Terence Lewis is a busy man these days, he is currently juggling his stint as a judge on the Indian edition of So You Think You Can Dance and the rehearsals for the season two of Beauty & The Beast musical. We managed to catch hold of Terence for a quick tête-à-tête, excerpts below.
How was it to be approached for the musical, were you scared or nervous considering it is already a famous musical?
I have seen a lot of musicals happening across the world, so when it came to India, I was obviously very excited! One day my manager told me that Disney has approached me and wants me to choreograph the musical, and I said that this cannot be the original Disney, he assured me it was and the rest as they is history! I am not the one to be nervous or afraid of things, I was excited because it was a great way to bring in new ideas to this well-loved musical. Let me tell you something, this second edition was so unexpected, I mean we knew that the first edition would do well, but so much love and appreciation came our way, we were forced to do the second edition. The best part is that Disney did not bring in this concept for the heck of it, they have started Broadway culture in India by bringing in such a well-loved musical, and have managed to set a benchmark. I can proudly say that the Indian edition of Beauty And The Beast is at par with all other international editions, if not better.
How was it working on the musical?
It was so exhilarating! You guys must see that show, NSCI is a 360-degree stage and the experience is so tangible with the light and sound effects. I mean be it the costumes designed by Gavin or the sets by Varsha, they all create an experience which is so real and tangible that it stays with you for a long time even after you have seen the show. The energy during the rehearsals was so buzzing and infectious, I was recuperating from a severe bout of jaundice when we were preparing for season 1 and used to come for rehearsals on a wheelchair, but is was so worth it! The experience is so surreal, if you have not seen the first season, you must definitely go ahead and book the tickets for season two for it is something not to be missed. I know that tickets are on the slightly steeper side, but it is money well-spent! And plus Disney is doing this very beautiful thing of performing this play for many schools, especially the ones which will not be exposed to events like this.
What has been the most memorable moment during this whole journey of Beauty And The Beast?
Every part of this journey has been spectacular. However, if I were to pick one, it will be the moment when we had Alan Menken, who is the father when it comes to Broadway or musicals, come to see our rehearsals, it was a complete dress rehearsal. I am very observant by nature, so I was seated right behind him and I remember the moment Beast (Edwin) starts to sing by the tower when Beauty (Meher) has left him, and I just looked at him and his eyes were moist. I can easily swear on anything that I believe in that it is worth every penny and more. One moment the scene is set in a room, and then immediately you are in a bakery or market, and there is a different joy to seeing your favourite characters coming on stage, in flesh and blood.
Was there any sort of fear or trepidation in you when you were approached for the musical?
Fear? No. The easiest way to get work done from me is to say that Terence you cannot do it, and that’s it. I will put my heart and soul into it, not to sound arrogant, but that is how I am. There was no fear as such when it came to doing the musical. However, the concern was to homogenize this large group of dancers. Everyone has seen Terence’s style, I do not work with a large work. I believe in quality and not quantity. But here there were tons of dancers, and the thing is, we needed them. You require this many number of dancers to create an impact, an atmosphere. If there is a bakery scene, you need to see that many people present in the market, and the challenge was to homogenize them. All these dancers are trained dancers and have come from reputed institutes. They are well-versed in the art of dancing and have their own specialization, be it hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, classical or jazz, and the challenge was to train them in Broadway! I mean they can kick, crump or pirouette, but that is not what we want! The play is set in the late 1800s and the idea was to make them masters of Broadway and make them appear comfortable in that era; I think we have managed to do that successfully, as we have the second edition coming.
So, which is your favourite fairy tale?
Hmm… my favourite fairy tale would be The Jungle Book, it is not a fairytale, but it was my favourite story growing up. If I have to pick up my favourite musical, it would have to be The Lion King. I mean the day I can choreograph The Lion King, after that, I will take retirement from Broadway. And, I will do it my way, I will not take inspiration from anywhere, it will be completely my ideas. But I will require at least one year to do that for I know I will push the envelope, I need just a year to focus on that. I mean it would be ultimate! If that happens I can say pack up to Broadway, and let the young ones who have learnt from me takeover.
What do you prefer, Broadway or TV?
Can I be greedy and say both? Okay, but I will tell you why I love Television so much, obviously not the serials and soaps aspect, but the whole reality TV thing. I mean our soaps are very regressive, but the whole Comedy Nights aspect. I love the dance shows, the singing shows and the whole comedy era, I think it is hilarious! I really love TV because it helps you connect with the audience and masses. Like, a lot of people would not allow their kids to learn singing or dancing, but now they do. I am not talking about the rich kids, whose parents would say ‘haan haan karlo’; I am talking about the middle class parents who now encourage their kids to learn arts. Television has now brought that shift in mindset, which is bringing culture back! It is so important for kids to have some form of arts in their life, because it will change the dynamics of all the relationships that they have. Art brings to life the sense of aesthetics, sense of awareness and makes you super sensitive about things that make human beings what they are, otherwise we are just animals! Films did not change perception, it was a stigma, I love how television changed mindset and brought about this much needed change. Television shows show the journey and they have heart, and have brought about this paradigm shift in the mentality. Having said that, don’t forget to watch my new TV show, ‘So You Think You Can Dance’. It is an incredible show. What I love about the musicals is that it is live, you can see it in flesh and blood; you can see the sweat, sinew and muscle, it is real and tangible.
Any Bollywood song that you wish we had choreographed?
It is a tough one! But, I loved the kind of music that Rahman did in his initial days, it was so raw and beautiful. I wish I had the chance to choreograph something like a Roja or a Rangeela, that music was crazy, it was something else. It is about the sounds and not the melody, how the instruments are layered, for me, even the choreography needs to be layered. Those songs were bubbling with something else. If I was a choreographer then, I would have loved to work on something like this. From Broadway, I would love to choreograph something like a memory, and the opening song of Lion King. In fact, one day I would love to produce my own musical one day.
Which Bollywood celebrity would you love to choreograph?
I would love to choreograph with Madhuri. There are celebrities like Hrithik, Shahid, Priyanka and Deepika, who are fabulous dancers. But they cannot dance like Madhuri does, they are always conscious of how well they are performing. I can see their hard work, they are not enjoying! The day they stop doing that and start internalizing it, they would be unstoppable. Madhuri is one of the few who successfully manages to blur the lines between the dancer and the dance while having fun, which is what makes it so mesmerizing.
Any message to your Follo’ers?
Go watch Beauty and The Beast, it plays on the 6th and 15th of May, the tickets are available on bookmyshow, and this musical is worth being seen! Also, there is another musical coming up somewhere around next year, expect an announcement from Disney soon!