productions of Bob Fosse's "Chicago" and the revue "Sugar Babies".

Stroman's first big break came when director Scott Ellis hired her to choreograph the Off-Broadway revival of Kander and Ebb's "Flora, the Red Menace" (1987). Director Harold Prince saw her work and tapped her to provide the dances for his New York City opera production of "Don Giovanni". After reteaming with Ellis for both the New York City Opera's "A Little Night Music" (1990), telecast as part of "Live at Lincoln Center" (PBS), and the Kander and Ebb Off-Broadway review "And the World Goes 'Round" (1991), which she also co-conceived, she collaborated with director (and future husband) Mike Ockrent on "Crazy for You" (1992), winning her first Tony for Choreography. Stroman received an Emmy nomination for choreographing "Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall" (PBS, 1992), co-conceived and choreographed the Emmy-nominated "Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall" (PBS, 1993), and provided the Tony-winning choreography for the triumphant revival of "Show Boat" (1994), directed by Prince. She also created the dances for the Broadway revival of William Inge's "Picnic" that year.

Stroman experienced back-to-back Broadway failures with "Big" (1996), the misfired adaptation of the popular Penny Marshall feature starring Tom Hanks, and Kander and Ebb's "Steel Pier" (1997), reuniting with Ockrent on the former and Scott Ellis on the latter. However, Lincoln Center's artistic director Andre Bishop, responding positively to the dancing and poetry of "Steel Pier", told her if she had an idea for a show, he would help develop it. Stroman called John Weidman, who had written the book for "Big", and the two began working on what would become the steamy, three-part dance play "Contact". Meanwhile, she scored a major coup as choreographer of Trevor Nunn's revival of "Oklahoma!" (1998) at London's National Theatre. Receiving permission from the respective estates to break with tradition (as she would later do for "The Music Man"), she courageously replaced Agnes de Mille's historic choreography at the close of Act I, stamping her own signature on the ballet by having the three principals (not their alternate fantasy selves) perform it. Michael Coveny of The Daily Mail called her choreography "perhaps the biggest star of the night."

"Contact" was a delight at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater when it opened in the fall of 1999, and it made a terrific transformation upstairs to the Broadway house in 2000 (where it was reclassified as a musical). The larger Vivian Beaumont Theater freed the dancers emotionally, as well as physically, and made a much more suitable home for the marriage of Stroman's exuberant and witty choreography with Weidman's equally funny and touching words. If the choreography was an afterthought when "The Music Man" first opened in 1957, her version was a tour de force of dance. Resisting the pressure to put a "big star" in the role of consummate con man Harold Hill, she went with relative no-name Craig Bierko (in his Broadway debut) who proved more than up to the task. Yet, in the midst of bringing two shows to Broadway, Ockrent, with whom she had also collaborated annually on Madison Square Garden's "A Christmas Carol", lost his battle to leukemia, and the death of her husband stole much of the sweetness from Stroman's greatest hour as a professional. She also provided choreography for Nicholas Hytner's feature dance drama "Center Stage" (2000), including a climactic number that A.O. Scott in The New York Times called "sexy and infectious".

