Sylviane Gold, Dance Magazine's On Broadway columnist, was born in Paris and grew up a short subway ride from Broadway. She's been covering the arts as a reporter, editor and critic since 1970. Her theater criticism has appeared in publications as disparate as The SoHo Weekly News and The Wall Street Journal, and, in 1982, her Boston Phoenix reviews won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. From 2007 to 2016, she reviewed theater for suburban editions of The New York Times. She was chief dance critic for Newsday for nearly a decade, and has also written extensively about film and art. She chairs the selection committee of the annual Chita Rivera Awards for the best dance on Broadway.
When the live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar won NBC a ratings bonanza and a slew of Emmys last year, it was a good bet more rock operas would follow. Now Fox has lined up Broadway's Michael Greif to direct Brandon Victor Dixon, Vanessa Hudgens and Keala Settle (among others) in a live telecast of Rent on January 27 at 7pm (tape-delayed in the Pacific time zone). Jonathan Larson's 1996 hit musical, a rock remake of La Bohème, moves Puccini's aspiring artists from Paris to the Lower East Side to struggle with art, poverty, AIDS and drugs. It was a sensation, winning multiple Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize, and made stars of Greif (who directed the original production), its young cast (which included Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Daphne Rubin-Vega), and Larson, who died tragically the day before its first preview. Sonya Tayeh, whose visceral style has much in common with the show's mood, is choreographing Rent Live, and we spoke with her last week.
The 20-somethings doing Broadway Dance Lab's first-ever Choreography Summer Intensive ended their recent tour of Lincoln Center's New York Public Library for the Performing Arts with something special. In the seminar room, Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli awaited them with a conference table laden with Broadway treasures from the library's collection. Decades-old original sketches and black-and-white production photos from My Fair Lady, The King and I and South Pacific served as visual aids for Gattelli's discussion of these shows' Lincoln Center Theater revivals, as well as My Fair Lady's 2016 60th-anniversary production at the Sydney Opera House, directed by the original Eliza, Julie Andrews.
Prodded by BDL founder Josh Prince, Gattelli talked about tackling those three musical theater classics and the art of Broadway choreography in general. Here are some highlights, edited and annotated for clarity.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
With his debonair charm and fluent feet, Tony Yazbeck seems built for ebullient men like Gabey in On the Town, who earned him a 2015 Tony nomination. But he's riding high at the moment dancing nervous breakdowns. First, there was his fierce, knife-edged tapping in Prince of Broadway, which just won him a Chita Rivera Award. (Full disclosure: I'm a juror.) Now he's giving a tour-de-force performance as a restless womanizer in The Beast in the Jungle, having its world premiere at the off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre through June 24. Both were choreographed for him by Susan Stroman.
"Should I watch it to get a sense of what happened, or should I go with my own vision and understanding of the culture?" That's what choreographer Camille A. Brown was wondering in June, when she started work on the Broadway revival of the Antilles-themed musical Once on This Island.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
She had a varied, flourishing career that included dancing for Lar Lubovitch, touring with the Bad Boys of Dance, and performing at Radio City Musical Hall and in Broadway shows. But Kamille Upshaw really wanted to make Mean Girls happen.
Not because she'd known Reginas or Plastics in high school—at Baltimore School for the Arts, her classmates were too busy pursuing dance, music, or other "artsy things" to form the obnoxious cliques that Lindsay Lohan experiences in the movie. But when the teen comedy by "Saturday Night Live" giants came out in 2004, Upshaw and her friends watched Mean Girls over and over and over. It was "an obsession," she says.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
DanceBreak came roaring back to life on Monday after seven years on hiatus, and six choreographers now have the opportunity to be the next Andy Blankenbuehler. Or Joshua Bergasse, Kelly Devine, Casey Nicholaw, Josh Prince or Josh Rhodes. These stellar Broadway choreographers all got their first big shows after Melinda Atwood's musical-theater launching pad let them show the industry what they could do.
Since 2002, DanceBreak has been a sort of "So You Think You Can Choreograph" for Broadway. Although not everyone goes straight there—Mandy Moore and Mia Michaels are alumni, too—the program is meant to funnel talented choreographers to the Broadway stage by providing a platform for their work. Prince, who introduced Atwood to the cheering crowd, has paid DanceBreak the ultimate compliment, creating his own non-profit incubator for theater choreographers, Broadway Dance Lab. On Monday, he recalled the story of how he was offered the role of choreographer on Broadway's Shrek just days after its director saw the 2007 edition.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
They speak a language of their own. You could call it Arendelle-ish, except that they were using it long before they started working on Frozen. So maybe the dialect filling a Times Square rehearsal hall last month should be dubbed Robsarahcharlie-ish, after choreographer and Tony winner Rob Ashford and his associate choreographers, Sarah O'Gleby and Charlie Williams. Based on Disney's smash animated film about the royal sisters of magical Arendelle, the musical is heading into rehearsals before previews on February 22 and a March 22 opening night at the St. James Theatre. But for now, it's in pre-production, and Ashford, O'Gleby and Williams are deep into their private shorthand, both verbal and physical, as they dissect a step.
Toasted almond, caramel, nutmeg and mocha aren't craft ice creams or flavored coffees. They're among the choices in colored tights at the boutique in Dance Theatre of Harlem's headquarters in upper Manhattan.
And for Tru Annafi, an 11-year-old first-timer at the DTH summer intensive, those brown hues matter. At her former summer program, in Chicago, "I was the only African American, and they made us wear pink tights," she says. Chloe Edwards understands. A 13-year-old from suburban New York, she points out that the skin-toned tights "help you keep your line. In ballet, line is so important."
