Interview with Choreographer JoAnn M Hunter

JoAnn M Hunter “Made in America”

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Interview by Brendan Daynes

JoAnn M Hunter was “Made in America”, yet born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American father of Irish/Scottish decent. Growing up in Rhode Island was less than ideal at the time, but finding dance, theatre, and the arts, allowed her to find her real home. She started her career as, a Broadway dancer/actor/singer. Having appeared in over a dozen shows on The Great White Way, she has had the good fortune of working with some of the theatres most prolific directors and choreographers. Due to the variety of her mentors, she has always tried to diversify herself when it comes to creating. JoAnn’s work has had many homes across Broadway, the West End, Australia and Asia.

Brendan Daynes recently caught up with Joann during rehearsals of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which opens in Melbourne this month.


Q: You have had a really successful career which has taken you all over the world, what attracted you to work on this project?

We originally did this new production of ‘Joseph’ in London at the Palladium in 2019 and it was a very different approach to the show. This was the second collaboration between the Director, Laurence Conner, and myself and I loved it. It’s such a fun show. It’s just filled with energy. When I knew it was coming to Australia, I thought, I’ve got to figure out a way to make room in my schedule to be here. I wanted to be a part of this first class production here in this country and the show is a fun show. It’s about resilience, it’s about love, it’s about joy, it’s about faith, whether you consider faith as a religious thing or just faith in humanity. It’s a show for all ages, for families, for kids, it doesn’t matter of your age at all.

Q: How do you take something that is as classic and well known throughout the world as ‘Joseph’ and make it fresh?

That’s a very good question. For me, it was not as difficult I don’t think, because I didn’t know the show. I know some of the songs of course, everyone does, because they’re iconic. But I didn’t really know the show. So when I was approached by Laurence and by The Really Useful Group and Andrew (Lloyd Webber) the asked if I wanted to watch a video of an old production? I said, “No, I have no interest in seeing anything that was done before, I’ll listen to the album. Can you send me the libretto?” Then I started playing with them. And then when I listened to the album, I asked Andrew if I could bring on my own dance arranger and redo all of these arrangements. This is not always something he likes but he said yes, I think it’s time for new Joseph. So I brought in a gentleman in New York. His name is Sam Davis and he’s a dance arranger and he’s brilliant. So all the music, all the dance music, all that stuff is brand new to the show. It’s never been heard. It was created by him and myself in the studio. So for me, I didn’t approach it as something that was done before because I was not familiar with it. I approached it as a brand new piece that I had no concept of what was done before. I saw the show about 20 some years ago in New York. I don’t remember it. I just remember there were a bunch of young people singing in a choir, and our show is not like that at all. Which was all Laurence’s idea, which I think is brilliant!

Q: When it comes to a project as big as this, what is your process when it comes to choreography?

Oh, my goodness. I mean, every choreographer will have a different process. I think the first thing I have is to know what the book is, the script. So story, story, story is of utmost importance. And then music and developing. What do I want to be said in this music? What needs to be said from the last time we heard someone sing or speak to the next time we hear them sing or speak? What’s the journey? What do I want to get across? What things that are not written in the script? Can I detail more? So that’s the first thing I think of the concept, what’s going to happen. And then I get in with my dance arranger and we start creating music together. Okay, this is what I need to happen. This is the field that needs to make the guys do this or the story that gets across. Once I have all of that in place, or a majority of it, then I start working on vocabulary. But the steps and movement are the last thing I really do. I create a lot of that pre production. And most of the stuff I did was all in New York with my associates their dancers.

So I created all that and just videoed everything. And then when we went to London, we had it all on tape. And then, of course, I changed half of the stuff because what works with four people is not necessarily going to work with 20 people. And also, you can be as clever or not clever as you want, but if it doesn’t come across on the stage or with the particular actors or dances you have, then you have to make it fit them and what’s right for them. So my process is to come in with a huge detail, a really good skeleton with some colouring in there before I even come into the room with a bunch of actors and dancers.

