Choreographer Ashford takes working with stars in stride
Growing up in Beckley, W.Va., Rob Ashford used to watch the Oscars and dream about being part of it.
He didn't fantasize about being onstage accepting an award or presenting one. Nor did he imagine himself dancing in one of the big production numbers.
“My big dream would have been to be there in the audience,” he says.
Sitting in the audience and enjoying it is where he plans to be during Sunday's 85th Academy Awards show. By then, his work will be done. Since November, he has been creating choreography and musical staging for the show.
Ashford, a 1983 graduate of Point Park University's performing-arts program, is an awards-show veteran with experience as an artist and an awardee.
In 2009, he won an Emmy for a segment he staged for the 81st Academy Awards show. He received a 2010 Emmy as co-producer of the Kennedy Center Honors TV special.
He's also an eight-time Tony Award nominee for his choreography or direction, or both, on musicals that include recent revivals of “Evita,” “How to Succeed in Business” and “Promises, Promises,” and for his choreography for “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which won him a 2002 Tony.
Oscar show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have a very clear vision of the environment they want to create for the show and its segments, Ashford says.
“My biggest challenge is to make sure everyone is shown off to their very best advantage but within the scheme of the evening,” he says.
That includes Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the movie “Ted” and the Fox animated series “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show.” MacFarlane also does the voices for several “Family Guy” characters, including Peter, Brian and Stewie Griffin.
“Seth is amazing, hysterical, a hard worker and very sweet. My job is to present him as best I can and support his ideas and comedy and not get in the way of it,” Ashford says.
One of MacFarlane's lesser-known talents is singing, Ashford says.
“He's a great crooner, loves singing and has a great voice,” Ashford says. “Like with musicals, you want to support your leading man or leading lady. The tendency is to do too much support. You want to feature their great abilities. … Everything I do is to magnify what he is.”
But asked if we should expect to hear MacFarlane sing a song or interact with the audio-animatronic Ted or cartoon characters from “The Family Guy,” Ashford says the only way to find out is to tune in.
Everyone involved in the show — MacFarlane, Ashford, the show's writers and performers — is encouraged to contribute. So, it's often difficult to pinpoint credit for any idea, joke or dance move, Ashford says.
“It's very collaborative. The best idea wins,” Ashford says. “I love collaborating with great talents. … It's so gratifying.”
He's also excited about segments that will celebrate movie musicals of the past decade and pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films.
But, again, when it comes to exactly what to expect, Ashford says he's sworn to secrecy.
You can expect to see plenty of stars.
Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Shirley Bassey, Christopher Plummer and five cast members from “The Avengers” — Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo — among them.
From his experiences with past awards shows, Ashford has no qualms about working with them.
“I love working with actors (and) stars. They're not stars for no reason. As long as you can tell them what you are trying to achieve, they will almost always go with you,” he says.
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.