Stepping in for her late husband, Stroman assumed the reins of the stage musical adaptation of "The Producers", based on the Mel Brooks comedy. From its opening in Chicago, the musical earned sterling reviews and had audiences guffawing in the aisles. Stroman's fluid direction and signature choreographic touches merely enhanced the hilarity inherent in the script and songs and the show proved to be a triumph on Broadway, earning a record 12 Tony Awards, including those for direction and choreography. When it was decided that the movie-turned-musical would next go full circle back to the big screen, Stroman was chosen to helm the 2005 film, which starred Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, the actors who made the Broadway version such a smash, as well as Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Producers, The (2005) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Broadway '97: Launching the Tonys (1997) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1977:
First professional appearance was in a revival of Vincent Youmans' "Hit the Deck!" at the Goodspeed Opera House
1977:
Joined the national tour of Bob Fosse's "Chicago"
1979:
Made her Broadway debut as an ensemble member in "Whoopee!"
1983:
Featured as a dancer in "Peter Pan"
1987:
Choreographed the regional theater production of "Sayonara"
1987:
First big break as a choreographer came when director Scott Ellis hired her for his off-Broadway revival of "Flora the Red Menace"
1989:
Choreographed Harold Prince's New York City Opera production of "Don Giovanni"
1990:
Re-teamed with Prince to choreograph the initial staging of "Kiss of the Spider Woman" at New Musicals
1991:
Re-teamed with Ellis for "And the World Goes 'Round"; co-conceived project, as well as provided choreography
1992:
Choreographed "Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall" (aired on PBS)
1993:
Co-conceived and choreographed "Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall" (aired on PBS)
1994:
Choreographed Harold Prince's revival of "Show Boat"
1994:
Created the dances for the Broadway revival of William Inge's "Picnic"
1994:
Choreographed the annual production of "A Christmas Carol" at Madison Square Garden's Paramount Theater
1996:
Teamed with Mike Ockrent for Broadway's musical adaptation of "Big"
1997:
Choreographed Kander and Ebb's "Steel Pier"
1997:
Created "Gershwin Graham" for the Martha Graham Dance Company
1998:
Choreographed Trevor Nunn's revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" for London's National Theatre
1999:
Co-authored and choreographed the three-part dance play "Contact" at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater; made her directing debut when the show moved to Broadway in 2000
2000:
Directed and choreographed a revival of "The Music Man"
2000:
Choreographed Nicholas Hytner's feature dance drama, "Center Stage"
2001:
Directed and choreographed Mel Brooks' musical adaptation of "The Producers"
2001:
Directed and choreographed "Thou Shalt Not," with music by Harry Connick Jr.
2002:
Recreated her acclaimed choreography for the Trevor Nunn-directed revival of "Oklahoma!" on Broadway
2005:
Directed Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in the feature adaptation of the successful Broadway musical, "The Producers"
2007:
Collaborated with Brooks again, as director and choreographer of the musical, "Young Frankenstein"
2010:
Directed and choreographed the Broadway musical, "The Scottsboro Boys"
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Education

University of Delaware: Newark , Delaware -

Notes

On her decision to become a choreographer, Susan Stroman told TheaterWeek (December 25, 1994): "I'd rather have my brain dancing than my feet."

On the genesis of "Contact": "After he saw 'Steel Pier', Andre Bishop [artistic director of Lincoln Center] gave me a call, saying he had loved the poetry and the dancing in the show. We met, and he said that if I had an idea for a show, he would help me develop it. Well, I was very excited because I have a lot of ideas. I ran home and called John Weidman. We decided to make this a contemporary piece, and John is the man for that because of his command of language and because he knows and understands dance. One theme that is prominent in our lives is that we're in the most crowded city in the world and yet no one seems to be able to meet anyone. So it's about the inability to connect, to make contact." --Susan Stroman to Robert Sandla for InTheater, October 25-November 1, 1999.

In the midst of her success as director and choreographer of "Contact" and "The Music Man" came immense sadness when her husband Mike Ockrent succumbed to leukemia: "I can't understand why Mike isn't here. I loved him so. He changed my life. He opened my world. Professsionally, he taught me how to structure a musical and how to collaborate with everyone working on it. I couldn't have done 'Contact' without having met Mike.

"I've said that if I only had a third show to work on through the night, I'd be able to cope better. Because the truth is, my nights and my mornings in the apartment I shared with Mike are unbearable.

"I am going to London, to our flat, and I am going to spread Mike's ashes over Hampstead Heath." --Stroman to Michael Reidel in New York Post, April 26, 2000.

About her choreography for "The Music Man": "The whole show is based on pitch and rhythm and sound of the traveling salesman and the people of Iowa. And my signature--whether it's choreographing for the Martha Graham Company or the New York City Ballet or doing a Broadway musical--is always rhythmic. This town of stubborn, narrow-minded Iowans comes to life with music and dance, and the show's arc is choreographic. They start out stiff and proper, and by the second act they're dancing with great abandon after Harold Hill's done with them." --Stroman to Patrick Pacheco in Newsday, April 24, 2000.

"I'll give a dancer a combination, then make them do it with different emotional ideas. 'Now do that combination flirtatiously. Now do it aggressively. Do it as if you had six Margaritas.' [For 'The Music Man'] I brought in a trombone teacher. At the curtain call, the entire company will play '76 Trombones'." --Stroman to Jack Kroll in Newsweek, April 17, 2000.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Mike Ockrent. Director. British; married c. 1995; died on December 2, 1999 at age 53 of acute leukemia.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Charles Stroman. Traveling salesman. Born in 1916; moonlighted as a nightclub pianist.
mother:
Frances Stroman. Born on July 9, 1918; died in April 1992, shortly after celebrating 50 years of marriage to her husband; was an amateur singer.

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