John Anthony Gilvey Ph.D - Air date: 07-22-08





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Published on Jul 16, 2008

JOHN ANTHONY GILVEY, a graduate of New York University's Doctoral Program in Educational Theatre, also holds degrees from Villanova and De Sales Universities. He is a professor of theater and speech at St. Joseph's College, New York.
As a boy in Philadelphia, it seemed the biggest new hit musicals, like Bye Bye Birdie and Carnival, had one thing in common—they were directed and choreographed by Gower Champion. When a new duplex movie theatre opened in our neighborhood with a re-release of MGM's 1951 Show Boat some 12 years after its debut, the name Champion caught my attention once more as I watched Gower and Marge dance spectacularly. At 15 when my teachers stuck me in the chorus of our high school's production of Bye Bye Birdie, there was Gower's name on the script. Soon Ginger Rogers arrived at the Forrest Theater in the national tour of Hello, Dolly!, and I finally got to see first hand what the prolific Mr. Champion had done to generate all the "Dolly-mania" then sweeping the country. The show was breathtaking; a kaleidoscopic wonder of color and movement as touching as it was dazzling.
How and why did you start working on this book?

Part of the book is from an earlier work, Gower Champion as Director: An Analysis of His Craft in Four Broadway Musicals, 1961-1968, my dissertation for New York University published in 1995. The study covered Champion's productions of Carnival, Hello, Dolly!, I Do! I Do!, and The Happy Time. Research began in 1990 after I realized very little had been written about him and his musicals. This was surprising...
...to me considering that he was the most artistically and commercially successful director-choreographer of the 1960s. After finishing the dissertation and receiving my PhD, I wanted to tell the story of Gower and his musicals. Before the Parade Passes By is the fulfillment of that wish.

What is particularly significant about Before the Parade Passes By?

Until now, no popular biography or critical assessment of Gower Champion's work has been written. What literature there is has been either academic (Gower Champion: Dance and the American Musical Theatre by David Payne-Carter [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999]) or anthological (Broadway, The Golden Years: Jerome Robbins and the Great Choreographer-Directors, 1940 to the Present by Robert Emmet Long [New York: Continuum, 2001]). In light of this, the significance of Before the Parade Passes By is especially important.

Through the waning days of vaudeville, the post-war era of glittering nightclubs, Hollywood musicals and early television, and finally, the golden age and decline of the Broadway musical, Before the Parade Passes By is a compelling voyage with one of America's greatest showmen and a remarkable study of the craft that streamlined today's musicals. It not only brings to life the story of Gower Champion, but also defines the essence of his craft and his contributions to the musical. Furthermore, the book serves as a window on a particular time in the history of American culture using one artist's life to show how the musical has become what it is today.

What qualifies you to write about Gower Champion and his musicals?

Four Champion musicals—Carnival (1961), Hello, Dolly! (1964), I Do! I Do! (1966), and The Happy Time (1968)—were subjects of the dissertation I composed for my Doctoral Degree in Educational Theatre from New York University. Gower Champion as Director: An Analysis of His Craft in Four Broadway Musicals, 1961-1968 (New York U., 1995. Ann Arbor, UMI 1996, 9701496) is considered to be the definitive work on these shows by many of the performers, songwriters, and designers I interviewed who worked on them.

My research comprises over 50 personal interviews with Gower Champion's family, friends and colleagues (including Marge Champion, Jerry Orbach, and Carol Channing), in-depth study of his director's scripts from the Special Collections Division of the Research Library at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the private collection of Karla Champion, scrapbooks from the private collections of Jeanne Tyler and Marge Champion, and files, film and video about him and his productions found in the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of the Performing Arts Division of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. My personal collection also contains over 100 photographs spanning his career.


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