Broadway Dance Lab's Choreography Intensive. Photo by Whitney Browne
"Go to your choreographers" is the command, and ten 20-somethings sort themselves into two groups at either side of a studio at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in midtown Manhattan. On one side they become three students gossiping in a schoolroom as another enters alone; on the other, it's a guy sauntering into a club where three women are drinking at a table.
Emma Russo, 25, is in charge there, setting up a romance; across the space, Alexia Acebo, 22, is summoning a popularity contest. Both are working to the same jazzy instrumental version of "Pennies From Heaven."
Bouncing back and forth between the two story lines is Broadway choreographer (and Tony nominee) Josh Prince, asking questions, making suggestions, offering encouragement—half mentor, half mother hen.
Instructor Judine Somerville leads a musical theater class. Photo by Rachel Papo
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
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.)
Embracing your strengths will lead to more success. Photo by Jim Lafferty
When it comes to auditioning, you have to think like a casting director. What is your type? How can you embrace it so that you can get cast in the roles that fit you best?
Getting hired is about more than just talent. Directors are looking at everything: from your height, to your energy, to understudy requirements—if you are a replacement in a Broadway show, for example, you have to be able to slot into it seamlessly. The creative team will size you up immediately when you walk into the studio, so make sure you're projecting the right message from the start.