Marc Routh's parents moved from Liberty to North Carolina last summer. His early mentor was Bentley
Marc Routh's parents moved from Liberty to North Carolina last summer. His early mentor was Bentley Lenhoff, then director of the Youngstown Playhouse.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
When it comes to Broadway musicals, Marc Routh doesn't operate by the book.
Liberty High School alumnus Routh is a producer of "Swing!," a song-and-dance revue of a musical phenomenon with timeless appeal. "Swing!" is light on dialogue but heavy on zoot suits, upswept 'dos, fancy steps and great songs of the era -- "In the Mood, "Stompin' at the Savoy" and, of course, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."
"Swing!" begins a two-week run Tuesday in Cleveland.
Other efforts: Routh has gravitated to nontraditional Broadway musicals several times during his 16-year career in New York. He also has produced the percussion extravaganza "Stomp" and the pop showcase "Smokey Joe's Cafe," featuring vocal hits of the 1950s and '60s by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Revues don't get the same critical support as book musicals, but they've earned Routh's ringing endorsement. "They're pure entertainment. They really are almost an escapist evening in theater," he said, speaking from his New York office.
Routh's roles in producing "Swing!" were choosing the topic (as suggested by his friend Paul Kelly), then helping to assemble the creative team that brought the show to life.
The team included director and choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett, who choreographed the film "Footloose" and the Broadway production of "Titanic"; and production supervisor Jerry Zaks, who directed "Assassins" and "Lend Me A Tenor" on Broadway.
Routh was happy to uncork what he calls the "bottled joy" of swing music.
Dance history: Swing style surfaced in the 1920s, when upbeat, jazz-influenced music merged with dances such as The Lindy Hop. Swing reached the heights of popularity from the mid-1930s to mid-'40s, with Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington orchestras providing the soundtrack.
Just a few years ago, swing was again the thing. Gap clothing stores used swing music and moves in a series of popular TV commercials to sell khakis. The music flourished in nightclubs in the nation's cultural centers. Enrollment at dance schools increased.
"When we started thinking about the show [in 1997], we were aware there was a fad element to it," he said. "We knew the show would develop on its own timetable ... that it wouldn't hit according to the fad schedule."
Swing may have been trendy, but it was the music's timelessness that appealed to Routh.
"At a wedding, where a band is playing, that's the one kind of music that will get everyone on the dance floor. It brings a smile to everyone's face. It's contagious fun. That to us was really the essence of the dance, the music, the evening," he said.
Swing had added allure for Routh because dancing to it requires partners to touch. "It's a kind of dance that requires trust because it's a partner-based dance form. It's something people were seeking," he said.
Routh's production company is working on several projects, some of which he expects will reach America's heartland in the next few years.
The Mel Brooks show "The Producers" will tour beginning in the 2002-2003 season, he said. "Cookin'," another dance show that Routh worked on with Taylor-Corbett, is touring Korea and will move to Boston this fall.
Also in development are a musical version of "Hairspray" by John Waters; a musical version of "An American in Paris" with dialogue by playwright Wendy Wasserstein; and a stage version of "Tuesdays with Morrie."
Local connection: Routh's Mahoning Valley roots were pulled last July, when his parents moved from Liberty to North Carolina. He has fond memories of the area and of his early mentor, Bentley Lenhoff, former Youngstown Playhouse director.
Routh acted in Youth Theater productions and volunteered in the box office. "Between phone calls [Lenhoff] would lecture me about producing shows. ... I remember a lot of what he told me verbatim," he said.
X"Swing!" plays Tuesday through May 6 at Palace Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland. Call (800) 766-6048 for tickets.