Dance on Broadway

Anatomy of a Broadway Show: Warren Carlyle Breaks Down Kiss Me, Kate's Dance Numbers

"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 it move 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.


"Kiss Me, Kate—really more than anything I've ever done—has really, really tested my range," says Carlyle, who snagged a Drama Desk nomination for outstanding choreography. "It was an interesting challenge for me in that each and every single number had a different approach."

He broke down the motivation behind some of the show's danciest songs.

"Tom, Dick or Harry"

The number: In Kiss Me, Kate, the characters are putting on a production of The Taming of the Shrew. This humorous song, in the play-within-a-play, revolves around three men competing for Bianca's heart through dance.

The approach: " 'Tom, Dicky or Harry' was character-driven, and I knew I needed three different dancers for three different suitors at three different temperatures. The first one is very, very jazzy, tries really hard, and the second one is cool, cool, cool. The third one is full of heart."

Three men and a woman, all in Shakespearean clothes, pose on a bench. The men are doting on the woman.

"Tom, Dick or Harry" from Kiss Me, Kate

Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy LSG Public Relations

"We Sing of Love (Cantiamo D'Amore)"

The number: The Taming of the Shrew is set in Italy, so the cast sings a joyous Italian love song, complete with women dancing barefoot in barrels of grapes.

The approach: " 'Cantiamo D'Amore' is actually quite classical. There's a tarantella in there, the tambourines, all of the beautiful partnering in the barrels. We don't have much partnering in the show, so the number became about that and celebrating women. I knew they'd have to remove their shoes and stockings for the grape stomping, so I ended up choosing for them to be barefoot," he says.

"Too Darn Hot"

The number: At the top of Act II, the cast takes a break during The Shrew's intermission. They're hanging out in the alley outside the stage door, it's stifling hot and they break into a classic, '40s-style jazz number.

The approach: "It's all about emotion and the battle of the sexes. The men do a section, and then the women are going to automatically do better in the next section.

'Too Darn Hot' became this climb, this wonderful release at intermission when they're in the back alley. It's an opportunity for the dancers to take it and do something really meaningful."

"Always True to You in My Fashion"

The number: New actress Lois Lane (Stephanie Styles) has a voracious appetite for flirtation, but she uses this song to assure beau Bill Calhoun (Corbin Bleu) of her devotion. The number takes place backstage, where props provide inspiration for the dancing.

The approach: ' "Always True to You in My Fashion" was about her dexterity with these props, like the plank and the ladder and the rolling wardrobe rack. It was about giving life to three really good ideas and just letting her play in the playground that is backstage."

"Bianca"

The number: "Bianca" is Bill Calhoun's answer to "Always True to You in my Fashion" and his declaration of love to Lois Lane/Bianca. It's stocked with "fast, machine-gun tapping," describes Carlyle, and it even involves Bleu inverting himself and dancing on the ceiling of part of the set.

The approach: Carlyle admits that it took him three or four tries to get the choreography right.

"It comes at an interesting time in the show, what I think of as the three-quarter mark. Up until that point, choreographically, I've been punching and punching and punching, and it's been very athletic and percussive.

"I wrote in my script, 'Don't try too hard.' It's a charm number where he's basically saying, "I love you no matter what." I made something in the rehearsal studio that was quite charming, and then when I got it onstage, I had David Rockwell's incredible three-story set that I was not using. It looked like a missed opportunity, so I spread the dance into three levels.

"Corbin is wonderful, but I wasn't quite serving him well enough. It was a 5 out of 10, and that's my work, not him. So I really went to work on it. We added the ladies dancing. We added a stair dance for him.

"And then I sat in the third row, and all I could see was the ceiling. He'd danced everywhere else, so I thought, Well, I have to get Corbin's feet on that ceiling. And that was the journey of 'Bianca.' "

Corbin Bleu tap dances on a railing while hanging from a horizontal bar on set. He is wearing a white tank top, dress pants and suspenders.

Corbin Bleu taps his way through the set in "Bianca."

Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy LSG Public Relations

The Conversation
Dance History
A still from the documentary American Tap

Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:

"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...

Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...

Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...

Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."

Happy National Tap Dance Day!

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
James Fosberg, courtesy Mason

Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.

Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Fox produced a live broadcast of Rent in January—but could an original musical be next? Photo by Kevin Estrada, Courtesy Fox

When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Courtesy Lee

Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.

The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Bruce Mars via Unsplash

Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.

Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body

It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).

But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.

Keep reading... Show less
Advice for Dancers
Getty Images

I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!

—Andrea, New York, NY

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
From Dance of Urgency. © Ekvidi

When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.

The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.

Keep reading... Show less
News

Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.

The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.

As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Lorenzo Di Cristina/Unsplash

When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.

The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."

Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox