If, for some reason, you wanted to use baseball stats to describe Garth Fagan's Broadway career, you'd come up with something like this: 10 seasons, 1 at-bat, 1 home run, no errors.
Fagan is a renowned choreographer, the head of a modern dance company that bears his name and performs all over the world.
A decade ago, he was selected to choreograph his first, and still his only, Broadway musical, a little show called The Lion King.
He won the Tony and the Drama Desk awards. Ten years later, the show is still running on Broadway, in London, in Tokyo, in Hamburg and in Paris. Its U.S. tour is returning to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center today for a six-week run.
He scored big with his first swing of the Broadway bat, but it wasn't easy.
"All my colleagues, we put our hearts and minds into this," Fagan said by phone from his studio in Rochester, N.Y. "We worked long into the night with great respect for each other."
Fagan had done some high-profile work in New York City, most notably a Lincoln Center staging of Duke Ellington's opera Queenie Pie and a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis called Griot New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. People involved with The Lion King apparently knew of those shows and contacted Fagan.
He hadn't seen the animated film, so he borrowed a copy from a friend with young kids.
"When I saw it, I thought, 'How the hell do you do this onstage? How do you do the stampede on stage and show how terrifying it is?' " Fagan recalled.
Once he worked with designers to create the requisite effects and illusions, Fagan faced another challenge in casting the show.
"In most shows you do your dance and then you sit down," he said. "In this one, you're a tiger and then you go offstage and change costumes and come back on as a monkey. It's physically exhausting and it's technically challenging, because you have to do modern dance, African dance, hip-hop, and you have to know how an orchid would act differently from a lion."
But the overarching challenge was to create a piece of family entertainment in the best sense of the word. Everyone, including Disney officials who produced the show, composer Elton John and director Julie Taymor, was dedicated to creating something that grandparents and parents could enjoy along with little kids and even cynical teenagers.
"We wanted it to be entertaining, but we didn't want it to be saccharine," Fagan said. "It has its dark moments. It says that all human beings make mistakes, but that you can correct them if you have the will and the intelligence."
Marty Clear is a Tampa writer specializing in dance and theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.