Theater Review: Cougar, the musical

Let me begin by admitting that yes, I was the youngest member of the audience at a preview performance of “Cougar, the musical.”  That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the fact that I am still a “baby cub.”  The cast was tremendously talented (I recognized Brenda Braxton, who played “Velma Kelly” when I saw “Chicago,” my very first Broadway musical back in 2006!).  The songs were memorable, especially the song in the nail salon when each of the three women are getting different manicure colors to help them “get up the nerve” to overcome their fears.

“Cougar The Musical is an original, four person show about three divine but disillusioned women who unleash their “inner cougar” by dating younger men (played by one very sexy actor) and in the process, find self-love and empowerment. The multi-talented cast sing and dance their way through songs ranging from grinding blues to doo wop, to pop to “Julio”, a romantic ballad sung to a vibrator. Hilarious, soulful and heartwarming, Cougar the Musical is a madcap ride from Cougar Bar to nail salon to boudoir and back as the women learn to say “yes” to getting older, “yes” to trust and friendship and “yes” to embracing their lives.”

Long story short, whether you’re a cougar or still a cub, “Cougar, the musical” will have you laughing, crying, singing and dancing along!

Performances are at
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues)

Performance times are
Wednesday and Friday at 8pm
Saturday and Sunday at 2pm

Movie Review: Step Up 4 Revolution

On July 24th Broadway Dance Center faculty, staff, and program students packed the movie theater for an exclusive preview showing of the new Step Up movie.  The fourth movie of the Step Up enterprise, “Step Up 4 Revolution” takes place in Miami, FL where a group of dancers (“the MOB”) realize that they can organize intricate and creative flashmobs as a means of social change.  The film features cameos from dance notables such as Mia Michaels, Billy Bell, Misha Gabriel, and more.

After doing a little research online, I came across some no-so-great reviews of the film’s predictable plotline.  But Chris Hewitt (The Pioneer Times) sums it up well when he says, “[The] fourth installment hits on the perfect formula: more dance, less talk.”  After all, the film, which is probably 75% dancing, is called “Step Up” rather than “Speak Up.”  Hewitt continues, “Like all the “Step Up” movies, its plot jetes around a bunch of young hoofers trying to get ahead in the dance world.  But it’s set in Miami, so there is less clothing, and it features the most inventive choreography (by Jamal Sims) and staging of any of the four movies.”

“Step Up 4 was a brilliant work on how dancers can change the world…But not alone – we all need towork together.” – Daniel Montera (Professional Semester F’11)

“This was the best Step Up movie yet.  The precise movement and togetherness was astounding.  I loved how it was just “dance.” – Pierce Cady-Penny

Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen

I meandered around the Capezio flagship store for about thirty minutes, simultaneously imagining my dream dance-wear closet and anxiously eyeing the clock above the elevator.  It was almost noon, and in just a few minutes Ben Vereen would be walking into the store for his “Meet and Greet” event.  I sat down on a bench and began fiddling with my phone to pass the time.  After a few minutes I looked up and saw Mr. Vereen enter the store.  I think he spotted me smiling from ear to ear because he walked straight to me and began to introduce himself.  “Oh my goodness,” I began, “You don’t have to introduce yourself. I’m here to see you!”

He shook my hand as I stood up beside him.  He was shorter than me, shorter than I’d imagined (though I’m rather tall).  I remember watching the PBS performance of “Fosse” on a VHS my dad helped me record  (and I decorated with golden star stickers and bubble letters).  I wasn’t obsessed with the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync when I was 10.  No, I was obsessed with all things Fosse.  I would watch the VHS (that’s “video home system” for all you youngin’s) over and over, trying to memorize and replicate the silky smooth choreography of Ben Vereen, Rachelle Rak, and Dana Moore.  My dad gave memy grandfather’s old English bowler hat so that I could practice flipping and twirling the cap with ease.  My dad even helped me build a dance cane (we took a wooden pole from Home Depot, painted it black, and nailed two chair-leg protectors to either end).  Long story short, meeting Ben Vereen was a dream come true!

