Corbin Bleu's theater gigs are the skimpiest part of his resumé, which includes not just High School Musical, but everything from horror films to "Dancing with the Stars." His first two Broadway shows, In the Heights and Godspell, didn't particularly showcase his dancing, but in 2016, he tapped and fox-trotted his way to a Chita Rivera Award in Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical. Last year, he did Singin' in the Rain in St. Louis and the 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes in Washington, DC. This month, he returns to Broadway in another classic Porter show, playing Bill Calhoun in Kiss Me, Kate at Studio 54. But when we caught up with him, there was another Bill on his mind—he had just opened as Billy Crocker in the Arena Stage production of Anything Goes.
The messages started coming in Monday evening. A concerned teacher was worried about several dancers she knew at American National Ballet—did we know what was going on? Later that night, more information started emerging on social media—and it was clear something was up at the Charleston, South Carolina–based company.
We've been interested in ANB since its debut was first announced in April—not only was it a brand new company, but one with close to 50 dancers, and some major names attached, like Rasta Thomas, Sara Michelle Murawski and Jessica Saund. The founders, Doug and Ashley Benefield, had few ballet credentials but they made an encouraging promise to highlight diversity, hiring dancers of different body types and races. A story in Charleston's The Post & Courier reported that they had a strategic business plan to support the company through for-profit ventures such as a licensing enterprise, a dancewear line and an academy.
It's Broadway awards season, and tons of our favorite dancers and choreographers are getting big-time recognition.
The Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday and the Best Choreography finalists include:
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane for Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine for Come From Away
Denis Jones for Holiday Inn
Some of the ideas from last year's Heart and Lights have been reworked for the show. New York City will still be the central theme, and special effects like the three-story Statue of Liberty puppet and the choreographed LED backdrop will remain. But the storyline has changed, with a new script by playwright Joshua Harmon. The dance numbers will celebrate one iconic New York landmark after another, as an old-fashioned tour guide leads his new techie boss through the city in an effort to save his job. “It's a complete reimagining," says Carlyle. “We're using some of the same scenic elements and technology from last year, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a completely new show."
Adding to the list of big names, Mia Michaels has choreographed a scene. “To open the show with a number by Mia Michaels just says, 'All bets are off,' " says Carlyle. “It says, 'Look out, here we go, this is not going to be a traditional Rockettes show.' " Laura Benanti, a Broadway actress and cast member of ABC's “Nashville," will star alongside Derek Hough, and Whoopi Goldberg will narrate, lending her voice to the Statue of Liberty. Noticeably absent is Linda Haberman, who had been director/choreographer of the Rockettes since 2006 but left after Heart and Lights' cancellation.
Beyond Michaels' contemporary dance, audiences can expect a variety of choreography that expands the Rockettes' image, from tap to robust jazz. A couple scenes have been preserved and revised from last year's show, including the Fosse-inspired “Electricity," a dance that was widely promoted leading up to Heart and Lights' scheduled opening. But by and large, this is Carlyle's creation. “I tried to really challenge the dancers," he says. “They put on their knee pads, and their shoulder pads, and their elbow pads—and they went for it."