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Utahn hits the big time on Broadway

Published: Sunday, Dec. 1 2013 11:51 p.m. MST

A year later he auditioned for “Forever Plaid,” which was playing in upstate New York. He won the role and moved north, working as an actor for the next six years, with roles in off-Broadway productions of “Peter Pan” and regional productions of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “West Side Story.”

For a time, he worked odd jobs to survive. He was a toy demonstrator for FAO Schwarz, surveyed Broadway crowds and did a little advertising work for a magazine.

On his night job, Whiting discovered that his real passion was back stage, not on it. Even as a young boy he had noted the coaching role of directors during rehearsals for children’s theater. He noticed the profound effect that Johnson, a University of Utah theater professor, could have on an actor with his coaching tips.

“I was playing someone with a mental disability and he had me do some exercises to help my acting,” says Whiting. “It blew my mind how well it worked. I was fascinated by the way people come to learn things. Some learn visually, some learn through logic. The trick is figuring out how each actor works.”

During his acting days in New York ,Whiting “planted seeds” for his aspirations as a director. “If you are ever looking for an assistant director, I want to learn from you,” he would say. Eventually, he was taken on as an assistant by Matt Lenz. He was hired as associate director for the national tours of “Hairspray,” "The Producers" and "Young Frankenstein."

“It was a wonderful break in getting into the directing side of things,” he says.

His work on the national tours led to an introduction to Stroman, a five-time Tony Award winning director and choreographer. She hired Whiting as her assistant and in 2007 he made his Broadway debut.

“I have been at (Stroman's) side as her associate director the last seven years,” says Whiting.

They have turned out hit after hit on Broadway – ”Young Frankenstein,” “Happiness,” “Scottsboro Boys,” “Big Fish” and, soon, “Bullets over Broadway.” Whiting also worked on Broadway productions of "Hairspray" and the fifth anniversary production of “Wicked.”

Whiting manages to squeeze in freelance work as well. He has directed and choreographed more than 50 shows as a member of Disney's creative team, and he has directed and choreographed several special events, including "James Taylor Live at Carnegie Hall" and "Stro! A Gala Honoring Susan Stroman." Besides Allen, Stroman and Taylor, he has worked with Bette Midler, Tony Bennett, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Steve Martin, Sting, Mel Brooks, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane.

According to Whiting’s website, he has received lavish praise from "The View" as “a truly remarkable talent” and from the New York Times as a “director with a joyous touch.”

“Every job you’re on you make connections with different people," says Whiting. "I’ve been fortunate to make good relationships. Luckily, they decided to keep me around.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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