Broadway legend and Tony Award winner Ben Vereen brings his hit show, Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen, to 54 Below, July 10 – 21! A high energy tribute to the music of Broadway, along with musical selections made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., audiences can expect to hear classics such as “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, “Mr. Bojangles” and even “Defying Gravity”. Well known to theatre audiences for his Tony and Drama Desk winning performance in Pippin, Vereen has also appeared on Broadway in Wicked, Chicago, Fosse and Jelly’s Last Jam. Television audiences will remember him from his celebrated portrayal of Chicken George in Roots, along with recent appearances on How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy (Prism Award) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In January, 2012, Mr. Vereen was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. 54 Below (254 W. 54th St. cellar)

Theater Review: I ♥ Bob

After accidentally but  understandably arriving at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea, Lily Lewis (SIP ’12) and I raced downtown to the Joyce SoHo to catch Ray Hesselink’s new tap show, “I ♥ Bob.”  The outside of the correct theater was unimposing – sort of like a chic garage.  We entered the theater huffing and puffing, having sprinted over from the subway stop.  We had no ticket, and merely had to give our name to the check-in table in exchange for a program (we had purchased our tickets online a few days in advance).  The theater itself was not the elaborate Broadway theater I was expecting, but rather a tiny black box with maybe fifty chairs on ascending risers from the ground-level stage.

“This live-action cartoon, directed by Mark Lonergan and choreographed by Ray Hesselink to music by Wayne Barker, pulls together the Parallel Exit signatures (tap and other dancing; grunts, coos, shrieks and other nonverbal sounds; puppetry; tirelessly inventive physical humor) to create a kind of exuberant ensemble vaudeville. The movement doesn’t let up, but the tempo is playful and breezy, and the performers make it look easy.” – Andy Webster (NY Times)

“I ♥ Bob” is essentially a dance narrative (dancing that tells a story) that includes voice overs, pantomime, puppetry, tap, and physical comedy.  The story obviously surrounds Bob and his extraordinary adventures as an ordinary guy.  Bob works as a “FedUp” delivery man but goes about his everydays trying (rather unsuccessfully) to save the world – walking an elderly woman across the street, saving a cat from a tree…you get the picture.  Besides loving Bob from the start, the audience also immediately falls in love with Vera, a buck-toothed plain Jane who dreams of finding her Prince Charming and living “happily ever after.”  Chaos (beyond the normal chaos of Manhattan) ensues with a rivalry between multigazillionaire Libby T. Grump (think Cruella de Vil + Donald Trump) and self-help schmuck Dwight Williams to chisel their face on the Statue of Liberty.  But don’t worry!  By the end of the show our lovebirds meet, Lady Liberty’s face remains intact, and the cast breaks out into a tap dancing finale – what could be better?

Happy We’ll Be – Al Blackstone

After a much needed catch-up session at Blockheads Burritos, Jason Aquirre (PS S’12), Molly Day (PS S’12) and I headed over to the Roseland Ballroom for the much-aniticipated “Happy We’ll Be,” a dance narrative choreographed by Al Blackstone.  Al is a beloved guest teacher at Broadway Dance Center – just see what some students have to stay:

I have always subscribed to the notion that Al is the ultimate storyteller. Even in class, he brings a magical element to his teaching. The beauty of his movement and narrative is only matched by the warmth and compassion of his heart. – Alexa Erbach (PS F’11)

His class without a doubt always lifts my spirits. The energy he exudes is extraordinary and so motivational. – Nikki Croker (PS F’11)

Al was the 2011 recipient of the Capezio A.C.E Award (Dance Teacher Summit), which “is a great opportunity for emerging choreographers to expose their work to one of the most influential audiences in dance.”  Check out Al’s winning piece, “Brown Eyed Girl.”

