It's no surprise that six Tony nominations, including one for best play, went to the newly opened Ink, a scintillating look at the early days of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. The London hit stars two Olivier Award winners, Bertie Carvel (as Murdoch) and Jonny Lee Miller (as editor Larry Lamb), and is directed by two-time Olivier winner Rupert Goold.
But Tony voters expecting James Graham's play to resemble other prestigious British imports will be surprised to find a choreographer, Lynne Page, listed in their Playbills, and several rowdy, exuberant romps on the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre stage.
Ink's choreographer and movement director Lynne Page
Playing With the Play
To tell the story of how a freewheeling eager beaver from Australia upended London's hidebound newspaper business in 1969, Graham, Goold and Page have infused it with some tabloid-y entertainment—spirited dance numbers to period pop songs and original music by Adam Cork. "Why would we not?" asks Page, who was Tony-nominated for the 2010 revival of La Cage aux Folles.
"James Graham writes this great, visceral language that is very visual. And Rupert Goold, one of the most visual directors I've ever worked with, is a great lover of dance, of movement, and really understands it. With that combination, it's just about being brave and bold, and saying, 'Of course we can do this within a play.' "
A Chorus Line
In Ink's longest musical sequence, Miller's kinetic Larry prowls the pubs of Fleet Street gathering a staff—which turns into a chorus line—for The Sun, the newspaper they will transform into a circulation behemoth with screaming headlines, giveaways and naked women.
Page trained in modern dance, but she says the broad, rollicking number is informed by images from horse racing, by the music and movement in the Pink Panther detective films, and by Ink's Tony-nominated set, a towering jumble of desks, chairs and other office furniture—what a pre-digital newsroom might look like after a tornado. "Adam Cork and I worked really closely together, forming it beat by beat," she says.
When Not to Count
To open Act II, when The Sun's outrageous headlines and attention-grabbing shenanigans are in full flower, Page drew on Britain's comedy traditions—vaudeville, the Carry On movies, slapstick—for a knockabout celebration that captures the paper's downmarket style and the crazy fun the staff has putting it out. Designing dance for a story about journalists has its challenges, Page admits.
"Ink should be treated as an absolute, actor-led straight play," she says. "You can never just go '5, 6, 7, 8.' I have to make sure that the movement is absolutely inhabited by them. Every choice needs to come from the actor, because if they live and breathe it, it becomes part of their skin. That's when it looks great."
The Broadway cast of Ink
Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
When Not to Tap
As the cast changed for the Broadway production, so did the details in the choreography. "The structure is the same, and it's the same palette. But what fits one actor in London is not going to fit the actor in New York."
Miller, one of the New York newbies, "is inherently a fabulous dancer," says Page. "Very Gene Kelly-ish." But she couldn't very well have a newspaper editor ''suddenly break into a tap dance." When she'd catch Miller fooling around onstage—which, she jokes, "you should never do in front of a choreographer"—she managed to incorporate his "little physical flourishes" into the character's movement.
Roll the Presses
Page's job went beyond the dance moves. She's also credited as Ink's movement director. Because the play gets into the details of 20th-century newspaper production—in one scene Larry hammers type into place himself—Page dug up old film of the equipment and workers in action. "Linotype machines, the ink, the newsprint, the oil—what an extraordinary world," she says.
Jonny Lee Miller in Ink
Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown
From Kanye to Sondheim and Beyond
Page moves among many worlds herself—the day the Tony nominations were announced, an opera she choreographed was opening in Geneva. Her bio proudly notes that she worked with Kanye West and Stephen Sondheim in the same year, and lists movies, television, concert tours and commercials among her credits. Ask the Leicester-born choreographer which genre speaks most directly to her, and she says, "Dance transcends everything. My heart is taking the beauty of one genre and mixing it with another."