Update Interview with
Denis Jones' extraordinary skills have allowed him to pursue and acquire some fantastic professional jobs. His affiliation with choreographer Jerry Mitchell in particular has allowed Denis to grow both as a person and artist. With intelligence, creativity and talent, Denis has set up a solid foundation of artistic accomplishments that will further catapult him to newer heights.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Denis in a great eclectic restaurant in New York City to hear about his "day job" in the show Chicago and his ventures into choreography and directing with such notable shows like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Broadway Bares and Kennedy Center Honors.
Ed Feldman: The last time we talked, you were in The Full Monty. What was that show like for you?
Denis Jones: It was an amazing experience. I really believed in the show and was involved from the workshop on. As it is in show business, a show closes and you move on.
EF: The cast must have experienced a rough time when fellow cast member Kathleen Freeman passed away.
DJ: That was very sad. She was a remarkable woman and amazing to know. She was showbiz itself. It was terribly sad and yet a great way to end her career. She loved doing the show and went out on a high.
She didn't tell the cast until she was very ill. It was remarkable; a woman of her age going through the treatment and still coming in and doing the show. Her spirit was a pretty amazing thing to be around. She did so many films and TV shows over the years. Most people recognized her face but did not know her name. To go out with her name on Broadway was a beautiful thing.
EF: You got your chance to play the character of Ethan in the show.
DJ: I did. I loved it. Ethan was a great character. It really was a win-win for me. I really enjoyed the character I played nightly as well as the character I understudied for.
EF: Would you rather tell a story through voice, dance or acting?
DJ: I'm not sure how to answer that. I studied and received my degree in acting from New York University. Dancing is something I had done earlier in life. It is when those three disciplines come together to create a great musical that is magical.
EF: You have been involved with Chicago for awhile now.
DJ: May it run forever. This is my 6th time back in the show in an open-ended way. Between projects, I've been able to go back to Chicago. It is perfectly written and scored, which is why it has had this long run. It is always fun to go back. I love the people there and I'm extremely grateful to them for having me back over the years.
EF: You had been Dance Captain in Chicago for awhile. In fact, you've worked with some high profile people like Melanie Griffith.
DJ: When the show first opened, I was a swing. During my first year I became a dance captain. One of the times I went back, I was dance captain again and Melanie Griffith was in the show. Dance captaining in Chicago takes an enormous amount of time. The turnover of principals is regular since they don't stay long. You are constantly training new people. I love dance captaining but I'm relieved that it is no longer part of my job.
EF: What was the experience like with Melanie Griffith? Did she know how to dance?
DJ: Well, no. In a word, no. Her rehearsal process was a long one. The singing and dancing was new to her. It was a wonderful process though. I have great memories. It was a hard and long journey but a really rewarding one for her and the company because it went really well. She was able to pull it off. The critics really embraced her. Melanie was very nice, kind and generous to the company and appreciative of the experience. I have very fond memories of that time as difficult as it was.
EF: Broadway is such a commercial thing where importing celebrities is now very common. Are Broadway performers being overlooked?
DJ: My feeling in general is, at the end of the day it is about filling the seats. You have to find a way to get people excited to come to the show. In Chicago, there are six principals. Often there will be that name person and often times they are up to task. There are the other five principals who may not sell tickets but are amazing talents. Having the star facilitates all of the other people working. I get a little uncomfortable with the argument that is often made that importing stars is keeping Broadway talent from getting a part. Having a few of those people around creates work. It keeps shows running. And I'm all about shows running.
EF: Let's jump to Broadway Bares. You have been involved with it for a number of years but this year you directed it. That's exciting.
DJ: I have been involved I think for ten Broadway Bares. The last three years I've been doing a lot of choreography for the show. This year I did a fair amount of choreography but was also the director. I will be the director next year as well. It is really dear to my heart. To be given the opportunity to be a big shot has been amazing. Jerry Mitchell (choreographer) has afforded lots of career opportunities. He's a very good friend and wonderful mentor as well as a generous guy.
EF: Is this the start of the directing bug for you?
DJ: Yes, it is. I've been doing a lot of choreography and directing projects. I've been working with the Actors' Fund of America this year choreographing their concerts. I did one in the spring called Charles Busch and July Halston Together on Broadway at the Music Box theater which was really fun. Half the show was a variety show format and the second half was an anniversary production. I choreographed On the 20th Century at the New Amsterdam Theatre with Douglas Sills and Marin Mazzie. That project, in particular, was really exciting because that was the first Broadway show I ever saw. My parents brought me to NYC in the 5th grade to see Annie but since the show was sold out we went to see On the Twentieth Century. It was one of those life-changing moments. I will also be involved with the musical version of It's a Wonderful Life at the Shubert Theater [this event took place on December 12]. It has never been done in NY. Once again, The Actors' Fund has put together an unbelievable cast including Brian Stokes Mitchell and David Hyde Pierce. They are amazing to work with.
EF: Tell me about your involvement with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
DJ: I was Jerry's associate choreographer and helped facilitate his creativity. I loved it. It is doing great business. When awards were given this year, it wasn't the recipient of many. I find it the same situation as when The Producers came in the same year as The Full Monty. The Producers took the awards. Spamalot came in the same season as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and took many of the awards. The good news is people love the show. I think it will have a nice long run. It is funny and smart and I'm very proud of it. I continue to have responsibilities there. I check in on it once in while and I'm involved with auditions, casting and special events like putting a number together for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. My work there is more than occasional but less than regular.
EF: Can you tell us about any new projects coming up?
DJ: You know what I'm working on now that I'm really excited about is putting a number together for the Kennedy Center Honors [this event took place on December 4]. It isn't a big dance number but rather more musical staging. It kind of fell into my lap. One of the honorees is Julie Harris. There is a whole tribute to her that's ending with five women singing "Broadway Baby." I look forward to being there. It is always a fabulous event.
Rehearsing the Kennedy Center thing is right in the middle of It's a Wonderful Life project so I need to take some time off from Chicago. I need to make sure there is enough time and energy for all these things. It has been a great year and exciting time. I'm a lucky guy.
EF: Shall we guess that your future will be found more in choreography and directing?
DJ: That is what I'm seeing now. When I left Chicago to work on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I kind of thought that I was making a clean break from performing. I really wanted to be on the other side of things. The reality is other things factor in to career decisions. Someone has to pay the mortgage. Plus, I haven't lost that thrill of being on stage and performing. I enjoy it enormously. So, I wouldn't say that I won't be performing anymore but I'm more actively pursuing being on the other side. It is a different kind of thrill but no less of a thrill. It really started three years ago when I was talking with Jerry Mitchell about a tap idea for Broadway Bares. He said it was a great idea and suggested I do it. That was my first choreography project. It was when I got the bug.