As part of their prize, A.C.E Award winners receive a grant to fund their own dance production in New York City.  And thus, “Happy We’ll Be” was born…and for that, we are so happy!

The show is a full-length “dance narrative,” no dialogue – just music and dance.  The show takes a bit after the concept of “6 degrees of separation” (“Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.”) In a sort of ripple effect, one character meets and affects another character, who affects another, and so on.  But, only the audience gets to see the full picture.

Each new dance scene witnesses a character’s own pursuit of happiness. ie:

  • A teenaged girl learning to walk in heels to impress her school crush.
  • A man planning to propose to his girlfriend.
  • A young gay man looking for support from his family.

We are all connected in our pursuit of happiness and we all play a role in making others happy.

Al’s latest project is a full-length dance production that defies the convention of any other show you have ever seen. “Happy We’ll Be” is an inexplicable account of love, loss, kindness, wonder and hope. It penetrates the center of our hearts and delves into the source of individual happiness, taking the audience on an unforgettable journey that forces us to marvel at the exquisite beauty in the smallest moments of our own lives. “Happy We’ll Be” is a revivifying reminder that love can be found beyond a lover’s embrace. It reminds us that love is rooted in the slightest touch of a hand, the help of a friend, the kindness of a stranger, and the affection of a parent. – Alexa Erbach

[excerpt from Al Blackstone’s resume]

…My heart’s been stolen.

Nice Work @ BDC

Broadway Dance Center was thrilled to host two master classes taught by the lovely and lively Samantha Sturm.  Samantha is currently performing in Nice Work If You Can Get It on Broadway, and taught repertoire from the show as part of BDC’s Broadway Choreographer Series.

Two-time Tony Award® winner Matthew Broderick (The Producers) and three-time Tony® nominee Kelli O’Hara (South Pacific) star in a madcap tale of bootleggers, chorus girls, playboys and politicians set loose in a glorious Long Island mansion in the rip-roaring 1920s. The cast features 2012 Tony® winners Judy Kaye (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and Michael McGrath (Best Featured Actor in a Musical).

This brand-new musical features a treasure trove of George and Ira Gershwin’s most beloved, instantly recognizable tunes set in a fresh and funny song-and-dance spectacular with a book by Tony® winner Joe DiPietro (Memphis), directed and choreographed by three-time Tony® winner Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes).

Overflowing with 15 great songs, including “But Not For Me,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me,” this sparkling musical comedy combines laughter, romance and high-stepping Broadway magic.

Samantha Sturm is currently in the ensemble of Nice Work If You Can Get It. Before Nice Work, she was an original cast member of The Addams Family musical on Broadway. Samantha has worked at several regional theaters including the Paper Mill Playhouse, The Westchester Broadway Theatre, and Casa Manana Theatre. You might also have seen her as the tango dancer in the national tour of Evita, and as a swing on the 25th Anniversary national tour of Cats. Before becoming involved in musical theatre, Samantha was a soloist with The Asaph Dance Ensemble.

^ Check out Samantha in this video clip! (1:50, yellow dress!)

Book Review: A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett

I would like you to say that I am a direct

descendant of Terpsichore, and I don’t have a

mother and father, and I wasn’t born in Buffalo,

and all the boring things that are really true

about where I come from.  I wish I was born in a

trunk in a basement of a Broadway theatre, and I

crawled into the pit and looked up and there was

Jule Styne conducting the overture to Gypsy, and

I heard Ethel Merman sing, and the first moment

of like was experiencing a Jerry Robbins musical.

I can’t think of anything more perfect.

-Michael Bennett, 1983

I love learning about dance (the history, culture, and people)  just as much as I love dancing itself.  When I read about dance, I feel like I become a more educated and engaged performer.  Understanding why Fosse choreography requires turned-in feet (because Bob Fosse was pigeon-toed himself) or how come female ballet dancers wear pointe shoes but men traditionally do not (because ballerinas were idealized as ethereal) helps me appreciate every nuance of a style of dance.

