You may not know the name Ashley Wallen, but you’ll know his work. Wallen has choreographed for performers such as Kylie Minogue, Hugh Jackman, Charlotte Church, Madonna, Seal, Dido, Black Eyed Peas, Will Young and Jessie J. He’s choreographed award winning commercials including the Evian roller babies and the T-Mobile flashmob in Liverpool St Station London. Ashley Wallen is also the choreographer for Ghost the Musical for Broadway, West End, Seoul, South Korea, UK Tour, US Tour, Asian Tour and now Australia.
Ashley Wallen has become quite used to be introducing as “Kylie Minogue’s choreographer.”
“That’s how I always get introduced these days – the Kylie comes first!” laughed Wallen.
Wallen first started working with Kylie Minogue as one of two male back up dancers when he was just 17 years old. He toured Australia and then London in 1998 with Minogue’s Live and Intimate Tour, then did some further work with her a few years later. Wallen returned to Australia and started doing some choreography work. He moved back to London about 12 years ago, started doing some choreography work for Minogue and has been doing it ever since.
The opportunity to choreograph Ghost The Musical came as result of Wallen’s close working connections with director Michael Gracey, whom he is currently working with for a new Hugh Jackman movie. Ghost was always going to have a contemporary feel, with considerable use of technology and video screens, so Gracey showed Wallen’s work to Matthew Warchus, the director of Ghost The Musical and Wallen got the gig.
Choreographing for theatre requires a different approach. Wallen explained television and film is much easier because people can simply move in and out of frame, but with the stage, everyone can be seen the whole time. However, Wallen feels his choreography has always had a very musical and theatrical feel about it. He has always been inspired by the old MGM musical movies and just adds some pop to this style.
Like many people his age, Wallen loved the movie of Ghost when he was growing up. The movie, however, does not feature any songs or dancing, so I asked Wallen just how different the musical is to the movie. Wallen explained the musical of Ghost has a very similar feel to the movie and he has based the choreography on the energy of living in New York City.
“The dancing is just another layer on the love story,” said Wallen, adding, “By the end of the show it’s just tears – but in a good way!”
The songs in Ghost The Musical have been written by Dave Stewart (from the Eurythmics) and Gary Ballard giving the whole show a very contemporary pop feel.
While Wallen knows the choreography needs to be very slick, with super clean moves, he also knows he needs to work with a unique set of performers. He explained the cast is comprised of tall guys, short girls and performers of different ethnicities and ages. As a result he works with the cast to ensure the choreography brings each performer’s own style and changes the choreography to work with their individual strengths.
“It’s good not to just do a replica and let them do their thing. They’re all great dancers and they need to bring their own characters to the show,” explained Wallen.
Wallen arrived in Australia just prior to Christmas to spend the final rehearsal days with the cast in the lead up to the Australian premiere.
“I am so happy! The cast are looking amazing,” exclaimed Wallen about the Australian cast.
Wallen is excited to be in Australia with Ghost The Musical, although since it’s his first musical back home he admits he’s a little nervous about what the critics might say in their reviews of the show. Audiences, however, he knows will love it.
“I’ve probably watched the show 100+ times but it still just hits you. It’s a love story in the end and everyone can relate to losing someone or being in love with someone,” Wallen said, suggesting that it makes the perfect date night.
After Ghost The Musical, Ashley Wallen would be very interested in choreographing more musicals, but says his dream would be to do a musical film, concluding, “Just putting it out there if someone wants to call me!”
Ghost The Musical has its official Australian premiere opening night in Adelaide on Saturday 9th January and will then tour to Melbourne in February, Sydney in March and Perth in May.