Though Larry Keigwin is best known for his work in contemporary concert dance, he’s no stranger to musical theater. After Keigwin choreographed the off-Broadway revival of Rent, director Michael Greif invited him to work on the Broadway production If/Then. Opening March 30, the musical stars Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, who plays a woman hoping to start a new life in New York City. Candice Thompson spoke to Keigwin about how he transformed his provocative, pop culture–influenced style for the Broadway stage.
What drives your choreography for If/Then?
Everything is about moving the story forward. If/Then takes place in contemporary New York City, so the movement is very pedestrian. There is a lot of walking and patterning. I wanted the performers to have a very human quality onstage, so that they are not extraordinary technicians, but real people you see on the sidewalk.
The production ran in DC first. What was that like?
It is a luxury that in Broadway, you have time to develop the work after seeing it in previews. But I think there is also something really refreshing and spontaneous about concert dance. You make it in the studio and it goes up very quickly—the process is instinctual.
Are you tweaking anything before it heads to New York City?
The changes I’m making are certainly a reaction to the preview audiences, but mostly my reaction to the story. I realized that I had given the performers movement, but the next layer is injecting that with a motivation. So instead of running for four steps, they are hailing a taxi for four steps.
Above: Idina Menzel (center) in If/Then. Courtesy The Hartman Group
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the process?
Detachment. Being willing to let go of any preconceived ideas because on Broadway, you work through many drafts. When you create for concert dance, the score is set. But in a new musical everything is up for change. We have a subway scene and at the end there was a musical loop that got cut. I had to let the dance go, even though it was my favorite moment. You have to remember the show is not always about the dance.
You’ve mentioned before that you are interested in creating a dance-focused musical. Is there more theater in your future?
Oh, god, yes! I think this project is a stepping-stone. It’s in the extreme near future—I’ll say the five-year plan.
Photo of Larry Keigwin by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Keigwin + Co.