Karen Azenberg, a past president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, stumbled on something peculiar before the union's 2015 move to new offices: a 52-year-old sealed envelope with a handwritten note attached. It was from Agnes de Mille, the groundbreaking choreographer of Oklahoma! and Rodeo. De Mille, a founding member of SDC, had sealed the envelope with gold wax before mailing it to the union and asking, in a separate note, that it not be opened. The reason? "It is the outline for a play, and I have no means of copyrighting…The material is eminently stealable."
After all, the newlyweds first met when Mearns, a New York City Ballet star, was being considered for a part on the TV show "Smash," which Bergasse was choreographing. They hit it off, but the role ended up getting cut.
Fast-forward to today, and they're working on their first full-length musical together: I Married an Angel, which opens next week as part of New York City Center's Encores! season, with Bergasse as director and choreographer and Mearns as the star.
Smokey Joe's Cafe cast members Dionne D. Figgins and Jelani Remy rehearse their playful and passionate duet from the song "Spanish Harlem."
As soon as we saw the current off-Broadway revival of Smokey Joe's Cafe, directed and choreographed by Tony nomineeJoshua Bergasse, we had to know just how it did it. In 90 minutes, the cast of nine races through 40 songs by prolific pop songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show includes megahits from the last century—like 1957's "Jailhouse Rock" and 1963's "On Broadway"—and they're all decked out with dancing.
With no dialogue and no narrative, there's plenty of room for Bergasse's choreographic mind to run wild. "Dance plays a huge role in this show," says Bergasse. "Most of these songs were written to get people out on the dance floor, so you kind of can't stop your body from moving." Even though the hits are old, the show definitely isn't stuck in a time warp. "We wanted to make the dancing feel like it isn't of one specific time." You'll see social dances from the '50s and '60s, but Bergasse quickly mentions Michael Jackson as a big influence as well. (Yes, the moonwalk makes an appearance, as do more current crazes like the Nae Nae.)