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
A schoolgirl's ballet recital, prancing circus horses, a Fred-and-Ginger ballroom homage, an aerial duet, even sheets flapping on laundry lines—in the new movie musical The Greatest Showman, Ashley Wallen choreographs them all, in service to a big, fanciful story based on the ups and downs of legendary 19th-century impresario P.T. Barnum. With Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya starring and dancing, songs by the Oscar- and Tony-winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a huge ensemble that includes "18 amazing dancers," conjoined twins, a man with three legs, and Barnum's other assorted sideshow attractions, Wallen calls it "a dream come true."
At 30, he's too young to be having a midlife crisis. But between June and October, former New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild bid farewell to the home he'd made with Tiler Peck since their 2014 marriage and to their joint artistic home as well, embarking on his next chapter as a solo act. The week before his final performances at NYCB, he was contemplating his next moves: another outing with Christopher Wheeldon in the November New York City Center production of Brigadoon; and an off-Broadway debut, choreographing on himself and starring in an Ensemble for the Romantic Century production, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The show, which opens this month at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is a typical Ensemble amalgam—excerpts from the novel and Shelley's other writings merged with music and art.
So what did you know about Frankenstein and Mary Shelley?
I've seen Young Frankenstein—the movie and Susan Stroman's show. But I don't think that's anything to do with what we are trying to accomplish. The theme is that everybody has bits of Frankenstein in them—the fear that if people saw all of you, they wouldn't accept certain aspects. The monster has a really beautiful heart and just wants to be accepted and loved, but his outward appearance is what people see. It's a really touching, thought-provoking story. I'm excited to show how his experiences being rejected make him bitter, so the inside of him gets as ugly as the outside, through choreography.
Camille A. Brown is part of an elite coterie: black women who have choreographed for the Broadway stage. Once on This Island won't be the first time she's listed as choreographer—she provided the moves for the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, following in the footsteps of Dianne McIntyre and Hope Clarke, who've also added dancing to Broadway straight plays.
But she's still making history of a kind: Full-scale commercial Broadway musicals choreographed by female African Americans are rarities. Clarke did Caroline, or Change in 2004 and Jelly's Last Jam in 1992, and in 1988, Debbie Allen took on Carrie.
Every Broadway debut is the culmination of a journey. But for Ma Cong, who makes his this week as choreographer of the revival of David Henry Hwang's Tony-winning play M. Butterfly, the trip has had as many improbable twists as the plot of a Peking Opera.
It's the tale of a provincial boy whose dance talent takes him from Yunnan to study in China's capital city, where he catches the eye of a powerful leader. She nudges him out of classical Chinese dance and into an alien form called ballet, then sends him to a faraway country to compete with other outsiders. There, he's invited to dance in another place, Tulsa, and the young man leaves behind the world he knows to discover not only a new land, but who he really is. And, 18 years later, at 40, he's a U.S. citizen with a blooming choreography career, a husband, twin boys on the way and a Broadway show that partners him with director Julie Taymor, one of his idols.
When Katrina Lenk says her feet never touched the ground in her Broadway debut, as a replacement in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, she's not telling you how deliriously happy she was—though she was.
Lenk is being literal: Playing Arachne, the show's magical spider-woman, she was suspended in a gigantic web throughout. Her ability to fly and enjoy it—crucial to landing the role—was honed with a summer job "swimming" over the heads of the audience at Universal Studios. "You just never know where random experiences are gonna take you," she says.
In the new ballet film Polina, opening Friday in New York, the camera keeps closing in on people intently watching dance: teachers appraising pupils; a mother focused on her child's recital; rapt spectators at a performance; dancers in the studio concentrating on a choreographer's moves.
It's no accident, say the movie's co-directors, famed French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and his filmmaker wife, Valérie Müller, speaking in French during a joint phone conversation. Citing Marcel Duchamp's assertion that it is the observer who completes a work of art, Preljocaj contends, "A statue in a museum at night does not exist. It exists only when the first visitor arrives and enters into a relationship with it. We wanted to honor that gaze." Müller quickly suggests another reason: "There's a lot of looking in a dancer's life. I'm not a dancer, but I've filmed them. And I've always noticed that part of the job is looking at the other dancers—'Is she doing this better than I am?' "
The title character, an aspiring Moscow ballerina played for most of the movie by wide-eyed Vaganova Ballet Academy graduate Anastasia Shevtsova, isn't one of those competitive, sharp-elbowed types familiar in movies like Black Swan and The Turning Point. Polina has plenty of doubts and anxieties, but Müller, who wrote the script, notes that the filmmakers were consciously discarding clichés: "We wanted to show a present-day young woman who lives normally, going to clubs with friends who aren't dancers." Another point of pride is that Polina, which opens nationwide after its Los Angeles premiere September 1, uses no body doubles—the actors all do their own dancing, and lots of it.
Choreographer Patrick McCollum says he's accident-prone. So he hesitated a bit when Stephen Brackett, the director he'd loved working with on the off-Broadway musical The Lightning Thief, asked him to choreograph The Legend of Georgia McBride.
It wasn't the material that gave him pause—the author, Matthew Lopez, is an award-winning playwright, and the comedy centers on a married Elvis impersonator who chucks his glittery jumpsuit in favor of a glam gown and a career in drag. The timing and the location were enticing, too—a two-week summer run, now over, at the Dorset Theatre Festival in cool, green Vermont. But McCollum had to "give it a think"—he didn't own any high heels.