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By Sylviane Gold
“There wasn’t that much call for a 40-year-old tap dancer.”
So says Don Correia, who had won the first-ever Astaire Award for best male dancer on Broadway, who’d taken over when Tommy Tune left My One and Only, who’d starred in the Gene Kelly role when Twyla Tharp’s Singin’ in the Rain came to Broadway in 1985, and who hung up his dancing shoes 20 years ago to become a real estate broker.
And he’s still a real estate broker, even though he’s also performing in the Broadway revival of Follies, the Stephen Sondheim musical about, well, people who’ve hung up their dancing shoes to become whatever. The show, which took home seven Tony Awards, including one for Michael Bennett’s choreography, when it first opened in 1971, is now on Broadway for the third time, with a glittering cast of veterans under the direction of Eric Schaeffer.
Correia, who plays half of the married performing team that does the novelty song “Rain on the Roof,” says it’s not a heavy lift. Choreographer Warren Carlyle has given him a little tap break, but overall the song hasn’t been conceived as a strenuous dance number. At 60, he says with a laugh, he’s not about to do any extreme moves anyway.
A native Californian with a sunny personality, Correia seems to have no regrets about the ups and downs of his dance career, which began when he was a teenager. His teacher happened to be the choreographer of the Miss California beauty pageant, and he gave Correia what was for a high school student the ultimate summer job: dancing with beauty queens. Correia soon expanded to other pageants, then joined the Rudas Acrobatic Dancers in the Folies Bergere show in Las Vegas—“seven guys and seven girls tumbling seven nights a week,” he says—leaving college to become a full-time professional dancer.
He first brought his stylish dancing to Broadway as a replacement in A Chorus Line, playing Mike. He won the Astaire Award for his solo in the 1982 revival of Little Me, doing Peter Gennaro’s sizzling choreography for “I’ve Got Your Number.” Then he landed the lead in Singin’ in the Rain.
The critics panned the show and made a point of saying that for all his dance chops, Correia was not Gene Kelly. Still, it ran for nearly a year. “People loved the dancing,” Correia says. But he was getting older, starting to lose his hair, and becoming “just a little disenchanted with Broadway.” What’s more, he and his wife, Sandy Duncan, wanted to move back to California with their children, who were approaching school age.
Choreographing held no appeal, he says. “I wanted to be a performer.” He kept his hand in doing concert performances with Duncan. But he began looking for “something else to do that was fun,” that would provide a steady paycheck without requiring that he return to school. Real estate fit the bill: “It gets me out, I meet people, and I’ve always enjoyed looking at people’s houses.”
It also has points in common with show business, he says. As with performing, “the idea is to get the audition.” As with performing, “I get to make people happy.” And former colleagues can become clients. He met Bebe Neuwirth when they were in Little Me; three decades later, he sold her an apartment. When someone wants him to do a show, Correia asks his real estate partner to pitch in while he takes a busman’s holiday. “You don’t ever give up your love for the theater,” he says. “Those memories stick with you—that’s what makes you want to come back.”
But Follies isn’t a comeback. In fact, when it was first revived, in 2001, he’d gotten one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls and stood by for the role he’s playing now, as well as for the two leads. “When it was over, I said, ‘That was fun.’ Then I went back to doing what I do.”
Sylviane Gold writes on theater for The New York Times.
With Susan Watson in “Rain on the Roof.” Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Follies.