Justin Peck on His Tony Win—and What Really Fuels the Broadway Community
Could Justin Peck be any busier? In the midst of pulling triple duty at New York City Ballet—as a soloist, resident choreographer and a member of its interim artistic team—he also managed to choreograph a Broadway show. Then, last month, on his first try, he won a Tony Award for best choreography for the revival of Carousel.
The morning after the ceremony, he shared an exuberant Instagram post: As he exited the stage after winning, he ran into the Carousel sailors backstage as they were entering to perform "Blow High, Blow Low" for the telecast. He wrote: "None of them knew we had just been awarded the Tony, and I stood in front of them holding the award, speechless. They erupted in excitement and we exchanged a beautiful moment of embraces, cheers, and happiness. Certainly the highlight of the night for me!" Recently, via email, we caught up with the peripatetic Mr. Peck.
In your wildest dreams did you ever imagine you'd win a Tony on your first try?
No way! I had dreamt of it for a long, long time, though. I always watch the award ceremony on TV each year. And I love to see how the theater community celebrates their collective annual achievements. The inclusive and festive nature of the Tonys is something I always admired. So it was surreal to get to partake in that.
Do you think it will be possible to continue dancing and choreographing at NYCB and working on Broadway?
I love theater and dance, and I'm certainly lucky to get to partake in both communities. So I'm hoping to find a way to sustain further interaction within the two worlds. There are lessons learned from both genres, and I think the crossover allows for me to grow as a contributing artist towards each respective artistic world.
What did you take away from your Carousel experience that will enable you to hit the ground running on your next Broadway project?
Carousel was the perfect basis to learn how a Broadway show is built. I was able to absorb so much, especially from working on a classic golden-age musical.
Peck reinvented Carousel's choreography for its Broadway revival. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy DKC/O&M
For example, how to work with creative collaborators, what sort of endurance is required for the rehearsal/tech/preview periods, the prioritization of storytelling within the theatrical experience, the importance of being a constructive/encouraging/supportive company leader, how to fix or improve a dance number by reading the audience's reactions, how Schmackary's cookies fuel the entire Broadway community. I could go on for quite a while about the lessons I've learned.
I was on my favorite treadmill when it happened.
My best running buddy was on my left. To my right, a total stranger with whom I'd suddenly become competitive. As the 15-person group headed into a two-minute push, the instructor got hyped, and the remix blasting Rihanna's "We Found Love" transitioned to "Smooth Criminal."