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!

Movie Review: “First Position”

After a difficult double-header day of dancing at Broadway Dance Center, the last thing I wanted to do was watch a documentary about exceptionally talented young ballerinas.  Thankfully, my friend convinced me to go with him to see the talk of the (dance) town,  “First Position.”  We trekked over to the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (65th between Broadway and Amsterdam) and paid just $8 for our tickets (unheard of at NYC movie theaters!).  The atmosphere was chic – the theater was very tiny with padded bleacher seating for the 15 or so people in the audience.

But on with the show!  “First Position” follows the journies of eight young ballet dancers as they prepare to compete in the most prestigious international ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP).

  • Aran Bell: (11) son of a US Navy doctor, lives in Italy
  • Gaya Bommer Yemini: (11) daughter of an Israeli choreographer
  • Michaela Deprince: (14) orphan from the horrors of war in Sierra Leone who was adopted by a family in New Jersey
  • Jules Jarvis (JJ) Fogarty: (10) California
  • Miko Fogarty: (12) girl from California who is home-schooled so can spend more time in ballet
  • Jules Jarvis (JJ) Fogarty: (10) Miko’s younger brother who follows in her footsteps but does not share the same passion for ballet as his sister
  • Rebecca Houseknecht: (17) glamorous former-cheerleader from Maryland
  • Joan Sebastian Zamora: (16) left his home and family in Colombia to study ballet in NYC

All of the dancers (ranging in ages 10-17) aspire to win awards, scholarships, and job contracts to companies such as the American Ballet Theater and the Royal Ballet in London. These young kids are brilliant dancers – and the film will give you the motivation to get back in ballet class!

“These performers are so young, so serious, so full of dreams and so hard on themselves that it is difficult not to be moved by their striving.” – Kenneth Turan (LA Times)

“First-time director Kargman triumphs by picking characters who largely defy expectations.” – Mary Pols (TIME)

“Forget that “reality” show about young dancers on the Lifetime channel. First Position, a debut documentary from Bess Kargman, is the real thing.” – Amy Hitt (Washington Post)

“She said YES!”

Saturday, June 9th seemed like just your typical summer day in New York City.  After a short, warm summer rain, the Bryant Park lawn was soon crowded with people: a young couple on a picnic date, an acrobatic yoga class, curious toddlers with their mommies and daddies, and tourists from all across the world.  But this was no ordinary Saturday in the park – here’s why:

You cried, didn’t you?

This real-life fairy tale was choreographed by Broadway Dance Center’s own Derek Mitchell, assisted by Emily Greenwell, and performed by BDC’s Educational Program students and alumni. The amazing spectacle was even featured on Piers Morgan’s talk show!

Really, who needs Disneyland when Broadway Dance Center can make all your dreams come true?!

“Dancing for them was an amazing experience, I love to make people smile. Being part of one of the happiest days of that couple’s life made my entire life.” Andy Caballero (BDC ISVP ’11-12)

“It makes me happy to make someone happy.” Nallely Aquirre (BDC  ISVP ’11-’12)

“It meant a lot to me to be a part of that special day. It was such an amazing feeling knowing that all of us together made that day an unforgettable one in those two peoples’ lives. Love and dance is all we need!” Bella Takkunen

“It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of something so special. Seeing the Bride to be so happy and surprised was such a touching feeling. It makes me happy to know I was a part of the next chapter of 2 people’s lives.” Alex Vari (BDC PS ’12)

Dance-Related Careers

Dance Teacher

Jim Cooney teaches Theater dance at Broadway Dance Center and is also the Faculty Adviser for BDC’s Professional Semester and Summer Intern Program.  Cooney was dance captain for the revived national tour of The Music Man and was part of the original company of Nights on Broadway.  In addition to teaching, Cooney has choreographed for countless events and organizations such as “The Today Show,” “Extreme Home Makeover,” Bloomingdale’s, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week,and the NephCure Foundation.

Choreographer

Dan Knechtges received his BFA in musical theater from Otterbein College in Westerville, OH.  His Broadway choreography credits include Sondheim on SondheimThe 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling BeeXanadu110 in the Shade, and Lysistrata Jones.  Additionally, Knechtges choreographs for TV/film, concert dance, and opera, directs productions such as Encores! Merrily We Roll Along, and teaches at dance studios and universities across the country.

Professor

Gail Abrams is a Professor of Dance at Scripps College in Claremont, California. She received her master’s in Dance from The American University and certification from the Laban Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies.  Abrams teaches Beginning Dance, Modern I and II, Laban Movement Analysis, and Dynamics of Human Movement courses.

Company Director

Heidi Latksy gained recognition as a principal dancer for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.  In 2001 she formed her own modern company, Heidi Latsky Dance (HLD), which has toured at theaters, festivals, and universities in the United States and Europe.  “The mission [of HLD] is to bring contemporary dance to a broad audience in a visceral and emotional way with performers whose unique attributes, physical and otherwise, are honored and utilized in highly dynamic, virtuosic and provocative ways; and to expose people to alternative ways of looking at their lives through community programs that emphasize discourse, experiential risk-taking and body work.”