Ok, so now I’ll get to the point of this blog post: please read “A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett” by Ken Mandelbaum.  No matter what style of dancer you are, you’ve most likely heard of A Chorus Line , the legendary Broadway musical about life as a dancer – countless auditions, overwhelming rejection, and unmitigated determination and passion.  You can (and should!) go see the live performance or watch the movie version (which does a pretty good job of maintaining the integrity of the stage show), but knowing the story behind A Chorus Line reveals the real magic of the show and why it is the quintessential dancer musical.

I’m not going to give away all of the magical mysteries of A Chorus Line, but here’s a little overview.  Michael Bennett danced on TV’s “Hullabaloo” and as Baby John in the OBC of West Side Story before pursuing his passion for choreography (Follies, Company, Dreamgirls, etc.).  A Chorus Line was his attempt to 1) hire his out-of-work colleagues, 2) reveal the recent changes in musical theater (ie. more versatile performers but fewer and fewer jobs), and 3) “examine the fierce discipline, hard work, and devotion that is required to wind up ‘only’ in the chorus, backing a star but never becoming one.”

The process started when Bennett called a group of his dancer friends to meet up one night.  They started with a dance class to “loosen up” and then sat around in a circle eating, drinking, and talking for nearly twelve hours straight.  The dancers shared their stories – their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears and insecurities.  And long story short, those stories became A Chorus Line.

Alright, fine! I’ll give you some juicy secrets.  But you still have to read the book!

  • Even though the characters in A Chorus Line were based on the stories of Bennett’s friends, some of them didn’t get cast (as themselves!).
  • Bennett was adamant about keeping the show honest and not glamorizing the audition process.  Originally, the character of Cassie (the over-qualified former star who at one time had a little romance with Zach, the show’s director) did not get hired at the end of the show.  However, this depressing ending, however realistic, was quickly changed to win over the hearts of audiences.
  • At one rehearsal, Bennett told a dancer to “fake” falling and getting injured.  When the cast crowded him and cried out  in panic, Bennett called out, “Now, do you all remember what you just did?  Let’s work that into blocking.”
  • The characters of Connie and Richie (Asian and African-American, respectively) originally had a duet about being typed as “ethnic” dancers.  They joked that they didn’t need to be the best dancers because the directors needed them in the show.
  • The set of A Chorus Line is bare – a white line across the black stage and rotating triangular pillars upstage.  The pillars’ three sides represented “the dancer’s world:” 1) a black panel (the black box theater), 2) a mirrored panel (the rehearsal studio), and 3) a sequined panel (the glamor of the stage/lights).

Are you enthralled yet? Now go read the book yourself!

Click! Flash! – dancers go behind the camera

I got into photography when I first went to NYU and my mother (also a photographer) gave me her DSLR camera. Attending NYU was essentially like moving to New York City as an 18-year-old, which can be VERY scary; having the camera helped to distract me from the difficulties of adjusting to a very different and tiring lifestyle.

Since then, I have taken several photography courses both at NYU and around the city. I spent the summer of 2009 studying abroad in Italy and had my camera glued to my side at all times (I kept a photo blog that summer, unabellaestate.blogspot.com). Although I have been a photographer for a while, I didn’t think to start taking headshots until recently. I would see people post their headshots on facebook (knowing that they spent HUNDREDS of dollars getting them taken) and think “Hey…I can take that shot!” So I had a few pretty friends experiment with me, taught myself portrait retouching in photoshop, and viola! I was cranking out headshots no problem.

