Amber Gray and the cast of Hadestown. Photo by Helen Maybanks, Courtesy DKC/O&M
The Tony Award nominations were announced yesterday morning, and, as always, they gave us a lot to talk about.
Could Hadestown sweep the awards? Why didn't John Heginbotham's work on Oklahoma! garner him aBest Choreography nomination? What musical numbers will the nominated shows bring to the ceremony on June 9? To discuss, we gathered a group of musical theater–loving editors from Dance Magazine and Dance Spirit for a roundtable conversation about the nominees.
"Too Darn Hot" from Studio 54's Kiss Me, Kate. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy LSG Public Relations
When it comes to musicals, they sure don't make 'em like they used to. Case in point: When Kiss Me, Kate premiered in 1948, integrated musicals—shows that produced genuine emotions and had music and lyrics closely tied to the script, rather than comedies or revues—were still a fairly new trend. In fact, Kiss Me, Kate was Cole Porter's first stab at this structure. Fast forward to 2019, and it's hard not to notice that some numbers feel like they're barely related to the narrative.
Scratch your head all you want (Why are they singing and dancing again? And how exactly does itmove the plot forward?), but there's a major upside to this structure: It gave choreographer Warren Carlyle a lot of room to play when choreographing Studio 54's current revival.
Corbin Bleu as Billy Crocker in Arena Stage's production of Anything Goes. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Arena Stage
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.
The Rockettes in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy MSG Entertainment.
Last spring, Rockettes fans eagerly awaited the troupe's new show Heart and Lights, which was set to expand the group into the realm of contemporary dance. But days before opening night, Madison Square Garden Entertainment abruptly cancelled the production, deeming it not yet fit for the stage. Audiences expected to see a polished version in spring 2015. Instead, Radio City has transformed it into a new show called The New York Spring Spectacular. And to help ensure success this time around, it has hired an artistic staff of theater bigwigs: Warren Carlyle, of After Midnight, is director/choreographer and Diane Paulus (Pippin) and Randy Weiner (Sleep No More) are co-creative directors. Previews begin March 12, with a March 26–May 3 run.
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."