It’s the first nice day of spring when John Command gusts into the lobby of the Jungle Theater, jazz hands incarnate, as manic as the whirlwinds outside. “People think I’m this whiz-bang all the time,” says the longtime director and dancer. “What they don’t know is that I love to lie on the sofa and watch television.”
He drops onto one of the lobby’s thick couches, as if to demonstrate. But there’s no kicking back. Now 66, he dramatically reels off his résumé, as if it were a play in itself. How he first danced with the St. Paul Civic Opera in 1961, when he was still in middle school. How he worked with Prince, 23 years later, to stage dances for Purple Rain. How, in the 1980s and ’90s, he choreographed scenes in such sitcoms as The Golden Girls and Perfect Strangers.
And then there were the zombies. Among the army of the undead in Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller video is John Command, dancing his haggard-looking head off. “People always ask which one I am,” he says, “and I tell them that I’m so old I now look like the character I played.”
The joke is telling. In 2009, Command got a pink slip from one of the longest jobs he’s ever held: artistic director of the Bloomington Civic Theater. Since 1997, he’s directed more than 45 musicals there—three starring his good friend Sally Struthers, the actress and activist. His final production, Kiss Me, Kate, wrapped this May. Command wasn’t looking forward to sitting still.
That’s where Bain Boehlke comes in. When it became clear that Command would be available, Boehlke, the founding director of the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, asked him to direct the Jungle’s revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which opens June 10. “This gives me a whole new drive,” Command says of the Stephen Sondheim classic. “I’m very young up here,” he adds, jabbing at his forehead.
Young enough to still bust out those Thriller moves? Command grimaces. “It was much easier,” he says, “when I was in my mid-50s.”
5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT JOHN
1. He choreographed the 1988 Super Bowl half-time show, a salute to Bob Hope.
2. He taught Suzanne Somers a tap-dance number for an episode of Step by Step.
3. He danced in the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly!, directed by Gene Kelly.
4. He worked on the Perfect Strangers rap video, “Fresh Young Balki B,” a cult fave.
5. He works part-time as a reservation agent for Delta Airlines, for the travel perks.
See video evidence of Command’s genius at mnmo.com/command