Talent Agent

Jim Daly started his career as a singer in New York City.  When he saw the chaos in his own agency, he offered to become an assistant to his agent.  Daly now works as the “legit” talent agent (focus on film, TV, and theater) for Bloc.

Nutritionist

Emily Cook Harrison danced with the Atlanta Ballet, Smuin Ballet, Boston Ballet II, and Ballet Internationale before attaining her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition from Georgia State University.  She is now the head of the Centre for Dance Nutrition, associated with the Atlanta Ballet.

Non-profit Director

After touring around the world as a professional ballerina (Bolshoi Ballet, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, American Festival Ballet), Jane Bonbright went on to pursue her master’s and doctorate degrees in Dance Education.  Bonbright founded the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) in 1998 to promote quality dance education in the United States.

Patriotic Performances

Most Americans celebrate the 4th of July with hot dogs, apple pie, and fireworks…But really, what better way is there to celebrate America’s birthday than with dance?  Here are a few famous patriotic performances:

“Stars and Stripes” was choreographed by George Balancine on the New York City Ballet in 1958.  The piece, which lasts around 28 minutes and is divided into four sections, is set to the music of John Philip Sousa.  “Stars and Stripes” illustrates all things “4th of July” with the dancers baton-twirling, marching, and even bearing rifles!  This video is part of the 4th act, or campaign, which was also featured in the film, “Center Stage.”

Known as “America’s Sweethearts,” the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders often perform for American troops stationed overseas.  Here is a clip from their visit to US Army soldiers in Korea.

“The Will Rogers Follies” was a 1991 Tony award-winning musical (Best Musical, Score, Choreography, Direction, Costumes, and Lighting!) highlighting the life of the legendary American performer, Will Rogers (American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor).  This number, “Our Favorite Son,” incorporates some pretty complex precision dance!

Hines Ward and Kym Johnson performed a rumba routine to “Proud to be an American” during the 2011 season of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Besides the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Rockettes perform throughout the year at various events and celebrations.  In 2001 they performed “Parade,” an all-American tap dance,  at George W. Bush’s Presidential Inauguration.

Movie Musicals

musical (noun): a stage, television or film production utilizing popular-style songs – dialogue optional – to either tell a story (book musicals) or showcase the talents of the writers and/or performers (revues).

The best musicals have three essential qualities –

Brains – intelligence and style

Heart – genuine and believable emotion

Courage – the guts to do something creative and exciting.

“What is a Musical?” by John Kenrick

The 1930s through the 1960s were considered the “Golden Age” of movie musicals.  With the advancement of film technology, Hollywood brought the thrill of the theater to the big screen complete with well-known songs, elaborate dances, lavish sets, and brilliant stars such as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland. During a time of financial and political instability, movie musicals revived hope and optimism amongst the American public.

  • 42nd Street
  • Swing Time
  • Babes In Arms
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Babes In Toyland
  • Singin’ In The Rain
My favorite movie musical is definitely “Singing in the Rain.” It’s the all time classic musical with fantastic dance routines, costumes and songs. With a mix of comedy and amour, it is the perfect date film. Gene Kelly’s masculine perfection and Debbie Reyonlds’ tough femininity work in perfect sync. You can sing along, cry along and laugh along! – Kayla Janssen (Professional Semester F’11)
  • Annie Get Your Gun
  • The Band Wagon
  • Brigadoon
  • Meet Me In St. Louis
  • The King And I
  • Stormy Weather
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Seven Brides For Seven Brothers
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Easter Parade
  • Anything Goes
  • White Christmas
  • Gigi
  • Carousel
  • Pal Joey
  • Oklahoma!
  • South Pacific
  • Damn Yankees
  • The Pajama Game
  • Show Boat
  • An American In Paris
I have many favorites – but I love “An American in Paris!”  – Megan Shuffle (BDC Groups Director)
  • Porgy and Bess
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  • Top Hat
  • On the Town
  • Guys and Dolls

The 1960s witnessed more direct restagings of Broadway musicals from stage to screen.

  • Mary Poppins
  • Oklahoma!
  • Sweet Charity
  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown
  • Kismet
  • Camelot
  • West Side Story
West Side Story… it was one of the first move musicals I ever saw and I remember saying to myself “It is okay to be a guy and dance. They are doing it.” I remember being a kid and anytime I was in a parking garage, I would start doing my version of COOL. I would get some interesting looks. – Ricky Hinds (BDC Theater teacher, Associate Director of “Newsies” on Broadway)
  • The Sound of Music
  • My Fair Lady
  • Funny Girl
  • The Music Man
  • Gypsy
  • Hello Dolly
  • Bye Bye Birdie
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie
I love “Thoroughly Modern Millie!”  It is the most unappreciated, underrated movie musical of all time!  It’s hilarious, quirky, and inspiring with a dynamite cast of Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, and James Fox. – Becky Stout (BDC student)
  • Oliver
  • How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

The 1970s movie musicals, however, were not the joyous and idyllic films of the Golden Age.  Rather, filmmakers focused on rock n’ roll and stark realism that was influenced by the hippie movement, the Vietnam and Cold Wars, and American individualism.

