- Reprinted from
March 1998 issue of SHOUT MAGAZINE
- When a Broadway
Producer want's to have somebody, slapped, kicked, stabbed, shot,
or thrown over board they call Rick Sordelet. Rick Sordelet is
one of the busiest guys on Broadway. He's the Stage Fight Director
for Scarlet Pimpernel, Titanic, Beauty & The Beast, and the
Lion King. After a quick brush up rehearsal, backstage at the
Minskoff for the sword fight that creates the swashbuckling finale
for the hit musical "Scarlet Pimpernel" I sat down
for a quite Italian dinner with Rick Sordelet and his lovely
wife, actress Kathleen Kelly and three children, Kalen 12, Christian
9 and Colin 3.
"So kids, what do you think about their dad making a living
as a stage fight director?" Kalen, the eldest of the clan
said, "I think its, really, really, really, cool. I don't
know anybody else's dad who does anything like it. I don't know
anybody else who gets to see so many Broadway shows and stuff
like that as I do, so it's been really, really nice." Did
your dad teach you how to fight fair with your brothers? "Yes
he did." What's your favorite strangle hold or move as a
fighter? "Head lock, cross kick and knee sweep." "That's
dirty fighting" her brother Christian shouted across the
table. "So Christian, what is your favorite thing in stage
fighting. "Swords, daggers, my favorite sword is a rapier."
"Christian was my assistant fight director on 'I Hate Hamlet'
proud Papa Rick announced. "I'm starting to work early"
his son beamed proudly. "I did this thing with the phone"
The wide eyed youth of 9 explained. "I had this great idea
that the ghost of Barrymore should slash through the phone cord
when the other character was on the phone - so we loosened the
connection so their wasn't too much tension on the cord so when
they sliced through it would just fall and not whip back and
hurt somebody." Then Colin, the littlest Sordelet proclaimed
"I have lots of swords in my play room!" "Since
your dad has worked on Lion King, Titanic, Scarlet Pimpernel
and Beauty and The Beast, which one is your favorite show?"
Kalen said "I have to say I liked Lion King and Scarlet
Pimpernel the best, but I haven't seen the Titanic yet."
Christian added, Scarlet Pimpernel's the best. I love the set.
And the Lion King."
- "How has
it been balancing a family life with three kids and two professionals
in the theatre. "Kathleen has been very generous in her
situation in working with me in how we do this. She has the same
degree I do, she's a brilliant actress, but we have a strong
commitment to the kids and we work really hard to be there for
them when they get home from school. "Home is where?"
"Monte Claire New Jersey. We bought a 5 bedroom Victorian
House. It's a great big house, fenced in yard, swing set, dog,
cat, beautiful city with a great school system." "OK,
what I want to know is how does a scholar, actor, writer, director
and college Professor, make so much money from fighting? "By
using all of those things that you described. My training started
as an actor. I have an MFA from Bill Espers school at Rutgers
University, and it think it was my ability to approach the work
from an actors' view point using the skills of an actor, writer,
director to stage it in a way that is character motivated. I
don't pre-arrange the fights. I did that in the beginning till
I learned I could service the directors vision better by listening
to the actors and shaping that" "How often does it
happen that you work with a director that wants you to do something
that really isn't safe? How do you tell them 'this is really
not a good idea" "Most of the directors I've worked
with have been really great about understanding the safety element.
They will understand from a common sense point of view that you
might be able to pull something risky off once or twice, but
not 8 times a week. The odds catch up, something happens and
you're in trouble. When I get into a situation where a director
feels strongly about a move I say to him, 'show me how to do
it.' Suddenly the director is in a position where they have to
physically try it and realize how difficult it is - they do the
math. - 'Could I do this 8 times a week safely?' 'Is this fair
to ask an actor?' That's how you educate a director."
"As a family man, what are the advantages to earning a living
as a stage fight director in the theatre industry?" "Making
a living as a fight director helped me to teach our kids not
to fight. To show them if, they want to solve their problems
they need to talk it out. During the Gulf War, I began to question
what I was doing for a living. If I was promoting violence in
a violent society. I've come to the conclusion that if we show
with violence, that violence does not help the situation, show
them its braver to walk away from it whenever possible. That
violence is not the answer. In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston didn't
profit from his violence. The Beast was not willingly violent.