Q: Being that this is an Aussie production and you’ve done this production elsewhere, what’s something about Aussie performers that you’ve noticed that might make them a little bit different to other performers that you’ve worked with?

I love this company. I think the group of ensemble members that we have are fantastic. They’re fun, they’re loving, they’re so supportive of one another. There’s no bad energy. And so they’re joyful. So that makes the process so much easier. Also there are things that I wanted to change from the original that I never had time to change. When we first did this at the Palladium, because we had four sets of kids, we didn’t have a formula yet. And so a lot of that stuff I was creating on my feet and figuring out. So things that I wanted to finesse and change, I never had time to. But here I was able to. So that was another great thing, to be able to just go, okay, this is something I’ve always wanted to fix and not have time to. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to make sure I could carve out time to be here with Australian performers is to help participate in that. I really enjoy this company tremendously.

Q: You’ve told us a few different things about how this show is a little bit different to other productions of ‘Joseph’. Why should audiences come and see this production?

This is not a children’s show. Even though we have young people in it, it’s not a children show. The young people play characters that usually are played by the older actors. What I mean, it’s a show that can that young people can come and enjoy so can older people because it’s funny and it’s quick. The show is less than 2 hours long with an intermission. I think it’s about 90 minutes long. So it’s a quick night. You can come and have a great time and go our for a meal before or after. But like I said, it’s joyful. It’s high energy. I said if you are not on that train when it comes out of the station, it will be very hard for you to jump on mid show because it does not stop. So it’s pure joy, but also with a touch of humanity in there, which is what I love. Whether you read the Bible, know anything of the Bible or not, again, it’s humanity. It’s just about a specific character and family, which makes it incredibly universal. We’re here to entertain, with a beautiful, beautiful story.

Q: What’s next for you?

Oh, my goodness. Okay, well, I go home. I have to actually leave opening the morning of opening night because I have to be back home to do some pre production on a workshop that I’m doing. I’ve been working on a show that I’ve been developing with the writer for about five years now, and we’re doing a workshop in London. So I have to go back home, do some pre production, and then fly to London at the end of the month and be there for two weeks. And then when I come back, I’m back in pre production for Bad Cinderella, which will open on Broadway in the new year.

Bio – JOANN M. HUNTER – Choreographer 

Joann M. Hunter (Director/Choreographer) with 20 Broadway shows to her credit as a Creator and Performer. Choreographer: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella (West End); Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (The London Palladium). Broadway: Love Life (City Center Encores); School of Rock (Broadway, US national tour and West End, Australia, Asia); Disaster, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Broadway Bound with David Cromer (national tour/regional/world premieres). World premieres: Unmasked: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber (Director/Choreographer, PMP); August Rush with John Doyle, Beatsville by Glenn Slater, A Sign of the Times by Bruce Vilanch, The Nutty Professor with Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes, directed by Jerry Lewis; Ever After (Alliance Theatre); Harmony (Alliance/Ahmanson Theatre) by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman; Annie, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Grease, Oliver! and Curtains (all at PMP); national tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She has directed and choreographed Debra Monk in her one woman show with special guest Ron Rifkin, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber and David Hyde Pierce. Upcoming Director/Choreographer: SuperYou. In development: Rock and Roll Refugee – the story of Genya Ravan, Associate Broadway Choreographer: Spring Awakening, Curtains, The Wedding Singer, All Shook Up.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice.  The production is directed by Laurence Connor (Les MisérablesMiss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock), choreographed by Joann M Hunter (School of Rock), with music supervision by John Rigby. The creative team includes Morgan Large (Set and Costume Designer), Ben Cracknell (Lighting Designer), Gareth Owen (Sound Designer) and Richard Mawbey (Hair, Wigs & Makeup Design).

Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Melbourne –   Regent Theatre, Collins Street

From 13 November 2022


Sydney – Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket

From 11 February 2023


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