Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo.
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“When I read a script, it processes in my head like a score,” Shankman said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “Every script has its own rhythm. I connect with it in the same way that I connect with music.”
He found that the script to “What Men Want” had a big-band feel to it, and he even sent Henson the Bennie Goodman tune “Sing Sing Sing” to give her an idea of what he was thinking for her character.
Shankman, who was a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance” for eight seasons, spent years choreographing musical numbers for TV (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and film (“Dudley Do-Right”) before transitioning to directing movies like “A Walk to Remember,” “Hairspray” and “School of Rock.” He’s also a producer, currently at work on projects including the dance-centric YouTube series “Step Up: High Water.”
Over the course of his career, Shankman has developed a philosophy behind making dance numbers work on screen.
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“I think maybe that it’s about having a point of view about the camera’s participation in the number,” he said. “Sometimes you just want to be an observer, and sometimes you want to be in the number. On reality television, they have those Steadicams up on stage whipping around those people, so we’ve gotten very used to, on television, seeing dance photographed a certain way, where the camera is actually creating 30% to 50% of the movement that’s happening. Sometimes that’s fun in a movie, when you’re trying to create a certain kind of narrative energy. And sometimes you want to just sit back and watch the people dance and sing.”
Shankman also updated listeners on the progress of the sequel to the hit movie musical “Enchanted,” on which he’s working with the original songwriting team (Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz), and original cast (Amy Adams et al.). In addition, he teased his upcoming Broadway projects, name-checked the stage musicals he’d love to make into movies, and recalled what it was like choreographing the prom scene in “She’s All That” — in the lobby of a car mart in Cerritos.
New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunes, Stitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.