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.)
Tony Yazbeck plays the tormented John Marcher in The Beast in the Jungle. Photo by Carol Rosegg, Courtesy Sam Rudy Media Relations.
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.
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.
Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub in The Band's Visit. Photo by Ahron R. Foster
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.
Apart from having won the Tony Award for best choreography, the dances in Damn Yankees, West Side Story and the 1994 revival of Show Boat have little in common.
Not the choreographers—Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Susan Stroman—or the composers—Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Kern. Not the dancers, either—the standouts were Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Dorothy Stanley.
The name that repeats in all three Playbills belongs to Harold Prince—a producer of the first two and director of the third.