A redheaded woman in her 70s bombards Noah Racey after spotting him in the lobby of Asolo Reperatory Theatre. Although they’ve never met, she gives him a big, excited hug. He’s the type of guy women want to embrace.
The woman gushes about “Noah Racey’s: PULSE, The Beat of Song and Dance,” a show written, choreographed and performed by Racey, which held its world premiere at Asolo Rep in the spring.
“I was sitting there just tapping my feet the whole time,” she says to him of the show. According to reviews, ticket sales and this particular fan, it was a big hit.
“Well, will you come see ‘Show Boat?’” he asks her. Racey, 43, choreographed the Asolo Repertory Theatre classic musical, which opens the theater’s season Nov. 15. It’s going to be completely different than “PULSE,” he tells her. She wasn’t planning to, but he charmed her into getting a ticket and bringing four of her friends.
Racey is just as magnetic off stage as he is on stage — although hats and batons don’t magically fall into his hands in real life as they do in his production. He’s easygoing, but with high energy — what you see is what you get. Racey slouches comfortably on one of the Asolo Rep lobby’s benches eating a granola bar, cracking one-liners whenever he can fit one into the conversation.
How does he spend his time? He sits alone and knits a sweater for his cat, Djembe. Is this what he’s always wanted to do? No, he was going to be Phil Collins, but taller. How’d they wrangle you into choreographing “Show Boat?”
“They stole one of my children,” he says — Racey doesn’t have children.
Just like when he’s dancing, Racey doesn’t miss a beat. Go figure his career started with drumming. If you’ve seen “PULSE,” which highlights rhythm and hand drumming, it all starts to make sense.
His rhythmic nature started at a young age. He grew up in Seattle in a family full of “the kinda people who just love to boogie and shake their ass,” he says. Racey was a ‘C’ and ‘D’ student, probably because he couldn’t sit in his seat long enough to concentrate. Then he joined theater, and with the benefit of the constructive outlet, he got a 3.0 grade point average.
He attributes his start in show business to his high school theater teacher, Ruben Van Kempken, with whom he still stays in touch. Van Kempken taught him his first tap step and dedicated his lunch breaks to teaching a young Racey the basics of ballet so he wouldn’t be scared to take a ballet class. And, it’s a good thing he learned to dance, because these days there’s less of a demand for a taller Phil Collins.
Luckily for Racey, what there is a demand for is a classic song-and-dance man. He highlighted those talents in his show “PULSE,” which made its way to Sarasota upon the suggestion of Jeff Calhoun. Calhoun, Racey’s long-time friend from their home base of New York City, directed the Asolo Rep’s production of “Bonnie & Clyde” before directing its debut on Broadway.
With his past positive experience of the Sarasota venue, Calhoun suggested it’d be the perfect place to unveil Racey’s “PULSE.”
Racey learned Calhoun was right. He says Asolo Repertory Theatre nurtures baby productions and that the staff was willing to do whatever he needed to make it happen.
It’s one of the reasons Racey wants to come back as soon as possible.
He’s gracious about what Asolo Rep has done for him. He greets the guys backstage by name. He knows everyone, from the guy who pulls the flys to the people in the back corner office without a window.
And, he loves Sarasota. The staff at Toasted Mango Café recognize him because he’s a regular the six weeks he’s in town — his favorite is the Sarasota omelet. His experience in Sarasota was and is continuing to be positive, and he hopes to work with Asolo Repertory Theatre in developing new productions in the future. Specifically, he wants to work more with Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards.
As far as “PULSE’s” future — conversations are in the works. Following the Sarasota run, the production became enhanced, meaning there’s a financial backer. Now all he needs is a location. Will he continue to be the leading man if it goes on tour?
“No, it’ll be ‘Noah Racey’s PULSE’ starring Tony Danza,” he says sarcastically with a laugh. One thing he doesn’t make jokes about is wanting to come back to Sarasota if “PULSE” goes on the road.
“I would really like that,” he says. “It would seem only right because we were kind of given birth here.”
HOP ABOARD 'SHOW BOAT'
There are three licensed versions of “Show Boat:” The original, The Hal Prince and the Goodspeed Opera House.
Noah Racey originally choreographed the third licensed version of “Show Boat” for the Connecticut-based Goodspeed Opera House (where “Man of La Mancha,” “Shenandoah,” and “Annie” were conceived). It was reworked for the 21st century and a smaller-scale musical typically known for its large-scale grandiosity. It employs one-third of the cast of the original version and has smaller sets. It simplifies it to place the focus on the relationships of the characters.
Racey says it carves away some of the extraneous business of the original to leave the audience with a more poignant story. He says the Sarasota production is the same choreography he used at Goodspeed, but better because he got to do it again and made the changes he would have made the first go-around.
IF YOU GO
When: Opens 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15 and runs through Dec. 29.
Where: Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets $23 to $76
Info: Call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org