He was pushed into it and yet in the moment of violence he chooses
to be human. To be in on that show from the begging was a fascinating
experience. Rob Roth, was about 28 at the time when he was giving
the job, and there is a director who truly earned his wings.
He had done some exemplary work for the company and was rewarded
with the job. That is when Katzenberg and Eizenber were still
together and they made a wonderful team. When they did come to
rehearsals, their notes were very succinct and to the point,
and I know their was some controversy that Rob Roth was just
Katzenbergs yes man, - uh uh, that was not the case. That show
was, and is, Rob Roth's Show. . . .I've been part of Pimpernel
since the beginning too. In Scarlet Pimpernel we're dealing with
courage and self sacrifice with a the big, heroic, romantic sword
fight at the end. We're doing well at the box office. The people
know what they want to see and they open up their check books
for this one. Lion King was a situation where I came into the
show in New York, after they had already done a production in
Minneapolis, and basically did a lot of clean-up. In Titanic
the thing I'm proudest of is the spirit of safety I instilled
in the company. I can't tell you how much I love working with
the Dodgers. There was a moment when we were working on the Titanic
when Michael David came out and talked to the cast, that was
a real tide turner in the production. Everybody knows we had
a lot of problems during previews, technical glitches, a lot
of growing pains. He stood there with all the Dodgers behind
him said 'Stick with us. We are aware of where the problems are,
we're working on it, stay with us, and we will get through this
together." Five Tony's later, there we are. "How did
you like working on the Dodgers production of 'Once Upon A Mattress'?"
"Sarah Jessica Parker! I cannot tell you what a fan I am
of hers. What a professional. You could not have asked for a
better talent to be in that role. It was her sheer personality
that kept that thing going. She was just a phenomenal force behind
"Aside from theatre, you've done a lot of other things,
the Superbowl half-time show, action sequences for the Star Wars
CD-Rom games for George Lucas, Disney crews ships-" "Disney's
Broadway at Sea. Yes, Disney is building six ships, one is being
built right now in Italy. They've assembled a wonderful crew
to create these hour long shows. They've written a Hercules that
is hysterical. They took the movie and created the barge and
chariot version. Then they have another show called the Disney
dream about all the Disney characters and a new show called "The
Voyage of the Ghost Ship". Not only are we sword fighting
as pirates but as ghost pirates, so we're flying all over the
set and it's really exciting. "Tell me about the CD-Rom
you did for George Lucas." "I did one of the new Star
Wars out in LA called 'First Jedi' it's the second CD-Rom in
a series. All state of the art equipment against the bluing screen
doing the light saber battles using a lot of the equipment from
the original film. The light sabers turned out to be phosphorescent
painted broom sticks so the computer guys could track the weapons.
So in the studio you're having this great battle but all you
can hear is this wooden sounding whack, whack! It's during post
production that they add all the great sounds."
"When you did the Superbowl, half time entertainment show,
that was a big break. What was it like doing such a big show
in such a short amount of time with all those people in the middle
of all that mayhem?" "This was the Indiana Jones Superbowl
back in '95 when San Diego played San Francisco. I was an amazing
experience to have over 3 billion people see your work live.
We had 12 minutes to do the show and the best part of it was
the planning. We had over 800 people assembling the show in only
four minutes. We had another 700 extras dancing on the field
with Patti LaBell, Tony Bennett and Tito Fuentes, Miami Sound
Machine singing. Of course the number one objective was in promoting
this new Indiana Jones ride in Disney Land. So the director,
Jay Smith we got us all together in June and we worked solidly
for six months to plan how we could put this 12 minute show together.
A lot of folks get a kick out of knocking Disney, but there is
not another company on this planet that could have pulled that
off. Nobody does entertainment better than they do."
"Aside from all the stage fights, you've done a lot of writing.
You've had a few stagings and productions of one of your shows
that was very successful haven't you?" "George Street
Playhouse produced my 'Buried Treasure' and it got great reviews
and was a tremendous success. Jim Vias at American Stage Company
had done a series of readings to develop the piece and it had
also had a reading at 'Naked Angeles' here in New York. The play
is about the courage of the human spirit in the face of death.