I offer headshots for a very affordable rate of $150. I want to help my fellow dancers/actors/singers get beautiful shots without paying a month’s rent to get them. I love being behind the camera and helping people to really shine through the photographs, and post production (which some photographers groan about) is a ton of fun for me. I am so excited to be able to turn this passion of mine into a small business – if I’m not on stage dancing, I want to be taking pictures!

www.lvphotoanddesign.com

Laura is an alum of the Summer Intern Program at Broadway Dance Center (2008).  This Fall she will be heading on tour to perform in “West Side Story.”

Ahoy! BDC at Sea

Jenifer Dillow (BDC Professional Semester, Fall 2011)

Cruise: Disney Magic

Role: Belle, dancer

Travel: We are traveling to Nassau, Bahamas, Caribbean, Key West, Port Canaveral, Halifax, Nova Scotia, St. John,Canada, New Mexico, and more which I’m unsure of because we won’t start till later in the contract.

Performances: We have six shows plus two theme nights. Four of our shows are full on musicals while the other two are shorter compilations of different dances and songs. We have “Twice Charmed’, “Villian’s Tonight” which I have eight crazy quick changes in (I’m a dancer in that show), “Disney Dreams” where I am Belle, “Dream Goes On”, “Welcome Aboard Show”, and “Farewell Show”. I play many different roles in addition to Belle. I have about fifty costumes I believe. The theme nights are just short dances that we perform for the adults at night after the shows.

Audition: The audition was great! I went in to the singer call, and they gave me a callback that day for Belle. Then I came back in two days later and sang Belle’s songs and they made me do a short dance combo by myself. Then two weeks later they called me offering me the job!

Favorite part: My favorite part is performing every night and being given great opportunities. For example, I was asked to have a photo shoot taken as Belle to put photos and videos of me up on the Disney website. I also love being able to travel for free and meet a lot of people from different countries! Overall, I can’t imagine having a better senior year! I LOVE it!

Latoyia Everett (BDC Professional Semester, Fall 2011)

Cruise: Norwegian Jade

Role: dancer, dance captain

Travel: Throughout Europe – Venice, Barcelona, Santorini, Mykonos, Dubrovnik, Split, and Athens.

Performances: Two 45 minute shows, 1 “Cirque du Soleil” style show where I perform bungie from theatre ceiling. I’m also a magician’s assistant in another show. We perform everything from jazz to lyrical to Broadway to jazz funk.

Audition: I auditioned in the Fall of 2011 in NYC. The audition had over 150 people in attendance. For the first cut, they taught a strong jazz-style routine and we auditioned in groups of 10. Then they made a huge cut, down to 40. Next, they taught a small section from one of their shows, “Elements.” We auditioned about 5 at a time.  Soon they cut us down to the top 10. The audition was one of the most fun auditions I’ve ever been to. Everyone, including the panel, was incredibly supportive and friendly.

Favorite part: My favorite part of the working on the Norwegian Jade is visiting all the amazing ports and meeting people from around the world. We have such a diverse group of people on this cruise. Cruise ship workers are some of the most amazing and friendly people I have ever met.

 

Zanza Steinberg (BDC Professional Semester, Spring 2011)

Cruise: Royal Caribbean – Serenade

Role: dancer

Travel: We started off in the Caribbean and then travelled Transatlantic and are now in the Mediterranean alternating between a Greek Isles and Venice/Italy cruise.

Performances: Two shows – one Jazz and one Musical Theater.

Audition: My audition was for the Chicago show aboard the Allure of the seas, however the casting director found this a better fit for me and I am currently aboard Serenade of the Seas. The audition was extremely long. We were there for 9 hours in total, first an across the floor combo and then a cut, then another across the floor and cut. Then we learnt the original opening number from Chicago, another cut after that. Then we learnt a jazz routine and there was another cut and those of us who made it that far stayed to sing and read sides.

Favorite part: My favorite part is the work. Performing the shows with a live orchestra makes me so happy and I am a very proud member of the cast, grateful to be here. I am mostly just thankful to be a working dancer however the traveling is wonderful and learning to speak new languages has been great!