  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Grease
Grease! I’ve watched that movie so many times! The music is catchy, and stays in your head. The dancing is energetic and vibrant! Just a great movie! – Nikki Croker (Professional Semester F’11)
  • Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
  • Godspell
  • Fiddler On The Roof
  • Hair
  • Cabaret
  • All That Jazz
I love “All That Jazz.”  It’s essentially a sort of autobiography of Bob Fosse and the dancing just can’t be beat.  The story is so raw and real – it really illustrates the up’s and down’s of “showbusiness.” – Mary Callahan (Professional Semester F’11)
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • Mame
  • Tommy
  • The Wiz

The 1980s/1990s attempted to boost the movie musical genre with the generous help of financial backers.

  • Xanadu
  • Annie
  • Victor, Victoria
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
  • Fame
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Evita
  • Flashdance
  • Dirty Dancing
  • A Chorus Line

The Disney animated-musicals also thrived during the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Pocahontas
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Aladdin
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Lion King
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas

Since 2000, movie musicals have continued to rise in popularity, with stage to screen adaptations, remakes, animated films, and brand new shows busting out all over.

  • Rock of Ages
“Rock of Ages!” – because I am obsessed with their styling/outfits and the music… I love the 80s and that was my all time favorite musical to watch!  Plus Russell Brand is in it…which basically sells it! – Kimberly Hamilton (Professional Semester F’11)
  • Hairspray
“Hairspray” was first a movie, then a musical, then a movie again!  It’s the quintessential movie musical! I love the magnetic energy of the film.  The story line is fun with such a wonderful underlying theme.  I want to jump up and “pony” every time I watch the movie…and I do!- Lizz Picini (BDC Assistant Groups Director)
  • Footloose
  • Les Miserables
  • RENT
  • Fame
  • Dreamgirls
  • Mamma Mia!
  • Chicago
“Chicago!”  Everything about the movie is just brilliant.  It is so different from the stage version, yet so good in its own way.  The lighting, costumes, camera movement, and cast are amazing! – Molly Day (Professional Semester S’12)
  • Moulin Rouge

“Moulin Rouge” is my all-time favorite movie musical. The combination of genius cinematography, a fatally twisted love story with demonic undertones, and a new spin on songs we know and love make it a “Spectacular, Spectacular” film. – Carie Jurcak (BDC Educational Programs Student Advisor)

  • Enchanted
  • Phantom of the Opera
My favorite modern musical is “Phantom” because it really communicates the depth behind each of the characters’ emotions and motives.  And the cinematography is gorgeous! – Lily Lewis (Summer Intern ’12)
  • Fame
  • The Producers
  • Sweeney Todd
I liked Sweeney Todd! Music was incredible. I could tell they really took it seriously. Orchestrations are PRICELESS. – Michael Petrowski (ISVP ’11)
  • Across the Universe
  • Burlesque
  • Sparkle
  • High School Musical

While Broadway will always remain the pinnacle of live musical theater, film has brought the joy of the theater to audiences all over the world.

Here are the TOP 10 movie musicals of all time!

  1. Singin’ in the Rain
  2. The Wizard of Oz
  3. The Sound of Music
  4. The Music Man
  5. West Side Story
  6. My Fair Lady
  7. Cabaret
  8. Meet Me in St. Louis
  9. The King and I
  10. An American in Paris

“Jack’s Back!”

Last week marked the final performances (for now, at least) of “Jack’s Back,” a clever new musical romp about the notorious Jack the Ripper.  The funny and fresh new musical at the T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre  tells the tale of “Herbert Wingate, an audacious cockney sausage stuffer, struggles to make the gas-lit streets of Whitechapel safe from the ruthless murderer. Herbert’s wild and zany schemes offer a hilarious and heartfelt new take on the centuries old tale” (tschreiber.org).

Alexa Erbach

Romain Rachline
Julia Udine
The off-off-Broadway musical comedy stars a number of Broadway Dance Center alumni including Julia Udine (Professional Semester, S’12), Romain Rachline (ISVP ’11-’12), and Alexa Erbach (Professional Semester, F’11).  Additionally, “Jack’s Back” was choreograhed by Bronwen Carson who teaches Acting for Dancers at BDC.

If you weren’t able to make it over to “Jack’s Back,” 1) you missed out, but 2) do not despair – there are high hopes that the show will return to the stage soon.  You can help make this possible by voting for “Jack’s Back” for the New York Innovative Theatre Awards.

Voting is simple:

1.  Go to: http://www.nyitawards.com/vote/ and select “audience ballot”

2. Select “Register to Vote” and fill in the online form

3. Check your email for instructions on how to vote