An Interview with Craig Revel Horwood
By Jasper Rees
There is a delightful aptness to that middle name. Celebrated as the brusque dispenser of flattening put-downs, Craig Revel Horwood seems to revel in his karate-chop critiques of hapless celebrity performing waltz wipeouts and tangled tangos. Audiences certainly do.
“I just react to what I’m seeing,” he explains innocently. “If I’m watching bad dancing I’ll tell them the truth. They need to know. If you’re not getting corrections I think that would be wrong. I don’t think it’s fair to say you love something if you don’t.”
Revel Horwood entered showbiz as a choreographer and worked on the likes of Miss Saigon. Not every show was quite such a mega-hit, and when they didn’t work it was his quarrelsome streak which triggered a decision to double up and become a director too.
“I didn’t want to have a battle with the director and see the line where the director finishes his work and the choreography began. For me it’s a lot easier to have one concept of a piece applied. I did it so I could have arguments with myself rather than with someone else.”
The latest show on which he’s arguing with himself is Son of a Preacher Man, a splashy new musical by Warner Brown. It features 20 songs woven into the story of three people with romantic problems who see solace in Soho record store famous from the Sixties. There they each hope that a fabled love guru will help them, though things don’t turn out quite as fantasised.
It’s Revel Horwood’s first go at this type of musical. How is he finding the task of melding dialogue and tunes?
“It’s a joy to work on,” he purrs. “The Dusty music lends itself to good storytelling, and that’s really important: her stories always have beginning, a middle and an end. And they’re very soulful. A lot of people will be surprised when they see the songs come to life. Her lyrics are really quite poignant. She tells human stories with amazing rhythms that can be applied to men or women and crosses through to being gay as well. That’s why her music is universal.”
His early successes as a director were at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury which pioneered the novelty of actors playing their own instruments. There he staged Hot Mikado and the most successful version yet of Martin Guerre, a musical that Cameron Mackintosh had been trying to perfect for years. He took a stripped-down version of Sunset Boulevard into the West End, about which Andrew Lloyd Webber “had strong reservations until he came to see it.”
Alongside the full cast of actor/musicians, Son of a Preacher Man features a four-piece band and a three-strong girl group pumping out the hits of Dusty Springfield, and a cast that includes X Factor favourite Diana Vickers as the youngest of the lovelorn trio and impersonator Debra Stevenson. They are all discovering that the Craig Revel Horwood they see on television can be like that in the rehearsal room too. “I have to give them notes and tell them how I feel. I’m quite direct”. He promises he’s not always strict. “When you go to work you’re a different person and when you knock off you become yourself again.”
When we met at the rehearsal room, I wonder if he has a fantasy cast of celebs he’d like to slap down on ‘Strictly’?
“I’d love to see Simon Cowell. The world would love that. Sharon Osborne would be good because she’s very mouthy. Prince Harry would be fantastic. Why not? I’d love to see royalty.”
That’ll have to wait. For now the only royalty in his life is the queen of white soul, Dusty Springfield.