On a personal level I had watched two very close friends of mine
go through aids related deaths and an eleven year old boy named
Nathan Chapman, and they all died approximately at the same time.
Part of the grieving process came through writing Buried Treasure.
I still get people who call me or the director Joe Mancuso to
talk about the play who say 'That play really changed my life."
Or "I called my brother who I haven't spoke to in 10 years
because we had a falling out and that play made me realize how
time is very short.' It was a great feeling as a playwright,
that something I wrote and collaborated on with a great director
and two terrific actors Bill Doyle and Chris Mixon could move
people. I've done a couple of readings out in Los Angeles and
got a lot of feed back from the Movie industry and I'm on my
second draft of the screen play - which has to be done by the
end of February to keep the ball rolling."
"What are you working on now? "I'm in rehearsals for
'Wait Until Dark' with Quentin Terantino and Marisa Tomie and
Stephen Lang, two Oscar winners and a Tony nominee, really strong
actors. I'm amazed that people keep asking me 'Quentin Terantino?
Can he really act?' - and of course he can. He acts beautifully.
This is a great role from him and he brings a lot to the table.
And Lenny Folio is a really strong director. Besides that, I
just finished directing several industrials and I'm about to
do my sixth episode for 'Guiding Light' as a fight coordinator.
I really like the Soap work because you get in there, get it
on it's feet and you go. Soap actors are pros, Especially Kim
Zimmer. Oh my God, this is a woman who is worth her weight in
"Besides all these Broadway shows and Musicals, you also
do a lot of Shakespeare don't you?" "Yes, right now
I'm doing Richard the second with the Pearl Theatre. It's one
of my favorite Theatre Companies to work with. It's this little
jewel of a classical theatre that just has such heart. Shep Silberman,
the Artistic Director has a tremendous eye for the classics.
I really love working there, it's a vacation. I've done 27 productions
of Romeo & Juliet alone. I truly love that play because it
captures what we've all gone through. That first great love would
we do anything to realize. All of us are capable of making mistakes.
Romeo & Juliet is about people making un-wise decisions.
We have all made un-wise decisions. I think that's why the play
is so popular. And of course Hamlet is another favorite of mine
along with Othello, Julius Caesar and 'The Scottish Play'. (Macbeth).
"Now kids, since you're immersed in so much theatre, can
you give me your favorite Shakespeare quote?" Kalen: "To
be or not to be" The inner conflict in it. The person versus
himself. When I first saw it, I was only five and then, it was
the only part of the play I got." "How about you Christian?
"The same one because he's asking do I kill myself. It has
a lot into it and I liked the way it is said." "Mother
Kathleen, what is your favorite quote?" "All the word's
a stage and we are but players. The speech about how we are hear
to learn our lessons and our lines." So what is your favorite
Shakespeare quote Rick?" "Well I'm very fond of the
quote from Henry VI, 'The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers',
I just got back from doing a production of that in Washington
every night they said that line the audience when nuts! But actually
my favorite Shakespeare quotes is 'She doth hang upon the night
like a jewel from an Ethiopes ear.' It's from Romeo and Juliet
when Romeo first sees her, it's the click, the moment of the
decision that he has to be with her. It's such a classical, beautiful
moment that we've experienced. To look at somebody across a room
and have your heart seize up in out throat. That's what happened
to me the first time I saw my wife. True! When I first saw her
standing there at Rutgers University, I knew I was going to marry
her. It just took me a year to get a date. And she did hang upon
the night like a jewel from an Ethiopes ear." If I could
say anything, I would like to say that I'm the luckiest guy in
the world. I enjoy the people I work with and I feel so fortunate
to be a part of the Broadway community. "Technically you
have more show's on Broadway than any other director. "Yah,
well I try to keep my feet firmly on the ground and you know
what? I don't believe my own press. If anything keeps me grounded
it's my family. After all the work and shows and events, when
I get home, I have to change a diaper, empty the garbage and
take the dog for a walk."
Robert W. Cabell